“The Carbon Budget marks the beginning of a new era. It is an era in which climate change moves to the heart of Government decision-making. It puts our responsibilities to tackle climate change on an equal footing with our responsibilities to manage the economy. It recognises that the economy and the environment cannot be separated; and that the greatest risk to the economy is climate change.”
That’s how Environment Minister John Gormley yesterday prefaced his new Carbon Budget. His plans to abolish the incandescent light bulb (a relic of the late 19th century and an astoundingly inefficient way of converting electricity into light) are welcome.
Fidel Castro did of course beat us to the punch here. Some time back, Cuba reportedly enlisted thousands of student volunteers to go from house to house and give people low-energy bulbs – on condition that their existing bulbs were smashed on the spot. Cuba’s motivation at the time was mainly economic, ie. how to cut down on electricity production and save cash, but it was apparently wildly successful.
Still, might be asking a bit much to have a bunch of hammer-wielding students showing up at people’s doorsteps here in Ireland. On the positive side, our conversion to low-energy bulbs should save 700,000 tons of carbon emissions a year. In the scheme of our total emissions (Moneypoint alone spits out 5 million tons a year) it’s small, but symbolic. Seeing the light, so to speak?
On motor tax, unfortunately the changes don’t come in until July 1st next year, so another crop of Ballsbridge Tractors with shiny 08 plates will be infesting our streets and polluting our skies for at least another six months (and no doubt there will be a ‘beat the VRT hike’ rush to make matters even worse).
Still, connecting motor tax to emissions is a hugely symbolic step. The rates are as follows:
Band A – CO2 emissions of under 120grams per kilometre – motor tax rate of €100.
Band B – CO2 emissions of between 121 and 140 grams per kilometre – motor tax rate of €150.
Band C – CO2 emissions of between 141 and 155grams per kilometre – motor tax rate of €290.
Band D – CO2 emissions of between 156 and 170 grams per kilometre – motor tax rate of €430.
Band E – CO2 emissions of between 171 and 190grams per kilometre – motor tax rate of €600.
Band F – CO2 emissions of between 191 and 225 grams per kilometre – motor tax rate of €1,000.
Band G – motor tax rate of €2,000, reflecting CO2 emissions of over 225grams per kilometre.
Also to be welcomed is the mandatory labelling system for cars, which will give consumers a much better idea of the eco-impact of their motoring decisions. Transport emissions alone last year went up by more than 5% to over 14 million tons. Per capita, this puts us well up the list of the world’s worst transport polluters, whatever smart alecs like Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary may say to the contrary.
In conversation with a very normal, not a bit posh Dublin woman recently, she pointed out that yes, she’s very keen on recycling, as ‘we all have to do our bit’ etc. She is popping down for Christmas to her modest holiday apartment in Spain. This will be her TENTH such trip this year!
Changing lightbulbs and doing a spot of composting isn’t going to make a dent in our overall emissions until regular, decent folk like her get the message this is suicidally unsustainable behaviour. That’s why symbolism is so important and the Carbon Budget, while small on real, immediate reductions, is the first real challenge to our collective Business-as-usual mindset.
The failure to get a carbon levy agreed in this year’s budget is a real setback, however. Dirty energy has got to come with a hefty price tag and the ‘polluter pays’ principle is both efficient and equitable. Most importantly, it targets the people who give two fingers to ‘green’ issues by hitting them in the bottom line.
Only by taxing the dirty fossil fuels and exempting (and subsidising) renewables will we get sufficient public momentum to start making serious inroads into our carbon-intensive lifestyles.
And slapping taxes onto briquettes might even encourage the State itself to re-consider the wisdom of ripping up and burning our peat bogs, when from both a sustainability and a carbon standpoint, surely we should be trying to save them as vital and important natural habitats?