When the Greens took the plunge and went into Coalition with Fianna Fail earlier this year, many eyebrows were raised. It looked like another cynical move by the the dominant party to stick on a green fig leaf to cover its embarrassing record of ten years of inaction and rising emissions.
That may well still be the case, but yesterday’s launch of a Government communications strategy on climate change has a more substantial feel to it. Environment Minister John Gormley set out a vision for a much lower energy future for Ireland. Our temperate climate means that if houses were built to the highest environmental standards, they could virtually eliminate the need for heating, using just the heat generated by domestic appliances to keep temperatures comfortable.
While many, including Climatechange.ie believe what is needed is a more drastic approach, Gormley’s assault is across a broad front, so while individual savings may be modest, if enough sectors are engaged, the overall effect could be quite dramatic. Tightening up on building regulations, many of which seem to have been drafted to suit builders rather than planners or the public, is a good start. Agriculture and tourism are also major polluters, and so too must be part of the solution.
Action on ‘green procurement’ again sounds like a good plan. In most cases, simply making people aware of the green dimension to decision-making is a huge step in the right direction. Cracking down on cars in parts of Dublin city centre is again a sound idea, but only if it’s the first step towards a radical Government policy realignment away from private transport and towards high-quality, high-frequency public transport.
Apart from the runaway emissions associated with the huge increase in the number of vehicles on Ireland’s roads in the last decade, common sense says that this can’t continue unchecked. Our urban road infrastructure is already unable to cope with current traffic levels, and with population set to continue to grow rapidly in the greater Dublin area, adding tens of thousands to additional vehicles to our already choked streets and roads is going to make the situation infinitely worse unless alternate solutions are rapidly developed.
Gormley’s €15m climate awareness campaign kicks off in the new year, and is slated to run for two years. Let’s hope the money is well spent. There is a mountain of disinformation and ignorance (both wilful and genuine) out there to be scaled before this issue can be tackled in earnest. In simple terms, how can we mobilise people to solve a problem that many still don’t think even exists? From that standpoint, attacking public apathy and indifference and challenging the ‘business as usual’ mindset seems like the smartest move.
New EU targets to cut emissions to at least 20 per cent below 1990 levels are to be discussed at a global conference on climate change attended by Gormley in Indonesia. Considering that Ireland is currently running at least 25 per cent over our 1990 levels, the changes needed in this country are going to be quite dramatic.
To quote Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (not himself a noted Green): “Climate change is real and is not going away. Successfully tackling the issue is crucial to our future wellbeing”.