YOUNG people from across Ireland took over Dáil Éireann on Friday of last week for the first ever Youth Assembly on Climate, which was convened by RTÉ and the Houses of the Oireachtas. There were 157 students filling the places of the TDs in the Dáil plus the Ceann Comhairle and they debated themes such as the environment, food and farming, economics, education and power.
It was a much more constructive than mitching from school and shouting and roaring on the streets; that has served its purpose in drawing attention to the depth of young people’s worries about the future of our fragile planet and the point has been made forcefully enough at this stage. The young people in the Dáil chamber impressively discussed how Ireland needs to address climate change and the debate was broadcast on RTÉ News Now and Oireachtas TV.
Their aim was to establish the next urgent steps that Ireland needs to take to mitigate the effects of climate change and set the country on course for zero carbon emissions by 2050. Most of their 10 suggestions tied in with the government’s Climate Action Plan, but there was a justified impatience shown by them about how long it is going to take to implement all the necessary steps.
The amount of money allocated for climate action measures in Budget 2020 does not give the assurance that it is being treated as the emergency it has been declare as. Still, it is good to note that there are small but significant incremental steps being taken all the time, such as the confirmation that Ireland will cease new offshore exploration for oil, however natural gas exploration and extraction will continue on a transitional basis as Ireland does not have the nuclear, hydro power at scale or geo-thermal power, which other countries can use to provide back-up when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.
Another initiative of note – again long overdue – is that of the City and County Managers Association’s Climate Action Charter for the State’s 31 local authorities, however the Green Party, while welcoming it, is ‘deeply concerned that local government is simply not fit for purpose to deliver and inspire the change required.’ That is a challenge for the local authorities themselves to address and the more that can be done at local level to try to reduce emissions by decarbonising their vehicle fleets and machinery, as well as further development and promotion of the Local Link public transport services – just to mention a few aspects – the better.
The relentless driving of the Climate Action Plan must come from the top and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has not helped the cause with some ill-judged recent remarks about the supposed ‘benefits’ of climate change, such as lower winter heating bills and fewer deaths due to cold weather. That sounds a lot like US President Donald Trump’s efforts to spin the melting of the polar ice cap as a plus as it would present further trading opportunities.
The Taoiseach has by now surely surpassed his predecessor in terms of gaffes and it would be funny if they wasn’t so serious, especially when it comes to subjects like climate action; having previously admitted that Ireland was a ‘laggard’ in this regard, he cannot afford to be playing into the hands of those who are in denial about the problems the planet is facing. As An Taisce stated in response to his remarks, ‘Once you go down the road of a-la-carte scientific interpretation, where does it end?’
Instead, Mr Varadkar should be expressing outrage on behalf of ourselves and the wider international community that the Trump administration has officially notified the United Nations of its planned withdrawal from the world’s first-ever legally binding global climate deal, signed at the international COP21 conference in Paris in December 2015 when President Barack Obama was in power.
Ireland South MEP Sean Kelly, who was present at the historic Paris Climate Agreement signing, said that, while the Trump withdrawal notice had been coming for some time, ‘it is a move that must be strongly and widely condemned by all signatories.’ The US withdrawal cannot be made official until after the 2020 presidential election there, so it must become a major campaign issue in the interim; voters need to be shown the true implications of their president’s populist dismissal of the net dangers to the planet of man-made global warming.
Something that we in Ireland – and our leaders – need to remain steadfastly focussed on.