EDITORIAL: Reducing our own emissions

January 7th, 2018 5:00 PM

By Southern Star Team


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SO much talking and prevaricating is going on about tackling climate change, yet it seems very little is being achieved, in Ireland in particular, with the country set to fail badly its first big test of reaching its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets for 2020. Making excuses for this failure is simply not good enough, so – however risqué this call may sound – the time has come for all of us to start reducing our own emissions! 

After agreeing with our European Union partners to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 20% from 2005 levels by the year 2020, it looks now – from predictions made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – that our reductions for the period in question could end up being only about 6%, which is very disappointing, humiliating even, from an international perspective, given that we have had over a decade to tackle the problem and obviously did not prioritise it enough.

Watching then Taoiseach Enda Kenny opining at the talks leading up to the historic deal reached at the CoP21 UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris in December 2015 that Ireland needed more time and to be cut some slack on the matter was somewhat pathetic, embarrassing and so out of kilter with the general consensus there. He was like a schoolboy trying to make excuses for not having done his homework.

In fairness to his successor, Leo Varadkar, his government did – for the first time – appoint a minister with specific responsibility for climate action, Denis Naughten, and he has introduced a number of commendable initiatives with the aim of reducing carbon emissions with his National Mitigation Plan. However, he still faces an uphill battle as the first annual review report on Ireland’s action on climate change by independent statutory body, the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC), in December stated that the National Mitigation Plan does not put Ireland on pathway to meeting its national or EU commitments and called for new measures to be immediately put in place across all sectors of the economy.

The CCAC stated that pace and scale of government action to reduce polluting emissions must be accelerated, highlighting Ireland’s over-reliance on fossil fuels and stating that this dependence is hugely damaging for our climate and our health. It called on Minister Naughten to revise Ireland’s climate strategy on foot of the its recommendations, as well as those of the Citizens’ Assembly last November. 

In a telling comment on the report, Trócaire policy adviser Cliona Sharkey stated: ‘After five years without any plan on climate change, it is extremely disappointing that the government’s recent strategy does not even fulfil its fundamental purpose – to make sure Ireland cuts polluting emissions so that we meet our own national and EU commitments.’

The two main areas that need action are transport and agriculture. In the former, there needs to be more and better incentives for people to buy hybrid and electric vehicles, as at the end of 2017 there were only about 3,200 electric cars on the road in Ireland and, on current trends, there will be 14,000 by 2020 – well short of the 20,000 target set by the government.

The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture is a far more difficult problem to deal with. Simplistic solutions like us all becoming vegans are not realistic and the government needs to work even more closely with farmers in the area of bio energy in order to mitigate the causes of climate change.    

It is frightening to note that 10 years ago, in March 2008, we wrote here of research showing that ‘by 2050, each of us, globally, must emit no more than two tonnes of climate-changing pollution annually – as opposed to 17 tonnes at present – if we are to stop the climate becoming dangerously unstable. 

‘The main point of the bigger debate is that we are late addressing the problem and we need to play catch-up urgently. We need to take on this responsibility individually as well as collectively and to finally realise that the time has come for action and not just words.’

Unfortunately, little has changed since then in our general attitude towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A decade later, it is high time to make 2018 the year to tackle climate change meaningfully by taking personal responsibility for reducing our own polluting emissions and to participate in community initiatives, especially in the area of sustainable energy generation. 

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