Citizens’ Assembly recommendations will revolutionise Ireland’s climate policy

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Immediate Release

The recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly are the best foundation on which to lay the policy roadmap for real and lasting leadership in tackling climate change.

This was the expert view that the Environmental Pillar outlined before a new 22-member Joint Oireachtas Committee to explore how best the State can lead on tackling climate change. [1][2]

Built upon the Assembly’s recommendations, the Pillar’s Charles Stanley Smith outlined key policy decisions the State should take to bring Ireland a step closer to real climate leadership, including:

  • An end to subsidies for peat harvesting and the rewetting of bogs
  • Carbon tax on agricultural emissions in line with the Climate Change Advisory Council’s proposed carbon tax rate [3] [4]
  • A vulnerability assessment to determine how exposed we are to the threat of climate change down to individual structures such as dams and rail-lines
  • Greater investment in clean public transport and cycling and walking infrastructure in the National Development Plan to bolster a move away from private car use [5]
  • Mandated food waste reports at all stages of the supply chain including farms

Expanding on the Pillar’s policy proposals, Andrew St Ledger, also recommended:

  • An independent review of Coillte to ensure that the commercial semi-state body manages its large public land bank in a climate resilient manner [6]
  • Creating a Forestry Task Force as part of an independent body to address climate change as called for by the Citizens’ Assembly [7]
  • Prioritising a new forestry model of native trees and biodiversity-rich woodlands in the right place
  • Rewarding farmers for carbon storage and land diversification with a focus on planting native trees and organic farming

Pillar spokesperson Oisin Coghlan said that these recommendations are the “best place to start the dialogue” on the National Climate and Energy Plan (NECP) that the new Committee is shaping.

Mr Coghlan said that the new plan is urgently needed as shown by recent reports from reputed EU bodies, renowned think tanks and international NGOs that all find Ireland to be a climate laggard. [8]

He said that one recent positive to emerge was the Taoiseach and the Minister for Climate Action’s recognition that current policies are “not working” and “need to be radically revised”. [9] [10]

These admissions, he said, “clear the decks” for the committee to “forge” a climate action plan for the next decade that puts Ireland on track to do our fair share to meet our climate commitments.

The Pillar delegation was joined by members of Stop Climate Chaos, a coalition of overseas aid, youth, faith, and environmental groups calling for Ireland to do its fair share to tackle climate change.

Environmental Pillar Spokesperson, Oisin Coghlan, said:
“The Paris Agreement commitment is to keep warming well below 2C and pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5C. That challenge requires a massive step in action by all parties to the Agreement.

“Like the all-party committees on the 8th amendment and on healthcare this committee has a historic opportunity to forge a climate action plan for the next decade that puts Ireland on track to do our fair share to meet the Paris commitment

“The Government has conceded frankly that current policies and measures are not working and that we need a reset. The significance of these admissions is that they clear the decks for the work of this committee.

“Government TDs and Senators no longer need feel honour bound to defend the current plan, and opposition TDs and Senators no longer have any incentive to score points against it. It’s going to back to the drawing board, indeed your work can shape it.

“In the face of the global emergency and Ireland’s baffling procrastination, we see this committee’s role as ushering in an era of action.”

Environmental Pillar Spokesperson, Andrew St Ledger, said:
“The Environmental Pillar has serious concerns regarding the viability and validity of the current State forestry policy especially in relation to climate change mitigation claims. [11]

“Coillte, in charge of the largest public land bank of seven per cent of the land mass, is not managing this land to ensure climate mitigation, resilience and ecosystem services to harness the full potential of the public forest resource for the public good.

“Regarding forestry policy, the reality is we are actually headed for a deforestation scenario with poor planting rates combined with ongoing high harvesting rates. In this situation forestry will not only be failing to mitigate against climate change, it may be making it worse”.

“We want to see the largest public land bank in Coillte control transitioning to mixed native woodlands and forests that ensure sustainable management of this natural resource for long-term climate mitigation and adaptation.

“The current short-sighted forestry model is not fit for purpose, nor is the purely commercial oriented 1988 Forestry Act, and it too must be reformed to include a Public Good remit.

Environmental Pillar Spokesperson, Charles Stanley Smith, said:
“Bogs should be rewetted and the arterial drainage scheme should be reviewed as draining high carbon soil is the cause of a significant percentage of agricultural emissions, whilst depleting soil fertility.

“We also believe that the extraction and export of millions of tonnes of horticultural and other peat products must be counted in Ireland’s overall emissions.

“A priority should also be to move away towards active transport, green public transport, shared electric car schemes and car-pooling. Long commutes are a social problem as well as a cause of transport-induced emissions.”

ENDS

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[1] Environmental Pillar (2018). Submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action Regarding the Third Report and Recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly entitled “How the State can make Ireland a Leader in Tackling Climate Change: https://goo.gl/852iMT
[2] The Citizens’ Assembly (2018) Third Report and Recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly: https://goo.gl/Wmhso8
[3] A 2018 Teagasc report states a carbon price on Irish agricultural emissions of €50 per tonne (CO2e) is required to enable climate mitigation efforts in the sector: https://goo.gl/Sd1ZL4
[4] The Advisory Council recommends that the carbon tax is raised to 30 euro per tonne in Budget 2019, rising to €80 per tonne by 2030. We concur with the need to raise the Carbon Tax but feel that it needs to start at €70 in 2019 and rise by €5 a year thereafter to be effective: https://goo.gl/i11JtK
[5] Rather than the 5 per cent of the Transport Budget in the National Development Plan currently allocated to walking and cycling, we suggest that this is raised to a two-thirds share of the transport budget
[6] Coillte is in charge of the largest public land bank consisting of seven per cent of the land mass yet is not managing this land to ensure Climate resilience and are not delivering a public good. The McCarthy report assessing state assets for privatisation in 2010 found approximately half of the Coillte public forest estate, 500,000 acres, was not commercially viable and that 0.4 per cent per-tax annual return from its forest business was not economically acceptable: https://goo.gl/oxpuVz
[7] Ninety-seven per cent of the Members recommended that to ensure climate change is at the centre of policy-making in Ireland, as a matter of urgency a new or existing independent body should be resourced appropriately, operate in an open and transparent manner, and be given a broad range of new functions and powers in legislation to urgently address climate change: https://goo.gl/ZYMaSW
[8]Example of recent reports on Ireland’s climate record:
Ireland has the third highest GHG emissions per person among the EU28 (2016, source Eurostat)
Ireland has the eighth highest GHG emissions per person among the OCED 35 (2015, World Resources Institute)
Ireland is one of only two EU countries projected to overshoot their 2013-2020 GHG emissions target (2017, European Environment Agency).
The latest projections from Ireland’s EPA is that on current trends, Ireland’s emissions will still be 13 per cent above 1990 levels in 2030 (2018, EPA).
The 2018 Climate Performance Index from Germanwatch ranked Ireland as the worst climate performer in the European Union, 49th out of 57 countries ranked overall.
The Climate Action Network Europe report Off Target, published in June 2018, ranks Ireland second worst in Europe for climate action, ahead only of Poland.
[9] The Green News (2018). Taoiseach tells EU he is not proud of Ireland’s role as Europe’s climate ‘laggard’: https://goo.gl/g2tPKA
[10] The Irish Times (2018). Naughten admits plan to cut carbon emissions is not working: https://goo.gl/jHLekt
[11] A recent US report co-authored by IPCC scientist Dr. Bill Moomaw (Tufts University) and Dogwood Alliance found that the actual carbon stored long-term in harvested wood products represents less than 10 per cent of that originally stored in the standing trees and other forest biomass. If the trees had been left to grow, the amount of carbon stored would have been even greater than it was 100 years prior: https://goo.gl/UX4O0j

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Notes for Editor:

About the Environmental Pillar
The Environmental Pillar is a national social partner, comprising national environmental organisations. It works to promote the protection and enhancement of the environment, together with the creation of a viable economy and a just society, without compromising the viability of the planet on which we live for current and future generations of all species and ecosystems.

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