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Ambitious emissions targets will cost the taxpayer, says top government official

A 7% reduction in emissions year-on-year is a red line for the Green Party.

Sec Gen of he Department of Public Expenditure Robert Watt has said creches need to get back open soon so as to ensure people can get back to work.
Sec Gen of he Department of Public Expenditure Robert Watt has said creches need to get back open soon so as to ensure people can get back to work.
Image: RollingNews.ie

EMISSIONS TARGETS SET by the next government which includes the Green Party will be “ambitious” and will involve a cost to the taxpayer,  according to one of the State’s most senior civil servants privately warned.

Robert Watt, Department of Public Expenditure secretary general, said in a webinar with Dublin Chamber yesterday adopting those policies will be “difficult” stating that the key challenge in delivering them is “how do you get there.

He said Ireland has a large agricultural sector, a dispersed population and is highly dependent on car usage.

“How do we change behavior and how do we adopt new technologies” he said, such as moving to hybrid and electric cars, retrofitting homes and decarbonising the electricity supply.

“They’re the policy questions, they’re all there. There are no easy answers to these questions. It is going to require a lot of policy decisions and a lot of delivery and cost for individuals, households, for sectors and for the taxpayer,” he said. 

Yesterday, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party entered into formal talks about a programme for government.

Leader of the Green Party Eamon Ryan has said that a 7% reduction in emissions year-on-year is a red line for his party entering into government.

In the business webinar yesterday, Watt said: 

“We have to embrace this decarbonised future.”


Speaking about the government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, Watt defended some of the business supports put forward to date, stating that with so many people now unemployed, it is difficult to tailor the response to any one sector. 

He said the government is now focused on getting people back to work, but acknowledged that in order for that to happen creches will have to reopen.

On Wednesday, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said it is unlikely that creches will reopen with the same capacity as before the public health emergency.

“A lot people of course depend on childcare,” said Watt, stating;

It has to be the case that the creches at some stage go back. It’s very hard to see how there is a resolution to this which is going to help working parents until we can get childcare facilities back, that’s going to be driven by the public health advice.

He said the government is looking to other countries in this regard. “We need to figure all this out, but clearly, without creches going back, it’s hard to see how there’s a solution for working parents”.

Watt also commented on the wage subsidy scheme, stating that there is a role for scheme “to last a bit longer for some sectors”. 

He added that the government aims to “adjust those supports where we can”. 

Yesterday, the Taoiseach said the pandemic payment and the wage subsidy scheme was not sustainable, but added that it would be extended beyond June. 

On future capital investment in areas such as housing, Watt said the government hopes to continue with the same level of capital investment because “as the economy gets back, we have to build more homes”.

While he disagreed that the pandemic will dramatically change people’s work-life, he said it has shown that the workplace can be a more flexible place. If changes are adopted into the future, it could ease the burden of commuting for a lot of people, said Watt. 

While not for everyone, there could be a mixed blend of working in the office and working at home.

“I think that would improve quality of life,” he said. 

“I think a big aspect of it could be, certainly, how we configure our city centres in the future. I think there will be less demand for office space,” said Watt, adding that there is a need to retain the city for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.

“This might be the catalyst for us. And we do need to focus more on creating and living cities like Dublin and Cork” that have more of a focus on sustainability.

“I think that this [pandemic] might prompt that because I just don’t think we’re going to have the same level of commuting. The same demand for offices,” said Watt.

He added however:

“I think we need to be very careful about extrapolating where we are now to what the future needs will be when it comes to transport so we’re hopeful that we won’t have to go through that process of cutting back on capital spending. And that really is a function of our ability to meet our other spending demands.”

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