Fine Gael and climate change – what’s the story?

Fine Gael will almost certainly comprise all or most of the incoming government, therefore what they have to say about policy matters a hell of a lot more than FF, Sinn Fein or the Greens, none of whom are likely to have any hand, act or part in government for quite some time. Labour may well yet have a significant say in the next administration (and if the alternate is a rag-bag of ‘independents’ propping up FG in exchange for parish pump favours, let’s hope so)

Fine Gael’s newly-published Manifesto has a section on ‘Environment & Climate Change’, which I reproduce below in full, to open a discussion. My own – very top line – comments are in brackets. Not included in this section is FG’s “policy” on peat bogs (burn, baby, burn, in short). It’s a shameful, gutless capitulation to what they clearly see as their rural “base”.

Environment and Climate Change

The environment is vital not only for sustainable living but for economic recovery too. With the right leadership we can enjoy a clean environment and a roaring economy. (‘Roaring’ economy? The phrase we generally hear is ‘sustainable economy, or the oxymoron, ‘sustainable growth’. This is not an encouraging start).

11.1 Climate Change

Climate Change Legislation: Fine Gael will legislate for a climate change law that sets the Kyoto and EU2020 targets in national legislation but only on the basis of all party agreement. (Suddenly FG is interested in ‘all party agreement’ – sounds like a cop-out. Is their fiscal or tax policy, for instance, also going to need all-party agreement? Didn’t think so).

Effects of Climate Change: In response to natural disasters such as flooding we will legislate to give the relevant line Minister temporary powers to take charge of the State’s actions under the guise of a National Emergency Response Action Committee. (Nothing, nada, not a sausage on mitigating the very climate change that they – presumably – accept to be driving these “natural” disasters. Again, not encouraging).

Investing in Clean, Green Infrastructure: Fine Gael’s NewERA plan will help transform Ireland into a low carbon and competitive economy by investing an extra €7 billion into new modern infrastructure in areas such as energy and broadband. (Not enough detail to warrant comment).

Electric Vehicles (EVs): We will incentivise consumers to switch to EVs by providing an ambitious roll out of electric transport charging points. We will invite companies from the private and public sector to roll out these charging points. We will commission a study into the feasibility of replacing government-owned vehicles with EVs. (So not all of Simon Coveney’s pet project has been thrown overboard? And another ‘feasibility study’ – why?)

Carbon Tax: The €15 per tonne increase in the carbon tax to €30 per tonne proposed by Government for 2014 is excessive, and will be particularly hard felt by the elderly and in rural Ireland. With an increase of this scale, Ireland would likely have the highest carbon taxes in the world, making some energy-intensive industries uncompetitive here. We will reduce the increase proposed in the Government’s 4-year plan by €5 per tonne (to €25 per tonne). An increase to solid fuels will be phased in only when progress is made to control imports of dirtier, more carbon–intensive solid fuels from the UK. Fine Gael will provide an exemption from the additional carbon tax increases for agricultural diesel. (Sounds like more FG caving in to the IFA/IBEC after the recent Climate Bill fiasco. Exemption for agri-diesel, anyone?)

Cutting Home Energy Use: We will double funding for home energy efficiency and renewable energy programmes until the end of 2013, after which time these schemes will be ended. Pre-announcing the closure of taxpayer-funded schemes will encourage homeowners to invest now and stimulate extra activity in this area and create an additional 5,000 jobs. After 2013, Fine Gael will roll out a ‘pay as you save’ scheme to continue home energy efficiency retrofitting work without recourse to public funding. The Warmer Home Scheme will be protected. (Too early to say, but this sounds like FG walking away from probably the single most successful energy initiative of the outgoing govt).

Energy Efficient Public Buildings: We will tender for a ‘pay as you save’ contract to insulate all public buildings in the state. The contractor will be expected to come up with the capital. This will be labour intensive, will save energy and reduce cost in the long run. (Using private funding to insulate public buildings? Bizarre. If energy-saving saves cash, then it makes sense to do it anyhow. Every time we use ‘private’ money for ‘public’ goods we seem to end up with hostage situations like the East/West Link bridges).

Bio-Energy in Buildings: We will reduce carbon emissions from energy hungry buildings by making combined heat and power generators the norm for large buildings. A new State company, Bioenergy & Forestry Ireland, will grow and market the biomass to feed a nationwide roll out of combined heat and power generator technology. (Sounds interesting, let’s see the specifics).

Afforestation: Fine Gael will develop a new ambitious afforestation programme of 15,000 ha per annum as part of our NewERA strategy to feed the bio-energy production industry. This is required to power the developing combined heat and power industry but also has the added advantage of acting as a ‘carbon sink’ to trap emissions. (At last! The very first mention of ’emissions’ in a section ostensibly dealing with Climate Change).

Carbon Sinks: Fine Gael will push for organisations involved in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to be allowed to fund new forest carbon sinks in Ireland in lieu of purchasing foreign carbon credits.

High Speed Broadband: We will reduce emissions from transport by developing dependable high speed broadband to allow more teleconferencing and shared digital information. (Everyone agrees. But how? The main reason broadband is in a shambles is the FF/PD decision to flog off Eircom and thus lose State control on our telecoms infrastructure. Has FG learned this lesson, or will ideology trump experience?)

11.2 Waste

Waste Competition and Regulation: We will offer better waste services and choices to residents by fostering greater competition in the waste market. Local Authorities will become a waste operator ‘as a last resort’. The sector will be subject to independent regulation by the new Competition, Consumer and Utilities Commission. (On my street, ‘competition’ means three sets of huge bin lorries competing for the same rubbish; this is as daft as a brush and needs sorting out, pronto)

National Waste Policy: Fine Gael will develop a single National Waste Strategy incorporating regional waste plans. We must attract investment in waste infrastructure in a way that maximises potential economies of scale, competition and enables the market to pass on the benefits to businesses and households. Ireland will only meet stringent EU targets on environmentally sustainable waste disposal via a coordinated and planned approach by Government. (Great, but what does that mean?).

Recycling: We will continue to develop recycling services such as brown, green and grey wheelie bins in order to facilitate waste segregation and recycling. In addition, we will extend the network of bring banks and bring centres designed to empower householders to separate and recycle waste.

Zero Tolerance Litter: Fine Gael will take a tough approach with those who litter our communities. We will increase fines and adopt zero tolerance for people found fly tipping in order to protect our natural environment.

Waste Tax: We will introduce an environmental tax on packaging, as recommended by Comhar. (Excellent, but let’s see what’s left of this after the commercial vested interests are through with it. Remember Wrigleys and the ill-fated chewing gum tax?).

11.3 Water

Delivering Water: Fine Gael will deliver clean and reliable drinking water in all parts of the country by creating a single water utility company to take over responsibility of water from the fragmented local authorities that will use new investment and best practice to deliver better water services.

Water Charging: Fine Gael will introduce a fair funding model to deliver clean and reliable water. We will not ask home owners to pay for a broken and unreliable system and that is why Fine Gael will only introduce water charging after the establishment of a new State owned water utility company to take over responsibility from the separate local authorities for Ireland’s water infrastructure and to drive new investment. (Well, at least unlike Labour’s unfathomably dumb blanket opposition to water charges, FG haven’t ducked this one – yet).

Septic Tanks: Fine Gael will tackle leaking septic tanks that pollute our groundwater. We will introduce new regulations and standards to address the serious problems associated with septic tanks. As part of our Home Improvement Scheme we will provide short term finance for septic tank remediation assistance for home owners. (But will FG tackle the problem at source, ie. the blight of willy nilly one-off rural housing? That would involve standing up to the IFA…and 60% of farmers are voting FG!).

11.4 Air

Noise pollution: Fine Gael will introduce new laws to deal with the nuisance of intrusive noise. (Will these extend to cover raucous victory celebrations on the back of an open trailer in Castlebar?)

Air Quality: Fine Gael will further improve air quality by encouraging greater use of electric vehicles and also facilitating a model shift away from private cars to public transport through the development of convenient park and ride facilities and additional rail services. (Model shift? Wonder did they mean ‘modal shift’? Either way, rail needs investment, so good it’s getting a look-in here).

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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13 Responses to Fine Gael and climate change – what’s the story?

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  3. Delio says:

    Thanks for the heads-up on FG climate policy John. Not much coverage in the mainstream, especially on TV – come to think of it, did climate or environment even get so much as a ‘hello’ in any of the Leaders Debates thus far?

  4. Theresa Carter says:

    They also have this – “Recognising that a very conservative and restrictive interpretation of the Habitats Directive is now in force in Ireland, we will allow an exemption for domestic turf cutting on the 75 National Heritage Area sites, which are designated under Irish Law, subject to the introduction of an agreed environmentally national code of practice. In tandem with this, we will establish independent mediation between all relevant stakeholders with the specific objective of facilitating a resolution to the 55 SAC designated bogs. ” as part of the following “initiative”-

    10.2 Energy Pricing and Regulation
    Lower Energy Prices: Fine Gael will set a target of reducing electricity prices to at or below the Eurozone average within 3 years by driving efficiencies in the energy companies, reforming the PSO/ReFIT subsidy system, increasing equity investment in new infrastructure through NewERA and reducing capacity payments. Cheaper energy will be a vital cost competitiveness tool on the road to economic recovery.

    Peat: Peat still plays an important role for heat requirements of many families and for Irish energy security. Recognising that a very conservative and restrictive interpretation of the Habitats Directive is now in force in Ireland, we will allow an exemption for domestic turf cutting on the 75 National Heritage Area sites, which are designated under Irish Law, subject to the introduction of an agreed environmentally national code of practice. In tandem with this, we will establish independent mediation between all relevant stakeholders with the specific objective of facilitating a resolution to the 55 SAC designated bogs. Furthermore, the independent mediation will be made available to resolve the outstanding issues associated with turf cutting on blanket bogs. It is premature to cease the cutting of turf for domestic purposes in 2011 pending the establishment of the management structures and the appointment of an independent Chairperson. We accept that peat will be phased out as a fuel for generating electricity over the next ten to fifteen years. We will support the replacement of this fuel with biomass to retain jobs in the Midlands.

  5. Theresa Carter says:

    On another note John – I have been trying to get some coverage on environmental issues via the economic door of peak oil. By highlighting our dependence on oil and the need to find an alternative as the price rises we can address climate change. However, if addressing the cost of oil means burning more turf then we are not addressing co2. Is there any way we can have both issues addressed in the media pre-election and get some answers from candidates or parties? I have emailed RTE, TV3, local radio but the price of oil appears insignificant and they don’t seem to be capable of equating economic growth to cheap fuel or politics!

  6. Theresa Carter says:

    Also noted their climate bill being all-party agreement. Total cop out.

    I was very heartened talking to my own FG TD but I must say the manifesto does not live up to the spoken word.

    The existing emergency plans have no thoughts on food supply. They never thought of that when drafting it as one of it’s FF TD authors told me a few years ago. Emergency planning needs to be regional. Each authority and community should be urged to have some plan in place. The reality is that when extremes occur it is local knowledge that saves the day.

    It all seems very vague, economically driven and pandering to the usual loyal most vote interest groups. They need to be saying they will work more with NGOs to devise these plans. Then again none of them want that!

  7. John Gibbons says:

    Hi Theresa

    Yes, I was agog when I read what FG had to say about bogs. The phrase “…very conservative and restrictive interpretation of the Habitats Directive now in force in Ireland…” is very worrying, suggests FG think pesky habitats are some minor treehugger irrelevance that they can – literally – bulldoze straight over. The language in use here could have been copied-and-pasted from the line emanating from IFA head office on the Long Mile Road.

    Re. your point about energy and peak oil, the political culture here is to ignore systemic threats that aren’t being banged on about by the major lobby groups until they blow up in your face, and then turn around, look surprised and say, a la Bertie: “Jaaze, lads, why didn’t anyone warn me about de property bubble blowin’ up on us?”

  8. Theresa Carter says:

    Hi John – I sent you a proposal to address this on facebook but I’m not sure if you check it?

  9. John Gibbons says:

    Thanks Theresa, let me check that out and come back to you. Tough slog getting any of this stuff on the political radar, but guess we have to plug away…

  10. I am more than disappointed with some of the people who will make up the next government………..i have spoken to a couple of them………..//……you are correct about most things, but particularly about our ability to plan for emergencies…………..I guess being a neutral nation allows us to dream as if we can dodge everything like the last war………instead of being a small nation with simple clear standards and focusses, we seem to be bogged down trying to figure out the handiest way forward which obviates making any sort of decision or plan, never mind any sense of responsibility……..i think we have a rrived at a state where NO ONE at any level is responsible for anything……….of all that has happened in the past 10 years, i am mesmerised to see that NO ONE amongst the government applicants have had the balls to take on (or take OUT) the secretary of the dept of finance……….above all else in any reform, the appointments of the respective dept secretaries should be done by way of open competition……i dream on

  11. Jack O'Sullivan says:

    Thank you for a very succinct analysis of the response by Fine Gael to climate change.

    Looking at the election results, it seems clear that in Ireland we have taken a huge step backwards — when the rest of the world is becoming more aware of the environmental crisis (which includes global climate disruption, fuel shortages, droughts in some countries, extreme weather events in others, sea level rise world-wide), what do we do ? We vote out of office the few Green Party people who have some understanding of the situation; and we vote into power a party which is devoted to free-market capitalism, and is just as likely as Fianna Fáil to continue supporting the fraudulent bankers and property speculators ! Quite disheartening, but maybe some phoenix will rise from the green ashes — some day !

  12. Jack O'Sullivan says:

    Theresa Carter’s extract from what I guess is the Fine Gael policy document is very interesting in that it refers only to peat as a fuel:

    “We accept that peat will be phased out as a fuel for generating electricity over the next ten to fifteen years. We will support the replacement of this fuel with biomass to retain jobs in the Midlands”.

    A worse problem in some midland counties is the large-scale removal of peat for horticultural purposes, and I guess that the Fine Gael document does not address this issue. Close to where I live, several hundred hectares of formerly prime bog have been exploited for several years by a company based in County Tyrone; the peat is skimmed from the surface, piled into enormous heaps, then removed by lorry. The nearby River Inny has become contaminated by run-off from the peat extraction, and Westmeath County Council has failed to act against the operator. The company has argued that, since turf cutting has taken place on this bog since before 1963, planning permission is not required; and they have obtained a barrister’s opinion to that effect. The argument completely ignores the fact that the pre-1963 turf cutting was small scale and by hand for local use, while the current operation is a large-scale industrial activity, involving the removal of 1000s of tonnes of peat annual, transport to another county, and then exported to England as “horticultural peat”.

    There is local opposition to this industrial-scale removal of the peat, but the opposition centres on the fact that the operation does not provide any local jobs. Unfortunately, local environmental awareness is at a low level; though there are a few groups (Westmeath Association of An Taisce, and the Westmeath Environmental Group) who are aware of the environmental damage being done.

  13. John Gibbons says:


    Thanks for your comments. Wish I could disagree, but I can’t. It’s quite staggering that FG could be so ecologically illiterate in 2011. Being wedded to ‘free market’ ideology is fair enough – up to a point – but it’s pure folly to proceed on a “steady-as-she-grows” model of economic expansion as the cure-all to our national ills when we are collectively on the cusp of an age of contraction, of resource depletion and of climate disruption. We may squeeze a few more years out of the old model, but that will simply deepen the crunch, and leave us even less time to prepare for what will almost certainly be a wrenching transition to a new world of scarcity.

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