Irish climate change strategy remains inadequate, an Orchatas committee has heard.
Alternative experts criticized the Irish government-backed climate change plan, as well as the carbon budget recommended by the Climate Change Advisory Council, as falling short of what was needed to tackle the climate emergency.
All four issued a stern warning about the country’s hard-fought struggle to meet carbon budget targets and the punitive effects of failing to do so.
The Oieachtas meeting is one of four to discuss the Irish Carbon Budget Plan, which is designed to determine the level of greenhouse gases that can be emitted by different sectors in Ireland over a five-year period.
We really need to understand this mesh of reconciling our immediate priorities for an easier transition locally in Ireland, given our comfortable lifestyle todayProfessor Barry McMullin
Ireland aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 51 percent by 2030.
Dublin City University (DCU) Professor Barry McMullin called on the Orchatus Environment and Climate Action Committee to “reduce the budget further”.
Failing to do so, he said in response to a question by Fianna Fell TD Christopher O’Sullivan, was a form of “neo-colonialism”.
Appeared with DCU colleague Paul Price, he said: “I will not pretend that the level of challenge is already too significant on the council’s budget.
“And if you reduce the budget further, that would represent a higher level of challenge, but nothing compared to the challenge facing the poor and vulnerable around the world today, which is our disproportionate emissions and our are exposed to greater climate risks because of their children and future years.
“We really have to understand this trap of reconciling our immediate priorities for an easier transition locally in Ireland, given our comfortable lifestyles today.
If we fail to meet our goals by 2023, we will face trial because we will be bound to meet those goals in some way or the other.Professor John Sweeney
“I know we hold back from this in Ireland because of our history, but it is a form of passive neo-colonialism.
“We are exploiting an atmospheric commons, a global commons, that is equally common to all people on Earth, but we are exploiting it as disproportionately as we can.”
Members of the Climate Change Advisory Council, as well as the draft carbon budget, appeared before the Orechtas committee on Tuesday to communicate and defend their strategy.
But on Wednesday, four academics criticized some of the work of the Climate Change Advisory Council and questioned the approach of these scientists.
He pointed specifically to the fact that the Irish carbon budget failed to take into account emissions from aviation and shipping.
Any delay by Ireland in cutting carbon emissions over the next two years could see “massive cuts” in some areas before the end of 2025, the committee was also told by Professor John Sweeney of Maynooth University.
It is important to recognize that, under the 2021 Act, the carbon budget is no longer just a ‘target’ to be ‘aspirated’. They are self-imposed quantitative statutory constraints, which are legally binding on the state.Professor Barry McMullin
Professor Kevin Anderson of the University of Manchester made an equally harsh assessment, warning that Ireland and other prosperous countries needed to abandon “economic expediency and Machiavellian policies”.
Agriculture, a major issue of the Irish economy and a sensitive political sector, came under special scrutiny.
Prof Sweeney told the committee that Ireland “requires a commitment that we will reduce our national herd” and that “we will reduce our methane emissions by at least 3% per year on a sustained basis”.
He said it was “essential” that Ireland achieved a reduction in the number of cattle in the country, suggesting a ban on artificial insemination was an option.
Academics outline the legally binding nature of carbon budgets and their implications for the Irish government.
“If we get to 2025 and we are not reaching our goal, we will face litigation. We will face litigation much before that,” said Prof. Sweeney.
“If we fail to meet our goals by 2023, we will face trial because we will be obliged to meet those goals by any means.”
I’ve heard a lot of comments that this is the second most ambitious shortfall figure in the world. I think that’s not necessarily a fair descriptionProfessor John Sweeney
Prof McMullin echoed this: “It is important to recognize that, under the 2021 Act, carbon budgets are no longer ‘aspirational’ to ‘target’.”
He added: “They are self-imposed quantitative statutory constraints, which are legally binding on the state.
“This is a fundamentally new and extremely challenging framework for our political and policy institutions.”
Carbon budgets demand, he said, “an immediate re-evaluation of our governance mechanisms to ensure they are in line with this task”.
“There is a very strong case for the early establishment of mechanisms to dynamically regulate, as and when necessary, upstream inputs to Irish social activities, such as fossil fuels,” he said.
Prof Sweeney also warned that it was likely to be misguided to project the Irish carbon budget plan as the “most ambitious” in the world.
“I’ve heard a lot of comments that this is the second most ambitious reduction figure in the world,” he said.
The carbon budget is a ration. You have to stay within that ration. SUVs should not be in any forecourt. If there’s a climate emergency, you don’t sell SUVsProfessor Kevin Anderson
“I think it’s not necessarily a fair description. Sure, if you drag your feet for 20 years and there’s a huge emissions per capita, it’s easy enough to set a target, but many countries have similar We’ve got figures and got consistent cuts that Ireland haven’t achieved, so I don’t think we need to prematurely pat our backs.”
He also warned that the decision to cut emissions by an average of 4.8% for the first five-year period threatens to create an “unbearable burden” if there is any “slippery” in reaching that goal.
“If we are not to beat them by the end of 2022 and 2023, we will need to drastically cut sectors to achieve them by 2025,” he said.
Determining the scale of change required, experts explained how COVID-19 made unimaginable changes possible.
Prof Anderson said: “A carbon budget is a ration. You have to live within that ration.
“There should be no SUV in any forecourt.
“If there’s a climate emergency, you don’t sell SUVs.”
We are where we are because of 30 years of collective lies and delusion. We have a choice. we can do it 32 years or 33 yearsProfessor Kevin Anderson
At the end of the meeting, senior Fine Gail TD and former minister Richard Bruton clashed with experts.
He said, ‘I do not send any minister who is listening to this.
“I think the climate change advisory council will not be widely portrayed by the voters on whom we all depend in this room.”
He defended the work of the Climate Change Advisory Council and questioned how viable some of the proposals were.
He urged “eminent scientists to find a middle ground with people like themselves who are trying to gain momentum here”.
Professor Anderson hit back, saying: “We are where we are because of 30 years of collective lies and delusion. We have a choice. We can make it 32 years or 33 years.”
He said climate change was an opportunity to create millions of new jobs and end fuel poverty for the poorest.
The more these debates, the better. I am afraid that we are not communicating and we are working in our fieldBrian Ledin, Green Party TD
Brian Ledin, chairman of the Green Party TD committee, ended the meeting praising the “compelling” evidence.
“The more these debates, the better. I am afraid that we are not communicating and we are working in our field,” he said.
“It’s great and good to talk about the essence. But if we’re not talking about the real, the immediate and the local, we’re doing a great deal of damage to the movement.”