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Leo Varadkar and Paschal Donohoe PA Wire/PA Images

'This is a shameful day for Fine Gael and a bad day for Ireland on climate change'

Listening to the Budget speech from Pascal Donohoe today you would have no sense we are at such a historical turning point, writes Eamon Ryan.

YESTERDAY’S WARNING FROM the United Nations could not have been more urgent.

The science and the risks we face are now so stark. Climate change can no longer be ignored; we have to act fast, ditching all fossil fuels within a single generation, while maintaining the benefits those fuels delivered for our people. There is no precedent for the scale and speed of change we have to make but doing nothing is surely not an option.

Listening to the Budget speech from Paschal Donohoe today you would have no sense we are at such a historical turning point. He delivered a deeply conservative speech and Budget. Funding gaps were closed to maintain the status quo but there was no sense of any common purpose for a better future.

A political calculation 

The shameful record on climate change is not just because the government failed to increase the carbon tax in this budget. That was just a symptom of their lack of interest in rising to the challenge we face. Their argument that more research had to be done on what a carbon tax increase would deliver was just ridiculous. That move has been more studied than any of the other measures introduced today.

The truth is it was scrapped because both Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance want to gain seats in rural Ireland at the next election. They calculated that binning the tax increase would make them look good to that constituency.

They are blind to the fact that going for a green economy is going to be good for rural Ireland. If the fear is that rural households would have to pay more then we should address that prospect by rolling out electric vehicle charging points and heat pumps the length and breadth of the country. That is the best way of protecting the public against fossil fuel price increases which are already happening because of rising global oil and gas markets.

They are sticking to the old ways, ignoring the fact that this will prove more expensive in the end. We have reached the end of the road of climate denialism, even if this budget decided to take us an extra unwelcome mile.

‘A bad day for Ireland’ 

The new National Development Plan Project Ireland 2040 is the embodiment of what is going wrong. It continues the old development model of building more motorways and national roads, which will only encourage more car use and sprawl. We do not have a single major public transport project under construction, while ten new national roads are being built. For all the talk about promoting cycling and walking there is only one cycling project being rolled out anywhere in the country. More schoolgirls are driving themselves to school than are cycling themselves there. That is the future we are creating in real time.

The plan also says that by 2021 we will be deep retrofitting 45,000 houses a year. With only two years to go to that date, only a handful of houses are currently being upgraded. The same plan says that by 2030 we would have 500,000 electric vehicles on the road but as every existing EV driver knows, we need better charging infrastructure to turn the ambition into a reality. Not a word about that in the Budget today.

The Minister did say that the government’s plan would reduce emissions by 2030 but the Environment Protection Agency says we will be nowhere near meeting our targets. Project Ireland 2040 was not even assessed for its climate effect before it was agreed.

The government and its public servants freeze like rabbits in headlights when you ask them what additional measures they will introduce so we avoid massive climate fines. This Budget did nothing to answer that question. It was a shameful day for Fine Gael and a bad day for Ireland on climate change.

Eamon Ryan is the leader of the Green Party 

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