"We may as well have Trump as Taoiseach" - Government slammed over climate change statement

Climate Minister claims Ireland's 2020 target for the reduction of emissions “may be inappropriate in terms of cost-effectiveness"

"We may as well have Trump as Taoiseach" - Government slammed over climate change statement

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten. 28-Nov-2016. Image: Niall Carson PA Wire/PA Images

Climate change groups have reacted angrily to the Government’s first annual transition statement on climate change.

Under legislation passed in December of last year, the government is required to outline the measures it has taken to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change.

Ireland is one of 116 countries to have ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change which aims to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels - and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.

Speaking in the Seanad yesterday, the Minister for Climate Action, Denis Naughten admitted Ireland is unlikely to meet its EU target for a 20% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020.

He admitted the potential impacts of climate change at a local level in Ireland are “serious and they have already partially arrived.”

“There is incontrovertible evidence that global warming is threatening life on our planet,” he said. “The planet is heating up and our activity is the main cause.”

Video: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Centre Scientific Visualisation Studio

He went on however to claim the EU target, “may be inappropriate in terms of cost-effectiveness.”

Responding to the statement, Green Party Senator Grace O’Sullivan said the government is “lacking political leadership” on climate change and said Minister Naughten does not “recognise the urgency of the situation.”

“The Minister was in the papers once again today lamenting that Ireland’s 2020 emissions targets were too ambitious,” she said.

“I would suggest that he and his Government colleagues aren’t nearly ambitious enough in time frame or in scale.”

She said Ireland risks missing out on the economic opportunities of transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

“Our fossil-fuel based economy is delivering shorter life spans, negative health impacts, an unhealthy obsession with the combustion engine and a fuel bill of €6.5bn in energy imports every year,” she said.

“Changing the way we organise our society should not a burden, it is an incredible opportunity to address so many issues we face as a country - housing, transport, energy, agriculture and health sectors, to name but a few.

“How can we have trust this government in taking ambitious leadership to a carbon free future, if they fail to see the problems with the current approach?”

Climate action group Friends of the Earth (FOTE) called the statement “a damp squib” adding that if the government cannot commit to real action on climate change, “we may as well have Trump as Taoiseach.”

The group’s director, Oisin Coghlan said there was, “just no sense of urgency in today's climate statement.”

He said the government objective of an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050 requires a 5% cut every year - with Irish emissions rising by 4% last year.

"There was no indication today that the draft plan will add up to anything like our fair share of climate action. In fact there were no concrete actions in today's speech at all,” he said.

Video: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Centre

Minister Naughten said more than €100m was designated in budget 2017 for energy projects that will, “save over 116,000 tonnes in carbon emissions each year.”

“These will support approximately 3,000 jobs and reduce our overall dependence on imported fossil fuels,” he said.

He suggested a “far more radical” way to address Ireland’s transport emissions would be to “reduce the need the need to travel in first instance” and said the National Broadband Plan will allow people to work from home in their own communities without the need to commute.

The government is due to publish its draft five-year national mitigation plan outlining how Ireland aims to reduce its climate pollution in the coming days.

The Stop Climate Chaos Coalition - which includes a number of environmental bodies as well as Concern, Trocaire and Oxfam - has outlined five tests the plan must pass if government policy can be judges as “credible climate action.”

The tests include ensuring Ireland shoulders its fair share of emissions reductions, phasing out fossil fuels, ramping up renewable energy, moving agriculture toward carbon neutrality and realigning our investment in transport.

Senator O’Sullivan said the government has already “fallen at the first hurdle” on climate policy by “failing to decouple economic growth and emissions.”

“How can we have trust this government in taking ambitious leadership to a carbon free future, if they fail to see the problems with the current approach?” she asked.

“We need to act now if we are serious about transiting to a cleaner future.

“Ireland can be a world leader in the coming century if we are ambitious about going green. All we need is the political leadership. Sadly, that seems to be lacking in the current Government.”

Minister Naughten is due to deliver the transition statement to the Dáil this afternoon.