From top: Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton (centre), Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) and Minister for Finance Paschal Donoho (right) at TU Dublin Grangegorman, to launch the government’s Action Plan to Tackle Climate Breakdown last week; Dan Boyle
A government which has overseen year on year increases in this country’s carbon levels since 2011, wants to be taken seriously as a Climate Emergency champions. Excuse me while I shoot a cynical glance in its direction.
We need a coming together of political actors to work to meet the challenge of the Climate Emergency.
While this plan represents the best attempt yet from a government still too wed to the concept of a market economy that can, and it believes will, solve all society’s ills; it continues to show, negatively, a government that either doesn’t or doesn’t want to get it.
There are certainly targets in this plan, which if reached, would make for very impressive achievements. The problem is that this government have never shown any previous inclination to move in this direction, often and continuing to frustate necessary actions from happening.
The plan is short of, and deliberately vague, on the details required to achieve these targets.
Some areas of necessary policy areas, such as dealing with the agricultural sector, are totally avoided in this report.
Agriculture is responsible for a huge proportion of Ireland’s carbon emissions. To produce a plan of this nature without any proposal to reduce the size of the national herd, is politically pandering of the worst kind.
Sins of omissions are one thing, muddled thinking another. This government’s thinking on transport in this plan seems particularly muddled.
The bias on transport spending still weighs far too heavily towards new roads projects. It is the ultimate irony that mainstream political thinking in Ireland clings to the belief that capital/infrastructural spending that is concrete reliant, and thus carbon emission increasing, represents the only hope for continued economic prosperity.
The National Development Plan, is as much a political manifesto as it is an economic strategy
Replacing an environmental bad with another environmental bad hardly represents progress.
The ‘debate’ about electric cars typifies this.
If every fossil fuel car gets replaced with an electric model, such a change will do nothing to tackle traffic gridlock. The electricity required to charge a replacement fleet of cars, will still to some extent into the immediate near future, require the burning of fossil fuels . to generate that electricity.
The issue isn’t really car type. It isn’t even car ownership. The real issue is that of car usage. What has probably been the most personally liberating invention of the twentieth century, has become the noose that chokes the life out of our towns and cities.
Any government that is serious about tackling the climate emergency would need to be investing massively and immediately in public transport.
Especially outside of the Dublin region. There is little in this plan that has given any indication of that.
The aftermath of publishing this plan has seen Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil revert to type, in squabbling over which road project the other would be prepared to jettison in order to appear more Green.
The implication being that cancelling any road project would be an act of political madness. Only when new road projects become the exception rather than the headline of transport plans, will it be seen that the Climate Emergency is being taken seriously.
We will still need to spend money on roads, but the emphasis should be almost entirely on repairing the existing road network.
The mania that has seen more and road projects being developed, has also led to existing roads being repaired less frequently while often to a poorer standard.
To change minds this government first needs to change its mindset.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle