Climate Plan: Environmental coalition welcomes plans to boost ailing funding

Immediate Release, 18 June 2019

Environmental coalition welcomes plans to boost ailing funding but still major concerns over biodiversity policy in the new climate plan   

The Environmental Pillar has welcomed plans in the new all of government climate plan to examine the bolstering of the ailing Environment Fund, as well as changing consumer and business behaviour.

In equal measure, the Pillar – a coalition of over 30 national environment groups – laments the general lack of clarity, ambition and urgency to tackle biodiversity decline as a solution to the climate crisis (A further detailed Press Release on this issue will follow th ismorning).

Released yesterday, the Climate Action Plan to Tackle Climate Breakdown states that the Government will examine a number of potential environmental levies by the end of 2019 as part of a review of the Environmental Fund.

The Pillar – a coalition of over 30 national environmental organisations – welcomed the move to re-examine the fund that is vital to support Ireland’s environmental activities, such as the EPA’s enforcement office, anti-littering programmes, and limited but important funding for the environmental NGO community.

Established in 2002 and financed through the plastic bag levy and landfill levy, the fund has dwindled from a high of €62 million in 2011 to €44 million in 2017.

This is as a result of the Environmental Fund becoming a victim of its own success in recent year, with citizens changing behaviour away from plastic bag use and a move away from landfills towards incineration.

One potential levy proposed in the new Plan include those on single-use plastics, with numerous Pillar’s proposals in recent years calling for a levy on all single-use non-compostable items falling on deaf ears up to now.

Ireland is currently the top producer of plastic waste in Europe, producing 61kg of plastic waste per person each year. It is estimated that every day two million disposable coffee cups are going into landfills in Ireland.

Firm policy on equalising duties on petrol and diesel, however, is lacking from the report. Instead, the issue is earmarked for consideration in context of budget, a decision which is not very promising as the Pillar has been calling for this move in numerous Budget submissions over the past decade.

Diesel is currently charged at 11c less per litre than petrol, with the European Commission warning the State to even out this “environmentally unjustified” gap.

The Pillar would also like to see the State get serious on bringing in an aggregates levy and tax up to €2.50 on each tonne of sand, gravel, crushed stone and other aggregates extracted from the ground or lifted from the surface and used in construction.

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

The rate would mirror the UK – the EU’s best-performing country in terms of recycling construction and demolition waste – and would encourage the recycling of construction and demolition waste. It is expected to bring in €80 million based on an estimated 32m tonnes of aggregates produced on an annual basis in Ireland.

Environmental Pillar coordinator, Karen Ciesielski, said of plans to bolster the environmental fund:

“Polluter pays levies and taxes have the potential to raise millions in revenue to support environmental initiatives, as well as steering people towards more environmentally friendly behaviour.

“If we want to build a sustainable future our Budget needs to do more than just raise taxes. It needs to change people’s behaviour and the behaviour of business as well, and a levy on single use plastics such as coffee cups would go a long way to doing this.

“The Government also needs to seriously consider equalising the cost of diesel and petrol. The excise on diesel in Ireland is currently 22 per cent less than on petrol, yet diesel emits 15.5 per cent more greenhouse gases than petrol so an incentive to use it is not justified.

“On top of that, air pollution is the cause of around 400 deaths in Ireland and diesel fuel is one of the contributors to that pollution. With this in mind, it is a no-brainer that we must remove the beneficial treatment diesel fuel now enjoys.

“Finally, 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. This future is coming and now is the time to change.”