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VOICES

Analysis In Europe, Ireland is an outlier when it comes to climate action

Emma DeSouza reports on the climate debates in Strasbourg.

SINCE THE START of the year, Ireland has been celebrating 50 years in the EU. The overarching theme has been one of success, but with predictions looming that Ireland will fall well below the EU climate targets for 2030, what began as a success story may not end as triumphantly.

This month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) predicted that Ireland will fall substantially short of its climate targets across nearly all sectors, with a projected reduction of 29 per cent by 2030 compared to a target of 51 per cent.

Green Party MEP Grace O’Sullivan says the projections are “very worrying”, adding that, “Whatever the inaction is, by not acting, we are creating – right here and right now – huge problems, not only for our generation but for future generations.”

Unstoppable C02

According to the EPA, sectors including agriculture, electricity, transport, and industry are all on track to exceed their emissions ceilings and the first two carbon budgets will not be met.

The report was critical of the government, citing a need to fully implement the 2023 Climate Action Plan and identify and implement further policies.

A significant amount of focus continues to be placed on agriculture and whether or not a cull of the national herd is being floated as means to bring down emissions. However, Fine Gael MEP Colm Markey says this approach is “chasing after the wrong targets”, adding that “All you do by reducing the national herd is buy a few years because all you’re doing is getting rid of the emissions that will be gone in 5-10 years anyway.”

He contends that a debate should be had on how we account for different emissions and how they are evaluated, “Every tonne of carbon you put into the atmosphere is there for thousands of years. Methane is gone in ten years, so if you don’t take account of the differences, then you’re not being fair.”

In 2022 Ireland was one of only four EU countries that had an increase in emissions, and it nearly doubled that of its closest member state by 50 per cent. In the league table of percentage change in greenhouse gas emissions 2021-2022, Ireland had an increase of 12 per cent, in stark comparison to most EU member states; Slovenia had a 15.3 per cent decrease, while the Netherlands had a 9.9 per cent decrease.

Ireland lags behind while fellow EU states are rolling out ambitious and bold policies, including a recent decision by France to ban all domestic flights between cities that can be accessed by high-speed rail.

Spain is now considering a similar move, and Germany has also utilised transport by rolling out low-cost public transport with a 49-euro monthly ticket for nationwide travel.

The issue in Ireland, O’Sullivan contends, is that “We are not connecting the dots; In terms of transport, I think we could possibly work better with our European partners to get the support of member states to roll out in a feasible, fast way – more rail network across Ireland and also within cities, and in creating urban centres, I do wonder why we haven’t managed to bring in expertise to help us deliver big projects.”

Cost of missing targets

Becoming an outlier in Europe when it comes to climate will “cost” Ireland, says O’Sullivan, “I think there could be tension. I don’t think it does our reputation any good whatsoever; We try to pride ourselves on being an island nation, but we will be questioned on meeting our targets and it will cost us dearly financially. Even if economically, we are up in the higher end of countries performing well in terms of GDP, if we’re not meeting our targets we’re going to have to pay for it, and then that will impact on future generations.”

Today, a knife-edge vote on the proposed EU Nature Restoration Laws – one that had Ireland’s MEPs split – was delayed until the end of a month due to the committee running over time. The highly contentious legislation would set targets for the first time on restoring nature by rewetting drained peatlands, increasing green spaces in urban areas, and improving biodiversity in lands used for agriculture and forestry. It has been widely welcomed by environmental campaigners but farming and agriculture groups have pushed back against the legislation, claiming there is no clarity or communication coming from Europe about how it will affect them. 

Markey, who previously voted against the bill at committee, says he favours “something similar to a Carbon farming model where you incentivise, encourage, and support people”. He says he hopes there will be something he can support in this law in any votes. O’Sullivan supports the law, adding that, “The Nature restoration law is a huge opportunity to create healthy ecosystems which will draw down carbon much more efficiently. It will mitigate climate change. If we don’t do that, that will impact on our ability to reach our targets.”

Each country decides

O’Sullivan adds that if passed at the end of this month, the Nature Legislation Law will operate in the same vein as the Climate Plan, “Each member state will be obliged to come up, then, with their own specific nature restoration plan, like the climate plan. That would be when the member state looks at their uniqueness and how they would be able to incorporate the different articles of the legislation into operation.”

Tackling the climate emergency is a mammoth task that requires the full mobilisation and dedication of all sectors in order to stand any chance of meeting targets. With an Irish treasury positively bursting with a budget surplus, eyes will soon turn to how the government allocates this surplus, which will reveal just how committed this government is to meeting its obligations. #

O’Sullivan says, “this can’t be left to the Greens alone… Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael also have a huge role to play – when [the larger parties in government] leverage their networks, and their supporters, then things can happen. Change can happen.”

Ireland is one of the most disconnected EU member states. With the second-highest car dependency in the EU, the obvious long-term strategic investment is in transport.

Additionally, Markey pointed to aviation and housing stock as two more areas that Ireland could be more proactive on, “The housing stock is a relatively easy win. To insulate our houses effectively is not that hard to do and the funding is there.” So why is Ireland falling so far behind? That’s a question for the government.

Emma DeSouza is a writer and campaigner currently reporting from Strasbourg.

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