Programme for Government offers promise of faster and fairer climate action, says Climate Coalition
Delivery will require transformative decisions and political will, not just words
June 15 2020, 09:27pm
Stop Climate Chaos has today (June 15th) welcomed the publication of a final Programme for Government. Based on its initial review of the document, which has a major focus on climate-related issues and objectives, the Coalition considers that it is a vast improvement on its predecessor from 2016 and if implemented fully, will mark a major advance in Irish climate policy.
The Coalition acknowledges the strength of Ireland's growing climate movement, the leading role of the 2017 Citizens’ Assembly, and the political consensus of 2019 Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action in advancing political commitment to climate action. Compared with 2016, this document represents a transformative political consensus, across three very different parties, to implementing Ireland’s fair share of the Paris Agreement objectives.
If the incoming Government is serious about implementing these measures, the Programme will revolutionise energy use in our homes, streets and towns. If fully implemented, Ireland will finally lose the status of laggard, as we become one of the first countries in the world to commit to leaving fossil fuels in the ground by banning offshore oil and gas exploration.
Climate change governance
The Programme includes provisions for a robust governance framework to ensure that there is coherence across all government departments towards the achievement of a net zero target by 2050. A new climate change amendment bill is proposed to be introduced into the Dáil within 100 days, which was a key ask of the One Future campaign coordinated by Stop Climate Chaos in advance of the General Election. The Programme includes a commitment to 7% cuts per annum in GHG emissions, which is just short of what was recommended by UNEP as the minimum effort required by states to hold global heating below 1.5 degrees.
Commenting on the Programme, spokesperson Sadhbh O’Neill stated:
“It is essential that the proposed climate change amendment bill is progressed through the Oireachtas as quickly as possible so that the carbon budgets for 2021-2025 and 2026-2030, to be devised by a strengthened Climate Change Advisory Council, are adopted together before the end of 2020. If this is not carried out as a matter of urgency, precious time will be wasted, and opportunities for emissions reduction will be missed. Setting targets that are in line with science means there is absolutely no time to waste. The incoming Government must begin to act on these commitments immediately in time for Budget 2021 in the Autumn."
"The measures in the transport, retrofitting and energy sections are both radical and yet the bare minimum that we will need to do to get Ireland back on track towards a more sustainable, decarbonised future. There is no scope for slippage, delays, or lobbying by vested interests to slow down implementation.”
The proposed climate legislation will also strengthen the scientific basis for climate policy by including climate scientists and a gender balance in the membership of the Climate Change Advisory Council as recommended by the 2019 report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action. This will be crucial as the reformed CCAC will be responsible for devising carbon budgets to include all sectors, including agriculture.
Ms O’Neill continued:
“Only concrete actions, backed up by legally binding commitments, resources and enforcement will make a difference. This Programme won’t address emissions unless the next Cabinet makes the bold decisions to protect our carbon stocks and biodiversity, and to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels across all sectors of our economy.”
"We are really delighted with the measures for sustainable transport. The 2:1 ratio towards active and public transport; new public transport infrastructure and a €360m commitment to active travel (walking and cycling) will transform our roads and streets into zero carbon and people-friendly spaces."
On banning new fossil fuel projects, according to Ms Kate Ruddock, Deputy Director for Friends of the Earth:
“Ireland is setting out its stall to become a world leader in the global struggle to phase out fossil fuels. First we banned fracking and divested our sovereign wealth fund, now we have commitments to end support for LNG infrastructure, no importation of fracked gas and an end to licences for offshore oil and gas drilling.”
On retrofitting, energy efficiency and the shift to renewables, the Coalition welcomed the delivery of a National Retrofitting Plan including the establishment of a new national retrofitting delivery body, upskilling measures, and low-cost finance measures to make it easier for homeowners to pay for retrofitting. The full implementation of these measures will be essential to ensure that the proposed commitment to retrofit 500,000 homes to a B2 energy rating can be achieved. Ms. Ruddock added,
“The Programme includes ambitious proposals to decarbonise our own energy demand with a significant increase in offshore wind, rooftop solar, and the ambitious retrofit plans to retrofit 500,000 homes through a new national retrofit body. This is a very positive plan for Ireland.”
On agriculture and emissions
The text commits the Government to deliver an incremental and ‘ambitious’ use of inorganic nitrogen fertiliser by 2030. These are welcome proposals that will benefit soil health and nutrient management. However the Coalition expressed concern that the Programme lacked firm commitments to reverse the increase in methane and nitrous oxide emissions within the sector, or offer any tangible commitments to move away from intensification. The Coalition emphasised that the agricultural sector should be required to implement steady reductions in methane and nitrogen, and a cap on nitrogen use which in turn could drive further methane reductions. To achieve emissions in line with the science-led 7% annual emissions trajectory, agricultural emissions will need to fall from about 20 million tonnes a year to around 12 to 15 million tonnes by 2030. Failure to reduce emissions in this sector over the lifetime of the next Government will increase the burden placed on other sectors, such as transport and housing, to go much further in reducing emissions in line with Ireland’s climate obligations.
The Coalition also noted that the new agrifood strategy will be published within the next six months, leaving very little time for the incoming Government to ensure that the Strategy supports a low-carbon, diversified agricultural sector. Ms O’Neill emphasised that,
“Measures to improve the potential of land use to sequester additional carbon are welcomed. Nevertheless, these measures and proposed improvements in on-farm efficiencies will not be enough to address rising emissions from the sector. Whilst we hope that methane and nitrous oxide emissions will be addressed in the budgeting process proposed in the document, it is regrettable that more concrete mitigation detail is not included in the Programme.”
The Coalition also expressed concerns regarding proposals in the Programme to allocate a proportion of the revenue collected from the carbon tax to a new REPS2 agri-environmental scheme. The aim of the scheme is laudable. It seeks to support low-income farmers who rely on CAP measures and promote This commitment goes against the clear recommendations from the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action (JOCCA) which called for a ring-fencing of tax revenue to address fuel poverty and compensate people for higher fuel prices.
Ms O’Neill added:
“We support the broad consensus reflected at the JOCCA committee across most political parties that climate change needed to be put front and centre in all policy and expenditure decisions, including the agricultural sector which is responsible for a third of Ireland’s total emissions. But we know from experience that even statutory plans, agri-environmental schemes and nice language haven’t been targeted at emission reductions in the past. This scheme does refer to climate action but it must deliver in practice."
"It goes against the principles set out in chapter 6 of the JOCCA report to dip into the carbon tax revenues to subsidise a sector responsible for a third of Ireland’s emissions by a further €1.5 billion, on top of the €8.8 billion that the sector already will receive between 2014-20.”
On restoring and protecting nature, Oonagh Duggan, Assistant Head of Policy and Advocacy at BirdWatch Ireland commented,
“A key ask of the One Future campaign was dedicated funding for the National Parks and Wildlife Service which leads on protecting biodiversity and is chronically underfunded. We don’t need another review of NPWS expenditure, it needs to be funded at least €100 million annually to halt and reverse biodiversity loss.”
“The Dáil declared a biodiversity emergency in May 2019 but there is no sense from commitments in the Programme that this is being taken as seriously as it should be. We know how well our nation can respond to a crisis as it has done in responding to Covid-19, but regrettably the Programme actions for nature are soft and there is no timeline for the Citizens’ Assembly to address biodiversity loss which is concerning.”
The Coalition said that commitments on climate finance were particularly weak and a step backwards on ensuring that Ireland lives up to its international climate responsibilities. The 2016 Programme for Government had an established target for climate finance supported by specific funds. This Programme instead commits to increasing the percentage of Official Development Assistance being counted as climate finance, rather than committing to new or additional funding, as envisioned under the 2015 Paris Agreement. In 2018, Ireland contributed just €80 million to international climate finance. However, the annual climate finance contributions would need to increase to nearly €475 million of the €91 billion a year agreed by donors at the Paris Agreement in 2015 in order to fairly support developing countries to take climate action. The Coalition emphasised the need for further clarification from the incoming Government.
Niamh Garvey, Head of Policy with Trócaire said,
“Access to climate finance is crucial for developing countries already experiencing the worst effects of climate change. The success of UN climate talks depends in part on countries like Ireland living up to their obligations to provide much needed finance to help poorer countries adapt to a changing climate. The commitment therefore to double the percentage of development assistance that counts as climate finance is disappointing as it risks simply re-labelling existing aid as climate finance rather than committing to providing new and additional finance to support climate action in the poorest countries.”