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2 October 2008 Edition

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Ireland far behind emissions target

CONGESTION charges: proposal contained in IIEA report

CONGESTION charges: proposal contained in IIEA report


BY EMMA CLANCY

REPORTS issued in recent weeks have highlighted the Fianna Fáil/Green Party Government’s failure to seriously tackle climate change, with Ireland far behind its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and highly unlikely to bridge the gap under current Government policy.
The Government-linked Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported on 25 September that Ireland’s projection to limit carbon emissions growth to no more than 13 per cent above baseline 1990 levels by 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol was well behind target. Emissions in 2007 were 23 per cent above 1990 levels and the report says that the only way Ireland can now come close to meeting its 2012 target is by purchasing more carbon credits from other countries.
The Kyoto Protocol limits the 26-County state’s total emissions to an average of 62.8 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year between 2008 and 2012. EPA Director Dr Mary Kelly said that, according to the agency’s estimations, under the most ambitious, best-case scenario under current policies, Ireland “will be on average 5 million tonnes higher per annum”.
“That’s 1.4 million tonnes worse than last year’s National Climate Change Strategy projected.”
Another report, launched on 29 September by the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA), criticised Ireland’s fossil-fuel dependency and said that the Government’s National Climate Change Strategy is not ambitious enough and must be revised as soon as possible. The report proposed policy options for the Government including introducing congestion charges and a fuel carbon tax to help combat transport carbon emissions.
Ireland now has to deal with the failure of the Fianna Fáil-led Government during the boom years to prioritise reducing emissions and meeting international carbon commitments. Ireland is the fifth-highest carbon emitter per person in the industrialised world. Friends of the Earth has observed:
“So far, Ireland’s response to the threat of climate change can be characterised as never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
A 1998 report commissioned by the Government in formulating its Kyoto target recommended a carbon tax, changing Moneypoint power station from coal to gas and regulations in the construction industry aimed at ensuring higher energy efficiency in homes. Instead, the Government pushed private transport, refused to introduce a carbon tax, and relied heavily on carbon trading to meet its obligations under Kyoto.
Green Party Environment Minister John Gormley has repeatedly insisted that Ireland is “now on target” to meet its Kyoto target. But the emissions target gap has widened over the past year with the Green Party in government, holding the environment and energy departments.
Speaking after he launched the IIEA report, Gormley suggested that the Government may now delay the introduction of a proposed carbon tax until next year’s budget.
While it might be possible for the Government to paper over its failure to fulfil its Kyoto obligations by buying more carbon credits overseas – if it even has the will to do that – the state’s economy and public infrastructure is ill-prepared to meet its 2020 targets.
The 2020 target is an international agreement still being negotiated and is likely to aim to reduce emissions in the EU by between 20 and 30 per cent from 2005 levels between 2012 and 2020.
The IIEA and EPA reports both pointed out that unless the Government makes dramatic infrastructure and policy changes, it will be impossible for Ireland to come close to meeting these obligations. The EPA said that, under the current Government plans, at best emissions will be seven million tonnes of greenhouse gases higher in 2020 than the proposed target of a 20 per cent reduction by then.
If an agreement is reached at the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen at the end of 2009 to reduce emissions by 30 per cent on 2005 levels by 2020, the ability to meet our international obligations to fight climate change will be even further out of reach.
Last week, the Irish Government insisted to the European Union that it could not reduce emissions in the agricultural sector. Agriculture is the largest contributor to overall emissions in Ireland, at 27.7 per cent of the total and emission reductions are difficult to achieve.
The recommendations in the IIEA report focus on reducing emissions in road transport, which is the fastest-growing source of Ireland’s climate pollution. Transport emissions account for nearly one-fifth of the overall total and have risen by 165 per cent since 1990.
The report suggests a congestion charge to encourage people to leave their cars at home, for a carbon tax on all fuels bought by people and for tax incentives to buy electric cars.
While both reports call for a “fundamental” or “radical” overhaul of Government climate policy, many of the solutions they propose would only bring incremental change and shift the burden of paying for pollution onto ordinary people through punitive taxes and rising costs. Parking and congestion taxes are certainly an incentive to drive less, but a much more effective incentive would be for the Government to provide a quality, affordable public transport system through a dramatic expansion of infrastructure.
The ‘consensus’ – of the fossil fuel industries and governments – that carbon trading should continue to be a central pillar of Ireland’s climate strategy is endorsed by the EPA and IIEA. But as the ‘tipping point’ of irreversible climate damage approaches fast, the limitations of over-reliance on carbon trading are being demonstrated not only in Ireland but elsewhere. The extra costs associated with being able to continue to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will not necessarily be a ‘market signal’ to bring emissions down if the price of carbon credits is cheaper than switching to renewables. In many cases it has not resulted in investment into renewable energy sources and the extra cost has simply been shifted onto ordinary people.
We cannot rely solely on market mechanisms, including carbon trading, taxes and incentives to bring about the fundamental change necessary to reduce our emissions.
The Green Party in government in Ireland has clearly demonstrated the limitations of accepting the dogma that we can solve the problem by making small incremental changes here and there. We urgently need public investment into new technologies, energy sources and infrastructure – such as a major extension of our public transport system – that can power our society with clean energy and effectively slash emissions. This has to be at the centre of our strategy for reducing emissions.

 

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