Budget 2020: Four steps to fund a Green New Deal for Ireland

Immediate Release: 4 October 2019

The Government can tackle out of control emissions and fund the just transition to a carbon-free future for Ireland through common-sense environmental taxation, a coalition of environmental groups has said.

The Environmental Pillar is calling on the State to adopt four taxes in Budget 2020 that will protect our environment and health, tackle escalating emissions and bring in a chunk of funding for the just transition, namely:

  • Carbon Tax to reduce emissions and fuel the just transition to a low-carbon economy;
  • A Diesel Levy boost to match petrol and address air quality and health risks;
  • Throwaway Levy to target single-use items clogging our streets, coasts & countryside;
  • An Aggregates Levy to tackle emissions from the roaring construction industry 

Revenue generated from these measures -calls for which by environmental groups have fallen on deaf ears in numerous previous budgets – should be ring-fenced to help fund a Green New Deal for Ireland. [1]

Carbon Tax

The state’s carbon tax is fixed at €20 per tonne and according to the Government’s new climate plan is set to gradually increase to €80 by 2030 in line with Climate Change Advisory Council recommendations. [2][3][4] 

We feel that the tax needs to increase to €40 in 2020 to have any impact on emissions, with all the additional revenue going back to the people of Ireland in order to protect low income families. 

This can be achieved through either a combination of changes in social welfare payments and direct payment to homes or through an increase in social welfare payments and tax credits. [5] 

The revenue from the existing €20 per tonne tax should be ring-fenced for a Just Transition to ensure that workers and communities are protected during the move away from peat and coal, as well as funding retrofitting and other energy saving projects across the country. 

A reformulated carbon tax that supports low-income households and helps fund the low carbon transition could be the ideal Robin Hood tax. 

Failure to act boldly now will send a very weak message to the people of Ireland about the Government’s commitment to lead us into a more socially just and carbon-free future. 

Diesel Tax

While we wait for the Government to take steps to promote lasting policy on public transport, cycling and walking infrastructure, a levy rise may help stave off some of the health risks from diesel emissions. 

Diesel is one of the leading emitters of automotive greenhouse gases and particulates, with the World Health Organization clear that diesel exhaust fumes can cause cancer and emit 10 times more health-damaging pollutants than petrol cars. [6] 

Diesel is currently charged at 10c less per litre than petrol and Ireland has one of the highest percentage sales of diesel cars in Europe. 

We have already been told by the OECD that this preferential tax rate has “little economic, social or environmental rationale”, while the European Commission has warned us to even out this “environmentally unjustified” gap. [7] [8] 

The Department of Finance’s tax strategy group also found that dieselisation is a “growing issue” that, if left unaddressed, will “result in negative environmental and health outcomes”. [9]

More recently, the Economic and Social Research Institute found that increasing the excise duty on diesel to the level of petrol could bring in €500 million a year and reduce dangerous emissions. [10] 

Throwaway Levy

Mirroring the success associated with the Plastic Bag Levy, we want to see a levy applied at the point of sale to consumers to any single- items, such as disposable coffee cups, plastic packaging and cutlery. [11]

Every year, there are over 200 million non-recyclable cups, as well as compostable cups, ending up in landfills, burned in incineration or littering our streets and countryside. 

A simple 10 cent charge could bring in million to fund environmental schemes such as the roll out of a national deposit/refund scheme for bottles and also encourage behavioral change within society. 

This also makes the levy visible and allows consumers to make the choice of bringing their own containers.

Aggregates Levy   

The Pillar recommends a tax of up to €2.50 to be levied on each tonne of sand, gravel, crushed stone and other aggregates extracted from the ground or lifted from the surface and used in construction. 

The rate would mirror the UK tax and would encourage the recycling of construction and demolition waste. It is expected to bring in €80 million based on estimated 32m tonnes of aggregates produced on an annual basis in Ireland. 

The UK is the EU’s best-performing country in terms of recycling construction and demolition waste, with 25 per cent of waste reused in construction. 

The rate in Ireland is currently just one per cent, a worrying figure especially as the production of cement – the key building block in Irish construction – is the third-largest source of C02 emissions globally. [11] 

There are many external environmental and societal costs associated with quarrying, including runoff into streams, dewatering of groundwater, damage to roads, dust, noise and vibration which are experienced by the local communities.

Oisin Coghlan, convenor of the Environmental Pillar’s climate group, said: 

“The carbon tax is a lever that we can pull immediately to get the ball rolling on the State’s ambitious long-term targets such as the retrofitting of homes and getting hundreds of thousands of electric cars on Irish roads by 2030. 

“However, it is vital that we design a carbon tax mechanism that the public trust is in their best interest and supports our transition to a low carbon economy 

“A reformulated carbon tax that supports low-income households and helps fund the low carbon transition could be the ideal Robin Hood, bringing down emissions and also warding off impending multimillion euro fines for missing our binding European climate targets 

“So we can both have a carbon tax and reduce the amount of fines we are to pay or we can face higher fines that the average Joe will ultimately have to dig into his or her pocket to pay. 

Karen Ciesielski, coordinator of the Environmental Pillar, said:   

“Alongside carbon emissions, diesel vehicles emit nitrous oxide and particulates. We know that particulates are significant carcinogens, and many lives are lost every year because of them. 

“In the past five years science has also linked these particles to Alzheimer’sslower brain development in children and heightened risk of diabetes and preterm births.  

“Last year, we expected to at least see some moves toward disincentivising diesel use given the growing body of evidence on the damaging impact of its use on our climate and health

“In the end, there was nothing in the budget to reflect the urgency to remove the beneficial treatment diesel fuel enjoys in our country, and that needs to change starting in 2020. 

“In addition, an aggregates levy following the ‘polluter pays principle’ will have a great range of advantages, including reducing waste and emissions, as well as regulating quarries and bringing in a chunk of revenue from a very resource-intensive sector. 

“Every year we delay laying out a vision for the future, the less we will be able to cope in a low-carbon society. Budget 2020 needs to do something to try and change that, not just for our planet but for the health of the Irish people here and now.” 


[1] Environmental Pillar. Proposals for the 2018 Budget: https://tinyurl.com/yxkbqxzq  AND Budget 2019: Three key steps to avert climate catastrophe and solve housing crisis: https://tinyurl.com/yxeaf5cd

[2] All of Government Plan: https://www.dccae.gov.ie/en-ie/climate-action/Pages/default.aspx

[3] Climate Change Advisory Council Annual Report 2018: https://goo.gl/i11JtK 

[4] A recent study from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found that emissions could drop by 10 per cent if the tax is set at €80 due to expected behavioural changes made by households in response to the tax: https://www.esri.ie/system/files/publications/QEC2019SUM_SA_Lynch.pdf

[5] The ESRI has found that a targeted increase in tax credits, maximum rates of welfare payments and Child Benefit can achieve the same distributional result as a lump-sum ‘cheque in the post’, but with less administrative cost and complexity:  https://www.esri.ie/system/files/publications/BP202001.pdf 

[6] International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) (which is part of the World Health Organization), Diesel Engine Exhaust Carcinogenic: https://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2012/pdfs/pr213_E.pdf

[7] European Commission, 2017. European Semester: Country Report – Ireland: https://goo.gl/VSaqTZ

[8] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2018. Economic Surveys Ireland: https://goo.gl/7KPWcN

[9] Tax Strategy Group, 2017. Energy and Environmental Taxes: https://goo.gl/mDRcX3

[10] Economic and Social Research Institute, 2018. The Environmental Impact of Fiscal Instruments: https://www.esri.ie/pubs/BKMNEXT351.pdf

[11] Established in 2001, the Environmental Fund brought in €62 million through the plastic bag levy and the landfill levy at its funding peak in 2011, with revenue used to finance the likes of the EPA’s research and enforcement teams, waste prevention programmes, and limited but important funding for the environmental NGO community. The Fund has been decreasing year on year, becoming a victim of its own success as citizens change behaviour away from plastic bag use and a move away from landfill use. https://tinyurl.com/y6gpyrz8

[12] Global CO2 emissions from cement production, 1928-2017: https://www.earth-syst-sci-data.net/10/2213/2018/essd-10-2213-2018.pdf