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Question: Should Ireland increase its carbon tax?

Many of the candidates noted that any increase in carbon tax should be met with increased benefits.

In our audit of the Ireland South European election candidates, we asked each candidate to answer questions on nine of the most pressing issues facing Ireland and Europe in the coming years. 

Should Ireland increase its carbon tax? What other climate change measures should Ireland introduce?

Mick Wallace

Any increases in carbon tax should target those who do the most to drive global warming – that means taxing fossil fuel producers at source, rich consumers, and corporations.

Over 15% of the Irish population has an income below the poverty line – the tax must be structured in such a way that the working class are not penalised for being poor, some of the gains of any tax should be redistributed back to less well off households as a rebate.

We must address corporate welfare – we currently hand over gifts to the fossil fuel industry in the form of subsidies, principally in the form of tax reductions on petroleum products. Fossil fuel subsidies in the EU have remained steady over the last 10 years at around €55 billion, but only Ireland, the UK, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden gave more subsidies to the fossil fuel energy sector than renewable energy – ending these subsidies must be made a priority.

We need to end our tax haven activities – apart from the structural system of theft from the Global South that these are in effect a further subsidy to the most polluting corporations on the planet.

A Green New Deal type project is quite an exciting prospect. As the recent IPCC report published last November stressed, as the window closes on being carbon neutral the size and urgency of this mammoth task is increasing – only something as dramatic, systematic and revolutionary as a Green New Deal type project can address the crisis we face.

The manner in which neoliberal capitalism has been functioning – the endless privatisation, the hollowing out of the state, the race to the bottom and rising power of multinational corporations over far reaching policy decisions, all this has to be reversed. Under a green new deal we could expand retrofitting of existing housing stock and increase housing provision dramatically – millions of public, zero-carbon homes would bring down high emissions from the residential sector across the EU as well as work to improve the lives of millions of people who are paying far too much of their income on unrealistic rents going into private sector bank accounts.

Part of this programme would have to include a property speculation tax like in Germany, and/or a Tobin tax to curb the flows of capital into the housing sector that are keeping property prices artificially high. We must ensure that well-planned and affordable public transport must be invested in as part of these new public housing projects. What is abundantly clear is that market solutions do not work – the housing crisis in Ireland is a textbook example of how private developers cannot be depended on to provide a public good, no matter how many incentives you throw at them.

We must end our support for the US war machine and stop Shannon airport being used as a forward military base – the US military as an entity is the world’s largest consumer of fossil fuels, and it’s 4800 military bases are pollution disaster-sites spread over 164 countries. Exposure to toxic materials from explosion of munitions and burning of military waste by US army has also been found to cause birth defects in Iraq. Add to this the simple fact that when the West bombs another country they bomb public infrastructure that is the apparatus of that society, including the systems that support the environment. We must also oppose the militarism and sanctions that interfere with the autonomy of countries to raise funds to support global warming mitigation measures.

Deirdre Clune

Yes but it should be done in a manner that does not adversely those that can least afford the increase.

Transport is Europe’s biggest climate problem and accounted for over a quarter of its GHG emissions in 2017 – we can recognise that the decarbonisation of the power sector is a prerequisite for a zero emission transport system and promote electrification and cleaner public transport for example. Large investments will be needed in the renewables sector and also in electricity transmission grids.

Colleen Worthington

We need to restore and preserve Ireland’s natural forests, bogs, and hedgerows, which capture millions of tonnes of carbon that would otherwise be in the atmosphere. Ireland’s forest cover currently stands at only 10.5%, the lowest in Europe; increasing this will suck carbon out of the atmosphere.

Jan Van De Ven

Yes, Ireland needs to work on increasing carbon credits which will offset the carbon tax.

Sheila Nunan

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Labour’s vision is climate justice: real action on climate, but also action to eliminate fuel poverty (like ambition to insulate 100,000 homes per year), to a Just Transition Task Force to invest in new, green jobs where they are being displaced by the move to a low carbon economy.

We need strong action in every sector of the economy to get Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions down from 60 million tonnes a year, at present, to 33 million tonnes by 2030. 

Unfortunately, there are enough fossil fuels in the world to destroy nature (and humanity) several times over.

The price of fossil fuels (especially coal) is always going to be relatively cheap. The most effective way to speed up changes in the economy is to make all fossil fuels artificially expensive through carbon taxation.

Seán Kelly

Yes, but it must go hand-in hand with enhanced incentives to support households and small businesses to decarbonise, and money raised must be used to support vulnerable groups such as those in fuel poverty. It should be solely about decarbonisation, and not for raising revenue for the exchequer.

Ireland should work to meet the targets that have now been set for 2030 for the non-ETS sectors, renewable energy, energy efficiency and the energy performance of buildings in particular.

Liadh Ní Riada

A carbon tax on people who are already struggling to make ends meet will not help achieve our climate targets, it will just add to the existing worries of struggling families.

We recently published a Climate Emergency Manifesto which outlines the steps we deem necessary in order to safeguard the future of our climate.

The measures proposed include increasing our 2030 targets on a reduction of at least 65% greenhouse gases, and revise all other climate and energy targets to what is scientifically necessary to curb global warming well below 1.5°C. We also called for fossil fuels to be fully phased out by 2030.

Liam Minehan

No. The thing about carbon tax is it isn’t something that Ireland can do on its own. You can’t commit Ireland to a carbon tax if other countries aren’t going to do it. You can’t commit our agriculture to it if other countries aren’t going to do it. There are a lot of things that need to be made work before we do that.

Breda Gardner

Yes, Ireland should increase its carbon tax, but it should be targeted much more at the polluters and much less at the squeezed middle and the general public. Any carbon tax should incentivise good behaviour and be applied on a fair basis. For starters, I’d like to see three simple measures implemented immediately, following the lead of our European neighbours.

  1. Anyone using renewable sources to generate electricity should be allowed to sell any surplus back to the grid<
  2. Develop policies which incentivise employers and businesses to co-locate their premises where renewable energy projects are being developed: this would directly benefit the local community and create a campus effect.
  3. A 25 cent deposit on single use plastic bottles.

Oh and a fourth measure: a blanket ban on the wretched plastic posters for elections!

Grace O’Sullivan

I would like to see us leveraging the EU funding to offset our carbon emissions as soon as we can. In terms of our contribution, we have to look at how our carbon emissions are increasing in terms of agriculture and transport. We have to look at how we can pay our fair share.

I was a member of the climate committee, we put in a recommendation that there would be an increase in carbon tax but that there would be a return dividend and the dividend would offset that tax in order for people to do the right thing. For people to do the right thing, they need the right systems in place and that means better transport and better support for housing and better incentives.

Peter O’Loughlin 

No. When I was in school, the hole in the Ozone layer was going to kill us all. This is the same nonsense. I can recognise a bandwagon when I see it.

Andrew Doyle 

Source: Nick Bradshaw

Fine Gael is committed to tackling climate change and I am acutely aware that both the window to tackle climate disruption is fast closing and the decisions we make now will define the next century. Ireland has been lagging behind its European counterparts in terms of our structural reliance on carbon.

The Oireachtas committee’s report on climate change makes a very strong case for investing in and changing the way we produce power at a business and home level. Introducing a carbon tax forms a part of the solution to encouraging a change in behaviour.

The broad cross party support for setting a long term price for carbon of €80 by 2030 gives certainty to individuals and business to drive the transition towards lower carbon choices. Investment and innovation increases in the carbon price must be balanced by enhanced incentives to support households and small businesses to decarbonise, and there must also be measures to support vulnerable groups such as those in fuel poverty.

That report will feed into Minister Bruton’s All of Government Plan on Climate Action, which is due to be published shortly.

We are entering a period of immense change – in how we work, travel and live. But I’m encouraged by the fact that all-parties are committed to the task ahead.

Diarmuid O’Flynn

No, it’s too blunt an instrument, a regressive tax that disproportionately hits those who can least afford it. I agree with the ‘polluter pays’ principle, but hit the polluting industries rather than those of us at the other end, and hit them in their pockets, through increased taxes designed for that purpose. Other climate measures – so many options, so many needs!

All new builds should be passive houses, that’s first; major subsidies to retrofit existing houses to the highest energy-rating possible (would have the added bonus of creating jobs); major investment in public transport nationwide, in all spheres – road, rail, waterways; subsidised fares on public transport; reduce our national cattle herd and encourage a return to mixed agriculture, to horticulture especially, via subsidies from the EU and from Ireland; encourage more working from home. These are just a few…

About the author:

Kathleen McNamee

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