Shades of Green: Ireland's recovery plan

26 Jun 2020 Nick Garbutt    Last updated: 27 Jun 2020

Pic: Unsplash

The argument for a green recovery to the pandemic is growing across the globe, as Scope reported last week.

And Ireland’s draft Programme for Government (PfG) is one of the most ambitious plans for climate action any government has yet produced.

The deal between Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green Party was voted through by their respective memberships, with the results due later today (Friday) but not before dissenting voices emerged from within the Green Party. 

The PfG is 138 pages long – a big read by any stretch. It sums up what it is trying to achieve as:   “Action that can deliver a better quality of life for all, equality within society and a deeper sense of connection to the natural world around us, and each other.”

And: “The world was approaching a climate crisis long before COVID-19 hit our shores.  The pandemic has acted as a catalyst, enabling us to implement radical policies that were considered impossible before; it will not and must not be used an excuse for failure to take immediate action to deliver on all that is needed to build a better society and a secure future for all living things.”

This encapsulates the green recovery concept which is gaining traction amongst think tanks across the globe. It also chimes with the notion that if we can do the unthinkable during a pandemic, then we have no excuse for not doing so in the face of an existential threat.

The PfG also signals that Ireland is ready to join the growing group of countries which want to measure progress not by GDP but by the wellbeing of their citizens.

Central to this will be a Green New Deal. The PfG commits an in-coming government to introduce a Climate Action Bill within the first 100 days of government, backed by a Climate Action Council. The Bill will commit the nation to an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions between 2021 and 2030 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. This is both necessary and stretching (the impact of lockdown should ensure 7% reductions this year, but Ireland will need to be 50% lower than that over a decade.) Therefore new carbon budgets will be set every five years, each building on the last.

Crucially the report states: “As we set our society on a trajectory towards net zero emissions by 2050 it is vital that there is adequate time and effort devoted to working with communities and sectors in designing and delivering the pathway to achieve the goal in a fair way. This will mean creating fresh opportunities for those sectors most exposed by the transition and supporting those in our community least equipped to make the changes.”

This concept of a “Just Transition” is a leitmotif running through the document.

Climate action will be an imperative for every government department – with all ministers expected to make it a core pillar of their new departmental strategies, which must be produced within six months of the Government taking office.

Furthermore: “Each minister will  direct each of the agencies and offices under their department to adopt a climate mandate under which those bodies will seek to support climate action within their own operations and among their clients and suppliers.”

Therefore procurement policies will be made consistent with climate change and all industries, businesses and every sector of the economy will be audited to  sector to underpin area by area strategies to meet the new national targets. These will be done in consultation with relevant stakeholders in those sectors to meet targets consistent with our national climate objectives.”

On Transport 10% of capital budgets will be allocated to cycling routes and 10% of pedestrian routes. An immediate action will be for every local authority to be instructed to asses their road networks to see where space can e re-allocated to see where space can be reallocated for pedestrians and cyclists. “Cycling and electric cycling have enormous potential to facilitate a high proportion of daily trips if we provide an environment which protects and prioritises this mode of transport.”

The Department of Transport will be told to work with schools and local authorities to “dramatically increase” the number of children walking and cycling to school.

Also planned is an integrated national network of greenways to be used by commuters, leisure cyclists and tourists. This will also build on a vision for promoting Ireland to tourists as a “clean, green outdoor activity holiday destination.”

As part of this there are plans for a continuous walking route from Malin to Kinsale together with consultation on creating an “Irish Sea Way” from Carlingford Lough to Cobh.

New fossil-fuelled cars and light vehicles would be banned from 2030 onwards with diesel and petrol cars phased out from Irish cities from 2030. Public sector bodies will be only permitted to purchase low or no emission cars from 2025 and motor tax will “adequately capture the harm” caused by emissions.

Dove-tailing with this will be a plan to promote home-working, keeping people out of their cars by increasing broadband coverage and giving families more time together by cutting out time spend commuting. It also hopes that a remote-working policy would help young, skilled people to remain in rural communities.

Within the home the PfG outlines its intention to retrofit 500,000 homes to improve their energy efficiency and to install 600,000 heat pumps for households by 2030. In addition solar panels will be promoted.

There is a strong emphasis on harnessing the immense potential of offshore energy from the Atlantic Coast – and there is a declaration of opposition to using fracked gas: “We do not support the importation of fracked gas and shall develop a policy statement to establish that approach.”

Within communities there are pledges to help promote community energy use and also to the Circular Economy which Scope explored here to reduce waste.

There’s a commitment to the promotion of biodiversity and a commitment to setting up a Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity. This is complimented by pledges to afforestation. Pledges include:

  • a state-sponsored national Tree Planting Day and provide communities across the country with trees to plant on this day annually;
  • a radical expansion of urban tree planting and neighbourhood and community forests
  • the promotion of forestry systems to ultimately create permanent biodiverse forests containing trees of all ages.

It is a comprehensive package which puts Ireland right to the fore on climate change measures.

However for many Greens it is simply not good enough. They argue that a greener “business as usual” is not what is required to tackle the threats that we face -and that fundamental change is  required. A letter signed by Northern leader Clare Bailey and others stated: “This offer of government represents one of the most fiscally conservative arrangements in a generation. Regressive taxation in the form of carbon and sugar taxes are included while corporation tax and the top rate of income tax remain unchanged.”

And her deputy Mal O’Hara who said there had been significant gains on the environment but there was not the “necessary radical economic and social change to ensure a just transition.”

This fracture within the Greens does not just reflect the obvious tensions of a party of the left debating going into government with larger parties of the centre right – it also gets to the heart of the broader issue of whether our consumer capitalist society is capable of rising to the challenge of climate change without radical reform. We've not heard the last of this. 

 

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