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Legislation not aspiration

Dr Ciara Murphy, Environmental Policy Officer with the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice has criticised the just-published All Government Plan to Tackle Climate Disruption for being short on detail and ambition and consistently failing to meet the scale of the problems already afflicting Irish society. “It is a one-dimensional, cost-based response to the crisis, and it fundamentally underestimates the challenges we face, and the opportunities now open to us.”

She cites as a specific example the proposed plan to offer a scrappage scheme to incentivise the transition to electric cars. “This amounts to a subsidy to the car industry when what we need is a reduction in our reliance on private car ownership,” she says. “Considering that Ireland’s current energy provision is drawn 80% from fossil fuels, the benefit of shifting to electric vehicles is marginal.”

According to Dr Murphy, the carbon cost in producing a new car versus maintaining an older car is also in question. “We need to shift to a society that uses feet, bikes, buses, and trams far more for getting around,” she claims, adding that to imagine such a shift is not utopian. “Our close EU neighbour, Belgium currently has a similar scrappage scheme, but instead of reducing the cost of a new car, it offers unlimited, free public transport usage for a year. We need similarly creative approaches.”

Ireland is faced with the challenge of reducing its carbon emissions by 30% by 2030. And Dr Murphy notes that the plan was an opportunity for Ireland to implement the policies that would undo Ireland’s status as – in the words of the Taoiseach, Leo Vardkar – a “laggard” on critical environmental issues. “The plan seeks to sketch how climate adaptation will be addressed across every part of Government action,” she says, “but we in the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice fear that this plan falls short in terms of detail and ambition and consistently fails to meet the scale of the problems already afflicting Irish society.”

She acknowledges that there are aspects of the plan that warrant enthusiasm and reflection but is concerned about the strategy for governance which is a key feature of the proposal. “Good governance will be at the heart of any successful response, but the carbon budget that is proposed mistakes a system of accountability for a response to the problems,” according to Dr Murphy who adds, “ We now know how departments will be kept on track with the changes that must be made, but the Government has failed to describe the detail of those changes. Aspiration instead of legislation is the hallmark of this plan.”

Dr. Murphy argues: “We have a very short window in which we can make substantial changes that will benefit everyone in our country. A brave and ambitious response would not just save us money, or hardship, in the future, but transform our society right now.”