Epic emissions targets failure: it’s the politics, stupid

Below, an article I ran in a well-known satirical publication in mid-June:

FOR YEARS, whiny environmental types have been warning repeatedly that the Irish state is treating its legally binding international obligations to cut our carbon emissions as a bit of a joke. This in turn has prompted indignant responses from both politicians and their civil servants to the effect that this was grossly unfair and that, given enough time, Ireland would surprise everyone.

And, in a sense, we have. Not even the gloomiest eco-NGO type could possibly have predicted that instead of cutting emissions by 2020 by 20% versus 2005, we would instead “at best” achieve a 1% cut. Or, put another way, we’ve squandered the last 15 years doing sod all about the biggest crisis in modern history.

Imagine that the Department of Finance set a key revenue target of €20 billion, but ended up only raising €1 billion. That might sound like an almost impossible level of incompetence, leading to mass resignations, but it’s precisely the degree of abject failure Ireland has shown on curbing carbon emissions.

Our hapless ‘climate action’ minister, Denis Naughten shrugged off the “deeply disappointing” EPA projections. Were he or anyone in Leo Varadkar’s cabinet even remotely serious about this issue, then Naughten would have either quit or have been fired as a result of the catastrophic failure he has presided over. That neither happened and the whole fiasco merited barely a mention in the media speaks volumes.

It’s not hard to imagine the quiet celebrations in the headquarters of business and farm lobby groups, Ibec and the IFA. Both have revolving door access to the corridors of power, and with budgets running into millions to lavish on lobbying for inaction and deregulation. Ibec alone spent €1.3 million last year just on its Brussels lobbying operation, a tidy sum that buys a lot of climate silence.

Naughten and his echo chamber of lobbyists all claim our 2020 targets were ‘unfair’ and too demanding. Scotland, in contrast, went for more than double our ambition, aiming to cut emissions by 42% by 2020. It hit its target six years ahead of time, and has now ramped them up to up 66% by 2030.

The magic difference between Ireland and Scotland? Political cojones. The last seven years of Fine Gael-led governments have been an unmitigated disaster for environmental progress. At the very moment most EU countries have stepped up, Ireland has skulked away. Naughten’s apparent incompetence is no happenstance. This is FG policy, writ large.

It’s not entirely unrelated that Ireland has the lowest percentage of its agricultural land producing vegetables in the entire EU, at barely 1%. As a result, we are a net importer of much of the produce that would grow perfectly well in Irish soils. The situation is almost as bad for organic farming, which accounts for just 1.7% of Irish land use.

Rather than seeing our agriculture sector’s massive over-dependence on ecologically damaging and emissions-intensive beef and dairy as a problem, Bord Bia, the Irish food board instead appears to have been spooked by the rise of vegetarianism and veganism.

In a new tender document, Bord Bia is looking for outside expertise to help it ‘convert’ those who have turned away from meat and dairy back to being regular consumers. It reckons one in 12 Irish people are now vegetarian, while one in 50 are vegan. Perhaps more worryingly, many more have, both for health and environmental reasons, sharply reduced their consumption of meat in particular.

The high-profile vegan advertising campaign focusing on the ethics of the beef and dairy sector has rattled the powerful agri-food industry, which clearly feels the state-funded Bord Bia is there to promote its marketing agenda, rather than to respond to emerging trends.

Bord Bia’s stated desire to “to win these consumers back” makes it clear which side of the argument it feels it represents. As if we didn’t already know.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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6 Responses to Epic emissions targets failure: it’s the politics, stupid

  1. Pingback: Epic emissions targets failure: it’s the politics, stupid | Climate Change

  2. Pat Morrissey says:

    There are three reasons why Scotland fare much better than us that occur to me. As a result of their history the population is concentrated in a relatively narrow corridor making infrastructure development and energy conservation easier. Their agriculture sector is small compared with ours which is a corollary of the urbanisation generated by the land clearances. There are 1.8 million cattle in Scotland versus 6.8 million in Ireland. Other sectors are also comparably smaller leading to much smaller agricultural emissions. The third reason is that Scotland has low carbon baseload power with their two nuclear power stations supplying 35% of their electricity. This facilitates more effective penetration by intermittent renewables than can happen here with no low carbon baseload on offer apart from Ardnacrusha and a few other small hydro schemes. I don’t buy the line that their politicians are so much better than ours although I have to agree that I am not impressed with our lot either.

  3. John Gibbons says:

    Pat, I think the 3 reasons you outline above would certainly add up to a few per cent, but I don’t think they can in any way explain how it takes Ireland 15 years to – just about – manage a 1% emissions cut, while Scotland manages over 40% in the same period. IMO, it’s not so much that our politicians are uniquely bad or incompetent, it’s the political culture here that is so toxic. How else do you explain pumping in 100m+ p.a. to keep three peat-burning stations open, or why do you think the farming lobby is so ridiculously powerful that it quite literally writes gov’t policy and then has it rubber-stamped by ministers? Ireland has the best wind speeds in Europe, and thousands of kilometres of coastlines. We could easily have 20-30gw of offshore wind energy installed (single Siemens turbines now 8mw, just 2,500 of those = 20gw at peak). I’d personally be quite happy to throw in a nuclear plant to provide some low-carbon baseload, but politically (back to our crap politics again) this is a non-runner in Ireland, as you know. I don’t really care how we get off fossil fuel burning, as long as we do it, and do it yesterday. Offshore wind means taller pylons with no obstructions, hence much better speeds and most importantly, keeps clear of the whining Nimbys. We should be exporting lots of renewable energy via enhanced interconnectors into the UK and direct to mainland Europe. Then, when wind speeds are low, we can buy back nuclear or solar power from the European grid, at ideally a net zero cost, though we really should be making a lot of money selling ‘green’ power, for which there is ample demand.

  4. Dee says:

    What affect will all those wind farms you’re envisaging for Ireland have on climate change?

    Many here advocate getting off fossil fuels whilst being unable to quantify what difference they expect it will make to climate change.

    So what difference will wind farms in Ireland make to Ireland’s climate, and the world’s?

    No difference, John. You know this, and I know this.

  5. Dee says:

    How do you envisage climate change being affected by some wind farms in Ireland?

    What affect on climate change has been observed as a result of Ireland’s use of fossil fuels?

    Serious and specific Ireland centric answers please John.

  6. John Gibbons says:

    @Dee And your point is, exactly? Every country has to act decisively to drastically slash carbon emissions, or we face collective ruin. Them’s the facts. Once we agree on that, then it’s a matter of figuring out which zero-carbon system works best for which country. If Ireland acts alone on climate change, then yes, as you say, it will make zero difference and we’re all history. If others act and we and some other countries choose not to, then failure is still assured.

    Maybe Dee you can share your master plan? OK, I gather you don’t much like windmills, fair enough. Are you ok with continuing to burn coal/peat/gas etc? If yes, then you either don’t know or more likely just don’t care about what will certainly ensue. There are no easy choice and glib options here, I’m afraid. In a crisis, you don’t get to *pick* your favourite solution, and you certainly don’t get to veto others who choose to act.

    I’m assuming you’re aware that we have a remaining global carbon budget (ie. all the carbon that can be released into the atmosphere for effectively the next 1,000 years) of around 600 billion tonnes. We’re currently dumping around 35 billion tonnes p.a. You can do the maths from here. Beyond 600 billion tonnes more, we’re basically toast. Is that really preferable to some windmills in your back yard?

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