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Question: Should Ireland increase its carbon tax?

While only some candidates supported a carbon tax, all agreed that urgent action both in Ireland and Europe was needed to save the climate.

In our audit of the Dublin European election candidates, we asked candidates 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?

Frances Fitzgerald  

I think that there is potential to increase our carbon tax. However this, and any measures that we make to ensure a cleaner, more sustainable climate, must be measured against the impact that such measures will have on the most vulnerable in our societies.

For those who may be displaced, cannot afford such carbon increases or who may lose their job due to shifts in the way our societies operate as a consequence of climate change, I am advocating for a Just Transition Fund.

This would make provision for those who need it most to avail of support in making the change to a low-carbon society.

Mark Durkan

I believe the carbon tax is one of the suites of changes that we need if we’re going to take effective climate action. I don’t just recite the idea of the polluter pays principle, I recognise that the end consumer is the end polluter so we need a carbon tax regime that doesn’t just tax the consumer but obviously it’s a proper carbon tax levy at the different stages of economic behaviour.

We have to price our costs into our transactions if we want to affect behavioural change which is what we need to do if we want to protect the environment. So, I do agree with the principle of carbon tax. I think we then need to work through its full implications and of course we need to make sure that the carbon tax is in itself used for the transition to a decarbonised economy.

Barry Andrews

Fianna Fáil supported a comprehensive suite of measures on climate change through the all-party committee, set up in response to proposals that emerged from the Citizens’ Assembly.

These measures include an increase in carbon tax. Fianna Fáil secured a significant compromise amendment to the Committee’s recommendation which stated that the carbon price trajectory to €80/tonne by 2030 should only be implemented when a plan is in place to increase support for climate action and protection measures, including for those vulnerable to fuel poverty, with associated revenues ring-fenced through legislation.

The Committee published a detailed cross-party report in March 2019 with over 40 recommendations across energy, transport, agriculture and housing, amounting to a fundamental redirection of the State’s response to global warming. This includes the introduction of a new 2050 emissions reduction target in line with the best available science and the State’s obligations under the Paris Agreement; a separate target to achieve 70% of energy from renewables by 2030; much greater State investment and support to retrofit more than 1.5 million houses, converting at least 45,000 homes a year over the next 15 years; a new framework to support greater offshore wind to decarbonise our energy system and many others. Fianna Fáil supports the implementation of these recommendations.

Clare Daly 

That question really depends on what kind of carbon tax you’re talking about. If it’s a carbon tax that involves slapping an extra €2 on a bale of briquettes, it’s unlikely it will work in changing behaviour and reducing the use of fossil fuels by ordinary households. We’ve had a carbon tax (of €20 per tonne) for years and still our emissions have gone up and up – increasing the levy won’t change anything in terms of usage – we need more radical action.

Additionally, a carbon tax that loads all the cost on the end-user will be deeply regressive, hitting the poorest hardest. A much better approach would be to increase tax in the first place on the producers of fossil fuels, as well as its biggest users in industry.

Aviation fuel currently has a 0% tax rate – and yet we’re talking about increasing fuel tax on consumers who can’t afford to retrofit their homes? I’m fully in favour of carbon taxes, but they have to be targeted in the right way.

The idea that the Left are opposed to carbon taxes is a complete red herring – we’re opposed to ineffective and ill-conceived carbon taxes that will disproportionately hit the less well-off, cooked up to give cover to a Government that has catastrophically failed to take action to meet our climate targets and that continually gives a free pass to industrial agriculture despite the massive harm it causes the climate.

Gary Gannon

We absolutely have to transition to a low-carbon, energy-efficient economy, and I think a carbon tax has a role to play in this. However, we need to be clear that any carbon tax must be progressive, and not an undue burden on those in poverty or at risk of poverty.

We need to be much more ambitious when it comes to climate justice in Ireland, by improving the State’s energy storage and interconnector requirements to improve our storage and trade of energy, but also by being ambitious by investing in research and development to make alternative renewable sources viable in Ireland, specifically wave, solar and biomass energy.

As the strongest proven technology, we should focus on wind energy, and increasing the number of wind farms and pioneering a community-led approach.

These measures can be led from Europe, but locally, Ireland can show real climate leadership, for instance by providing local authorities with funding to spend on green energy initiatives implemented at local authority and community level, with a focus on incentivising projects which will provide electricity back into the grid and thereby increase the supply of renewables.

Alex White

I fully support the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee that followed on from the Citizens’ Assembly on climate change. Innovative, inclusive policy-making processes like these are critical to building support and leadership on this critical.

Any increase in carbon tax should adhere to the polluter pays principle and ensure that major producers of carbon and other greenhouse gases are liable.

We also need to:

  • Adhere to our legally binding climate change goals under the Paris Agreement
  • Introduce a ‘just transition’ fund that protects workers and families from the transition to a carbon free Ireland.
  • It is also vital that proposals I developed to support community and citizen initiatives in tackling climate change are given impetus and urgency. The 2015 energy White Paper that I produced as Minister sets out in detail how this can and must be achieved.

Lynn Boylan

I have been a climate change activist all of my life.  For the last five years I have been a member of the Environment Committee in the European Parliament and spokesperson on Climate Change. I attended the COP24 talks and produced a climate emergency manifesto for GUE/NGL.

Ireland needs to declare a climate emergency and along with the EU significantly step up our climate change commitments.   I am opposed to carbon tax increases because they don’t work. All they do is put additional pressure on already struggling families.

I want to see a real climate action plan that works.  I support massive government investment for climate change, including household insulation and retrofits, reducing the cost and increasing the availability of public transport and investing in proper cycle ways.

I want to see an end to loopholes for the biggest polluters and stop allowing them to trade pollution permits. The European Central Bank needs 
to completely divest from dirty industries and allow for ambitious loans for green development.

We need to bring forward measurable plans to achieve a full decarbonisation of our economies before 2050, including a phase out date for fossil fuels.  We want to introduce deposit return schemes and to dramatically increase use of renewables for electricity from 25% to 80% by 2030.

I believe that the Irish government is making the exact same mistakes on climate change that it is making on housing. They want the market to deliver public goods, they are protecting financial interests, they want cost neutral policies where investment is needed. They are refusing to take direct action and regulate.

Rita Harrold

I am opposed to the neo-liberal carbon tax measure that simply seeks to place the burden onto the backs of working people. 100 corporations are responsible for 71% of global carbon emissions which illustrates how this is a crisis stemming from the insatiable desire to increase profits on behalf of a tiny elite. What we need is a rapid, just transition to a zero carbon economy. We must end the extraction of fossil fuels and we need massive public investment in wind, wave and renewable energy. Public transport should be expanded and made free of charge for all.

Ciarán Cuffe

Source: Claire Behan

I think we have to. I think we have to increase the carbon levy but we also need a carbon dividend. I think you should get the vast amount of that money back in order to make the right choices. So if you are filling a car with dirty diesel and travelling 150km a day, let’s give you that money back and maybe encourage you in a year or 5 years or 10 years time to make the right choices with the next car.

Mark Mullen

mark mullan for europe

We should be tackling corporations, rather than individuals. Many people don’t realistic travel options other than to drive. We shouldn’t punish them for that. Public transport needs to be improved instead.

Alice Mary Higgins 

I’ve campaigned on climate justice since 2008 when I campaigned at the UN COP Climate talks in Copenhagen with activists from the global south who were already suffering devastating impacts. In the Seanad, I have tracked these issues from the macro to the micro, fighting to protect our hedgerows and promote environmental standards in trade deals.

We are facing a twin crisis on climate change and biodiversity and they need a joined-up response. We need to meet or exceed the Paris Climate targets and that means systemic change and new priorities. We also need to, quite literally stop digging.

Ireland should not be issuing oil exploration licences, we should not be building a Liquified Natural Gas terminal and in the Seanad this week I will be proposing amendments to stop us opening new bogs up for commercial cutting.

The European Investment Bank has invested €11.8 billion in fossil fuel companies since 2013 and if elected, I will be pressing for divestment of EU funds out of fossil fuels and into green energy, large-scale retrofitting and sustainable public transport in cities like Dublin.

In terms of carbon pricing, this is about Just Transition but it is also about Climate Justice.

I believe the price of carbon must reflect its actual cost, a cost which is currently being felt by the poorest people in the world. Recognising the brutal impacts of climate change means putting a higher price on carbon and redirecting any money gathered into mitigation, adaptation and supports to vulnerable groups.

As a member of the Social Protection Committee, I have been advocating for far wider supports on fuel poverty and for the extension of employment and education supports to those currently working in sectors which are not sustainable. We also need laws to ensure that tenants are not made carry the cost for poor energy decisions by landlords.

Lastly, green spaces in our cities, including our parks and canals, are important for pollinators, wildlife and people. They should be protected, nurtured and reflected in planning.

About the author:

Kathleen McNamee

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