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'It's about our children now, not our grandchildren': Is Ireland ready to introduce a carbon tax?

It’s been claimed that the tide is turning in how society views the problem of climate change.

Image: Shutterstock

ON FRIDAY, OPPOSITION parties and environmental NGOs gathered to call on the Government to pass legislation required to tackle the problem of climate change.

The group occupied the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment after handing a list of 22 demands, including the passage of three climate action bills currently before the Dáil, to Minister Richard Bruton.

The protest came days after Sir David Attenborough told a UN summit that the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world was a significant threat.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan told the gathering that the tide was changing in how society viewed the problem of climate change.

“The issue of climate change has been there for thirty years, the issue of extinction and biodiversity loss has been there for fifty, but in the last few months the reality of it seems to be coming home to people,” he said.

“The tide of public perception is turning and we have to rise with it.”

Emissions targets

However, questions remain over how best to tackle the problem in Ireland.

Ireland is unlikely to meet EU de-carbonisation and renewable energy targets for 2020, which see renewables make up 16% of final energy use and 10% of energy in the transport sector.

Earlier this year, the Citizens’ Assembly heard that Ireland would need to introduce a carbon tax as much as €70 on coal, turf and other products to improve on its emissions targets.

Meanwhile in its report this year, the Climate Change Advisory Council also recommended raising carbon tax to €30 per tonne in Budget 2019, rising to €80 per tonne by 2030.

And yet, despite being suggested as a possibility the Taoiseach over the summer, the government held off on introducing it as part of Budget 2019.

Meanwhile in France, hundreds were arrested last weekend following widespread protests against president Emmanuel Macron’s proposed to increase fuel tax.

Tax incentive

But Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin tells TheJournal.ie that a version of the tax could not only be introduced here to curb emissions, but done so in a way that would also give back to households.

“What was done in France was completely wrong because much of the revenue that was generated was used to tackle the national deficit,” she said.

“It would have gathered €34bn from fuel taxes, but only €7.2bn of that was earmarked for environmental measures.”

Instead, Martin suggests that the Irish government should focus on providing better public transport services and incentivising the sale of electricity back to the national grid.

She also believes the government could introduce a carbon tax incentive, which would see Irish householders receive money from the Government for using below-average levels of fossil fuels.

By introducing an incentive where carbon emissions are taxed at €20 per tonne, rather than the current rate of €15 per tonne, the increased revenue would be returned to citizens in the form of a cheque for €200.

But others have suggested that Ireland’s emissions targets could be cut through more natural means.

According to Padraic Fogarty of the Irish Wildlife Trust, the answer may lie in more efficient usage of the country’s land, rather than taxing individuals.

‘Needs nature’

“David Attenborough cleverly put together two problems, which are that there is a climate crisis and an extinction crisis,” he says.

“Tackling climate change really needs nature. You can do an awful lot in terms of meeting emissions targets through restoring bogs and forests and better managing our farmland.”

Instead of a tax, Fogarty suggests that carbon sinks should be created through re-wetting bogs and creating more woodland, while reducing the number of livestock in Ireland would cut methane emissions and eliminate pollution in Ireland’s rivers and lakes.

Whatever happens, it has become clear that the government needs to act sooner rather than later.

Concluding its annual report for 2018, the Climate Change Advisory Council said Ireland was “completely off course” in its commitments to address the problem.

By failing to act, it’s been suggested that the Government could see their policies reflected in the polls.

“I think there’s real momentum now for climate action,” Martin says.

“There’s a realisation that we’re not talking about our grandchildren or great-grandchildren any more; we’re talking about our children that are born now and the impact that humanity is having on our planet.”

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