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What has the Taoiseach done to reduce his carbon footprint? He's eating less meat

Varadkar says lessons must be learned from water charges stating that cross-party buy-in for carbon taxes is needed.

Image: Shutterstock/Sara Winter

TAOISEACH LEO Varadkar has said he is probably not the best example for people in terms of how to lower your carbon footprint given the amount he travels.

When asked by reporters what he has done to reduce his own carbon footprint, the Taoiseach said he is trying to eat less meat.

“I am trying to eat less meat, both for health reasons and for reasons of climate change. But I imagine given the amount of travel I do I am probably not the best example,” he said.

However, he said the government and its ministers should “lead by example” adding that the goverment owns a lot of vehicles and rolling out more hybrid and electric cars in the fleet should be looked at in the future.

Carbon tax on the way

His comments come after day-long discussions on issues such as climate change and the roll out of a carbon tax, which has been the focus of the Fine Gael’s first parliamentary meeting of the new year.

Varadkar told his party members that he does not want to “penalise” people, but said it is inevitable that a carbon tax will be introduced.

He said this means a tax on coal, home heating oil, diesel, petrol and gas. 

“Essentials for the vast majority of people and ones over which most people do not have much control,” Varadkar said.

“We do not want to penalise people but encourage them to change their behaviour in the long-term. We want people to know what the tax will be in 2030 and how it will increase each year between now and then,” he said.

Before Christmas, Varadkar said a rebate system would be introduced to offset any carbon tax hikes. It was mooted that this could come in the form of a cheque to all households.

“I do not yet have a settled view on how we should return the money to people. There are different options: we could increase child benefit, or people’s individual tax credits and social welfare payments, including for example the pension.

“Another way, similar to what is being examined in Canada, is to give each household a cheque. Therefore, as the carbon charge increases each year, so does the cheque each household is receiving,” he said, adding that deciding on the best approach requires careful thought and consideration in the months ahead. 

(Click here if the video doesn’t play)

How much?

The first thing the government wants to do is set a trajectory of what the carbon charge will be in 2030 and by how much it will increase each year to get to that.

“The second piece is to do this in a revenue-neutral way – whatever is taken in on a carbon tax will be given back out to citizens. So people will be encouraged to move away from carbon intensive activity and towards more environmentally friendly ones without suffering an overall loss to their income,” said Varadkar.

Environment Minister Richard Bruton, who is tasked with getting Ireland up to speed on its climate change obligations, said today:

The important thing is that money will be recycled back, so people will be either getting a cheque in the post or getting rebate through the social welfare and tax system that compensates them.
This isn’t a money grab to take money out of your pocket. This is to help people to make decisions for the long-term.

Not about generating cash

With local elections in the offing, and with the possibility of a general election, Bruton and the Taoiseach were keen to offset the idea that a tax was about generating money.

“The bottom line on both of the solutions is that the purpose of the carbon tax is not to raise revenue. It is to nudge people to change their behaviour,” said Bruton.

“But the really important thing is that that money would be recycled back so people will be either getting a cheque in the post or getting a rebate through the social welfare and tax systems that compensates them so it will encourage people to change the way they behave,” said Bruton, adding: 

This isn’t a money grab to take money out of your pocket.
This is trying to help people to make decisions that are for the long-term.

Both the Taoiseach and Bruton said the government is going to need cross-party buy-in to make the introduction of a carbon tax a success. If they don’t get it, it will fail, said Bruton.

Learning from the water charges debacle

The Taoiseach said lessons must be learned from the water charges debacle.

The experience of water charges in this country, and more recently in France, reminds us that you can take the right environmental actions for the right reasons but if you do not bring the public with you from day-one, you will lose. And so will the environment.

Varadkar also defended his decision to not introduce a carbon tax in last October’s Budget. He said there was a strong backlash from some quarters for not doing this, but said “it was the right decision”.

If we had increased it in the budget, it would not have been about changing behaviour but rather raising tax revenue. The wrong approach especially with VAT going up on some services at the same time. 
We want people to understand what is being done and why it’s in their interest.

The Taoiseach also told his parliamentary party today that he wants Ireland to be “among a cluster of nations at the top in terms of reducing our carbon emissions and being on a trajectory towards carbon neutrality by 2050″. 

He said he also wants Ireland to be seen internationally as the country that is leading the war on reducing plastics waste.

Varadkar said may of these changes will “involve hard choices being made”.

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