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Dublin: 20 °C Thursday 18 July, 2019
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'Action was taken and our fears were conquered': Varadkar inspired by his generation's acid rain and ozone layer threats

New government plans launched today include removing petrol and diesel cars, and doubling the reliance on renewable energy.

Varadkar at launch this afternoon.
Varadkar at launch this afternoon.
Image: Leah Farrell

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR said global efforts to tackle and repair a hole in the ozone layer when he was growing up could be replicated now to tackle climate change. 

Speaking at the launch of the government’s long-term climate action plan at the Technological University in Dublin, he said growing up, acid rain and damage to the ozone were the biggest issues, but that they were successfully remedied by global action. 

“Growing up, for us, the biggest environmental concerns were acid rain and the depletion of the ozone layer,” he said.   

“These were real threats, not scare stories and action was taken, on a global scale, and our fears were conquered.  

For young people growing up today, one of their greatest fears is that the world will be destroyed in a climate apocalypse.

Varadkar and several government ministers attended the launch this afternoon. 

The measures outlined in the action plan follow the recommendations from the citizens’ assembly report which was published last year.

The citizens’ assembly accepted recommendations from members of the public, representative groups and other organisations before delivering its verdict on the measures needed to effect a change in Ireland’s carbon footprint. 

The new measures officially announced today include removing petrol and diesel vehicles from Irish roads over the next 11 years, and also moving toward electric-powered vehicles for public transport.

The government outlined plans to more than double the reliance on renewable energy from 30% to 70% and aims to close coal and peat plants.

In agriculture, it wants to expand forestry planting and introduce targeted changes to land management.

Climate change minister Richard Bruton said the new measures are “sensible and fair’ and “most economic” so as to “create the least burden on our people”.

“Ireland is far off course and we are very exposed as a result of that, we must act now to make ourselves resilient,” he said.

The longer we delay making that change the harder it will be in the long run.

“This effort we are making now is integral to the vision the government has set out in project 2040.

“The government will have central responsibly in creating the roadmap to do that,” he added.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “Our approach is not a coercive one rather it is to nudge citizens and businesses to change their behaviour.”

Rural vs Urban

Asked if the new measures would have a disproportionate impact on rural homes than it would on urban ones, Varadkar said the effect would depend on individual households’ circumstances rather than the location of their home in rural or urban areas. 

“The impact on individuals, on households, is actually going to be different and it’s not a case of urban versus rural.

“If you’re driving a lot it’s going to impact you more than people who aren’t, but there are lots of people who live in rural Ireland who have a shorter commute.

It’s far too simplistic to say rural-urban… so we really should try and get away from that kind of binary simplicity.

On the effect of farming on carbon emissions, Varadkar said he believed consumers were concerned about the sustainability of the products they buy, and so it is in farmers’ interests to move to sustainable farming. 

“A lot of farmers get this already… you have to know your consumer, you have to know your market,” he said. 

Consumers want to know that food they’re buying is being produced sustainably.

Challenging

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he welcomed the added attention being given to climate change but said it fell short in some areas. 

“There is still a lack of clarity, ambition, and urgency,” he said. 

Responding to media reports that vehicles could be barred from urban town centres around Ireland, Independent TD Mattie MCGrath said the new measures look like “an absolute nightmare for rural Ireland”. 

“How can any one of us have confidence that these proposals will not hit rural Ireland hardest especially since we are already so badly served with the existing transport network,” he said. 

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Associations said farmers would respond to the “right incentives” but that the measures would be challenging for them. 

“We [...] need to look at policies to ensure that farmers who engage in best practice from an environmental point of view are rewarded,” a statement said. 

“We also need to look again at better policies at both national and EU level on renewable energies.”

Sinn Féin’s climate spokesperson Brian Stanley criticised the plans as falling short of what is needed to instigate a positive change.

“The Government does not have an ambitious enough action plan for renewable energy,” he said.

“It contains no commitment to a large-scale capital plan to develop renewable energy like bio-gas, bio-mass, wind, or solar on the scale which is required.”

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