From top: Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe presenting Budget 2018; Dan Boyle
Listed as the seventeenth topic in his speaking notes for the budget, there are some who believe that very mention of climate change by the Minister for Finance represents progress. It doesn’t.
The reference was one of shortest in his speech. He proposed two small spending measures totalling €53 million. Most of the section dealt with how the government is going to respond to the European Court of Justice judgement on vehicle registration tax in Ireland.
There was absolutely no mention of future events, some little more than three years away, that may yet have as a greater economic impact on the country than Brexit will.
On January 1st 2021, in all probability, Ireland will be hit with EU fines of €691 million, for failing to meet agreed carbon emission targets, or in being able to meet renewable energy targets.
2020 is only a staging post in the EU carbon reduction programme. The 20% reductions to be achieved by then are meant to be followed by another 20% of reductions to be achieved by 2030. By falling further behind in this process, Ireland is likely to be levied further, and strengthened, fines.
The EU programme has itself been overtaken by the Paris agreement. It has been estimated for Ireland to meet the targets defined under this treaty, an annual expenditure of at least €800 million will be required.
These are risks that should have been mentioned and foreshadowed in this Budget speech. Instead we have the usual can kicking down the road, to be dealt with and explained away by a future government.
There is in existence a National Mitigation Plan, but the only thing it seems to mitigate is the indifference of the government to this issue.
This indifference is as much held by senior civil servants as it has been by politicians. The long standing line, outside of the interregnum of The Greens in government, is that we should buy our way out of our responsibility. This with money which should more properly be used in underpinning our public services.
This type of thinking has produced a uniquely Irish problem – current underinvestment on the environment leading to later bloated, unnecessary and unproductive spending.
You might think I would say that, but any fair analysis would show that this approach has been Trump like in its stupidity.
In EU terms we are bottom of the class in our response to climate change. Even if we weren’t part of the EU, we would still have international obligations that we are not even close to meeting.
Most of the damage has already been done. The best we can hope for now is to mitigate our lack of mitigation to date.
In starting to act now we may begin to bury the deceit behind Irish political indifference that somehow addressing environmental costs is economically damaging. The opposite is the case. Our indifference in the past has cost us many R/D and manufacturing opportunities.
It may be that the government has in mind to transfer these costs onto consumers. After the water fiasco I would like to see them try. I’m fairly sure they’ll try to blame The Greens anyway.