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Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan
Results Day

Government gets 'C+' in climate action as scientists say progress is good but not enough

It’s a slight increase from last year’s C, representing cause for ‘hope’ but not ‘celebration’.

LEAVING CERT RESULTS may be over for another year but the government has just been handed a score sheet of its own for its progress on climate action.

A panel of three academics who scrutinised the climate promises made by the government at the start of its term and compared them to current actions has given the Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil/Green Party coalition a C+ for 2023.

It’s a slight increase from last year’s C, representing cause for “hope” but not “celebration”, the new report has stated.

The research was carried out by Dr Cara Augustenborg of UCD, Dr Diarmuid Torney of DCU and Dr Paul Deane of UCC. Environmental NGO Friends of the Earth commissioned the assessment but did not have a role in deciding its results.

The 2020-2025 Programme for Government contains almost 300 commitments linked to climate or the environment. The expert panel conducted research into the level of progress made on the commitments, accounting for the fact that the coalition was in the third year of its five-year programme.

It divided the government’s commitments into nine categories – climate; nature and biodiversity; waste and the circular economy; water and marine; air quality; transport; buildings; and energy – and gave each a score out of 10.

The panel found that progress in the last year was particularly poor in the areas of water &  marine and agriculture & forestry, which it graded just five and four out of 10 respectively.

The report noted that there was “significant progress” on energy commitments compared to last year, rising from a score of four to seven, and moderate improvement in buildings, up from six to seven. 

The best progress was made in waste and circular economy, but even that ranked only 7.5 – a decrease from its 2022 and 2021 rating of 8.5, which the report attributed to a “lack of clear implementation after an excellent start in policy development”.

There was also a decline in progress on transport commitments due to “lack of spending on active transport infrastructure and a rebound of greenhouse gas emissions in this sector”. 

The report calls for the government to fully implement the Climate Action Plan and scale up its level of action.

It must also provide more clarity about the legal consequences of failing to meet climate commitments, create better collaboration between departments, and improve engagement with the public in communicating the need and reasons for climate measures.

In agriculture, the report said that even with “limited ambition”, the State is “still largely failing to achieve its own promises”.

“While greenhouse gas emissions reduced slightly in the agricultural sector in 2022, this was driven by high fertiliser costs rather than policy interventions and could easily rebound in the future as prices stabilise,” it stated.

“More proactive interventions and less complacency by the Government is essential for agriculture to achieve its emission reduction targets and play its part in improving water quality. In addition, adaptation to future climate change must be given more consideration regarding risks to food production.”

The report welcomed investment in sustainable transport options but emphasises that there “is a difference between throwing money at a problem and spending it, and the underspend of local authorities in this area has been a roadblock to success”.

There has been progress in legislating for e-scooters, lowering speed limits, the uptake of electric vehicles and public transport projects but commitments on ride-sharing, extending bike-to-work schemes, school transport and the Western rail corridor “do not appear to be progressing” and the Metrolink and Bus Corridor projects “have been plagued with planning issues”.

Dr Augustenborg, the panel’s chair, said the government is taking action on climate but that it is not yet having a clear impact on people’s lives or matching the scale of the climate crisis.

“We’re accustomed to hearing nothing but bad news when it comes to Ireland’s environmental record but taking a deep dive inside the government’s work since 2020 provides clear evidence that progress is being made to improve Ireland’s environmental health in most areas,” she said.

It’s frustrating that this work is not yet apparent in people’s lives and we’re not seeing the transformational changes needed to address the climate and biodiversity emergency.

“However, if Government doubles down on their efforts through intense and sustained effort, we could be living in a more sustainable Ireland within the decade. The question is whether or not the government’s will is strong enough to accomplish this in the short time remaining.”

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