McCarthy: ability without sustainabilty?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? This well-known Latin phrase from the poet Juvenal, loosely translates to “Who will guard the guards?” It came to mind when thinking about the Talented Mr McCarthy and his oversized shears, better known as An Bord Snip Nua. Regular readers will know that I have a slight ongoing problem with what we refer to as orthodox economics, and its practitioners, our mighty Fifth Estate, the economists.

Whatever degree factory churns them out, our economists mostly march metronomically to the rhythm of the all-seeing Market. Too bad the world has moved on since Milton Friedman was their pin-up boy. Meanwhile, An Bord Snip Nua is cheerfully both diagnosing what ails Ireland Inc, and prescribing our remedial treatment.

I for one wish them well, especially when considering the phalanxes of vested interest they must overcome if they are to make any impression whatever. I do have one giant-sized caveat in all of this, and that’s sustainability. It’s really not that difficult a concept, but it still doesn’t seem to have made it into any of those economics textbooks. This is not a trivial omission.

In a brand new document offering advice to Government, Comhar, the Sustainable Development Council warns that public expenditure cuts, while essential must not damage Ireland’s sustainability. Specifically, Comhar SDC has prepared an advice note arguing strongly for a Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) of key recommendations in the report of An Bord Snip Nua.

Its critique is entitled ‘Snipping away at Sustainability’. This is no mere special pleading. If McCarthy et al. don’t factor in sustainability and the needs of future generations, their contribution will ultimately prove less than useless.

Comhar recently made a well-argued case for a stimulus package along the lines of and Irish Green New Deal. That’s for starters.  “Given the economic situation we also need to identify areas where public expenditure and subsidy can be cut, however we need to do this while achieving a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and increasing our productivity. There is a clear case for undertaking a SIA of the proposals contained in the An Bord Snip Nua report so that proposals where reductions in public expenditure will bring a short term gain to the exchequer at a higher cost in the long term and have serious negative impacts on sustainable development can be identified”, according to a Comhar statement due to be released later today.

The specifics of Comhar SDC’s recent budget submission are:

Carbon Tax

  • The implementation of a carbon tax in the non-emission trading sectors is the most efficient and fairest way to reduce emissions in the Irish economy.
  • The revenues should be used to reduce income taxes, compensate lower income households, and investment in public good activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the affected sectors will reinforce its positive economic, social and environmental impacts.
  • Initially the carbon levy should be set at the same price as the Emissions Trading Scheme market price to encourage least cost reductions. For example a levy of approximately €20 per tCO2, would translate to roughly 5c per litre of petrol. (the current price is currently approx €13 per tCO2) It should be clearly marked on receipts to raise awareness of the carbon implications of purchases.

Climate Change Legislation

It should provide for

  • Long term targets for emissions reductions up to 2050, in line with the best available science and our UNFCCC commitments.
  • Intermediate targets for emissions reductions to provide for a stepped approach.
  • An independent Climate Change Commission to advise the Government on targets and measures and to report to the Oireachtas on progress.
  • A framework for a national climate change risk assessment to take place every five years.
  • A framework for a national adaptation programme to be put in place and reviewed every five years.

From National Development Plan to Green New Deal Development Plan

  • The Government should commit to re-casting the National Development Plan to comprise a ‘Green New Deal’ development plan in line with Comhar SDC’s recent report and recommendations for a Green New Deal for Ireland.
  • This means ensuring that all prospective investments in infrastructure are tested to ensure that they make a real contribution to economic, social and environmental sustainability, and these aspects are monitored as implementation and then operation proceed

This is all good stuff, and mercifully fluff and dogma-free. As the Comhar critique concludes, “there is a clear case for undertaking a SIA of the proposals contained in the An Bord Snip Nua report so that proposals where reductions in public expenditure will bring a short term gain to the exchequer at a higher cost in the long term and have serious negative impacts on sustainable development can be identified”.

Given that Ireland’s current travails are a classic case of what happens when you don’t think or plan ahead, it would be a bitter irony indeed were McCarthy’s crew to sacrifice our crucial long-term prospects at the altar of expediency, as defined by people who, as outlined above, seem impenetrable to such quaint notions as sustainability. Maybe I’m reading McCarthy et al. all wrong. Certainly hope so.

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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2 Responses to McCarthy: ability without sustainabilty?

  1. Carbon Tax on fuel is in my view wrong (as is emission trading).

    If CO2 emissions are the problem
    – tax the emissions (eg cars)
    or set CO2 emission limits as with mercury and other emission substances (power stations).

    The reason a tax on fuel is wrong is that there is no necessary correlation between oil-gas-coal use and CO2 emissions.

    Uckermarck power station in Germany (coal) Lacq in France (gas) and
    fuel processing in cars (eg carbon capture and storage as developed at Georgia Tech) show how CO2 can be markedly reduced or eliminated using such fuels.

    Of course if cost is prohibitive in keeping down emissions, other fuels might be used.
    But any emission targeting of fuels should be fuel-neutral.

    Those interested can see more at

    Emission Policy Alternatives
    Introduction: The need – or not – to deal with emissions
    The Overall Picture
    Emission sources, land and ocean cycles, agriculture and deforestation
    1. Direct Industrial Emission Regulation
    Mandated reduction of CO2, monitored like other emission substances
    2. Carbon Taxation
    Fuel Tax — Emission Tax
    3. Emission Trading (Cap and Trade)
    Basic Idea — Offsets — Tree Planting — Manufacture Shift — Fair Trade — Surreal Market — Allowances: Auctions + Hand-Outs — Allowance Trading — Companies: Business Stability + Cost — In Conclusion
    4. Contracted CO2 Reduction
    Private companies compete for contracts to lower CO2 emissions.

  2. /correction/
    the German coal power station that incorporates a carbon capture and storage prototype is Schwarze Pumpe
    (Uckermark has a wind power energy storage concept).

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