“An Irishman’s heart”, according to Geroge Bernard Shaw, “is nothing but his imagination”.
One interpretation of this wonderful double entendre is that as a people we are characterized by a creative approach to problem solving, artistic, ingenious, and flexible.
This characterization has certainly been brought into question further to the rapid demise of the celtic tiger. We generated enormous wealth, and all we could think to do with it was invest it in building houses, apartment buildings, car parks and hotels. We had an opportunity to build a smart, green and healthy society – we even knew how to do it – but we blew it.
Ireland’s first National Climate Change Strategy published in 2000 now reads like a list of missed opportunities: the promised progressive introduction of carbon taxes from 2002; the immediate rebalancing of VRT for cars; modal shift to public transport; comprehensive strategies to deal with energy inefficient housing; achieving higher residential densities; or negotiated agreements with industry to increase efficiency and reduce emissions.
The complete systems failure of planning policy over this period and successive examples of introduction of government legislation at the behest of special interests (or the inability to introduce reform which would have been in the public good) has been well documented. So bad had Dublin’s urban sprawl become that by 2005 the European Environmental Agency had begun using Dublin as an example of a “worst-case scenario” for new EU member states.
An evaluation of the history of climate change policy (which I have recently undertaken, see also this paper) in Ireland demonstrates clearly that policy formulating is not the main impediment – the ERM consultancy blueprint for Kyoto compliance and subsequent first climate change strategy of 2000 are excellent documents.
The issue is that none of the policies identified therein were implemented on time, and many still await implementation.
Research highlights two primary reasons for the failure to implement climate policy: lobbying of special interests against measures that are perceived to have a disproportionate impact on their stakeholders; and the support of these interests by their respective government departments. In these instances, legislation has often been postponed indefinitely. The public interest suffers.
This is why a climate law is required. What is significant about the proposed bill is the extent to which it would constitute an improvement on the current status quo as far as implementation of policies are concerned.
On Wednesday the Dáil Committee on Energy and Climate Change led by Liz McManus T.D. published a draft climate law. The worthy work of the committee and Deputy McManus in particular has served to keep the issue on the political radar.
A similar climate law which is being prepared by the Department of Environment apparently continues its slow progress. At wednesday’s launch Deputy Trevor Sargent T.D. informed us that this bill was approaching finalisation.
Unfortunately there is now a real fear that the bill has been savaged beyond recognition and no longer resembles the robust piece of legislation which is required.
In seeking to address past failures of implementation the key aspects of the climate law are as follows:
- It must establish 5-yearly “climate budgets” (to 2050), proposed by an independent Climate Change Commission. Longer time periods which do not coincide with electoral cycles are likely to have the effect of efforts being “back-loaded”. This would not constitute an improvement on the status quo. I am reliably informed that this aspect of the bill is currently being undermined.
- These budgets should establish an overall emissions target and indicative greenhouse gas emissions trajectory for the economy, as well as an indistinctive trajectory for each polluting sector.
- The bill must impose a statutory obligation on the CCC to report annually on:
- Progress on meeting overall indicative target set out in budget;
- Progress of sectors in meeting indicative sectoral trajectory set out in budget; and
- Critically, is must empower the CCC to propose additional policies and measures to be implemented in the case where a “distance to indicative target” is identified. This “red flag” is an integral part of any proposed legislation. Without this mechanism, the proposed bill will not be an improvement on the current arrangement for formulation of climate policy.
- This annual report must be published.
If the serving Government refuses to implement the recommendations of the CCC, they would be publically required to explain why the policy recommendations put forward by an independent and expert group were not being implemented, and identify alternative measures to bridge the “distance to target”.
The targets themselves are less important – they already exist under European law. It is about implementation, implementation, implementation.
There are “yerra it’ll be grand” elements in government and officialdom attempting to undermine the Bill and protect the status quo of failure. Clearly this bill is seen by the forces that brought this country to the brink of ruin as an impediment to growth and development, rather than an enabler of the low-carbon prosperity.
It is difficult to live in a country where this sort of “fail before we have started” mentality can predominate. It really is transformation or decline now for the Irish economy. If we do not have the vision and imagination to realize this, and the structures in place to affect this transformation, the future does not look bright.
The other interpretation of Shaw’s reflections on the Irishman’s heart would then be more appropriate: that we are a heartless lot that care nothing for the damage we are inflicting on our children’s and grandchildren’s generation, nor the world’s poor.