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Land of a thousand welcomes and zero carbon emissions

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Two weeks ago, in Ireland, the ‘joint committee on climate action’ called for the country to reduce its carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050. The committee, which is comprised of politicians from across the political spectrum, have called for increased action across the board to tackle climate change. This represents a dramatic shift of ambitions from a nation that has been repeatedly voted worst in Europe for climate issues, and who’s own leader referred to it a climate “laggard”.

Ireland has had success in the past in tackling climate related issues; they introduced the plastic bag levy in 2002 and in July of last year declared their intentions to divest from fossil fuel. They will be selling their €300m shares in coal, oil, peat and gas ‘as soon as practicable’. So, the will has always been there, but the government didn’t regard climate issues with the necessary urgency.

That is until the people spoke up. The appetite of the Irish people for climate action has been growing steadily as they have watched their neighbouring countries act.

Climate awareness is growing in the public consciousness. According to recent opinion polls from the EPA, 87% of people believe in the importance of the environment for Ireland, and 37% of adults regard climate change as the most pressing issue that should be addressed. Recently 11,000 students marched on the capital during the strike for climate, with many other marches taking place across the country. The public has made their mandate clear and now the politicians have to step-up.

The joint committee’s plan for a net-zero Ireland involves –

  • Setting legally-binding emissions limits,
  • increasing the carbon tax to support climate measures,
  • providing strong support for green jobs and agriculture,
  • creating a governing body called the ‘Climate Action Council’ that will monitor the progress being made.

The committee also said that the nation’s capital should proactively support the improved emission reduction targets from the EU. This would position Ireland with other nations who are calling for a 1.5°c commitment over a 2°c commitment. With roughly one-quarter of the population living in Dublin, this is the key battleground for behavioural change and climate adaptation.

The plan itself is modelled on the UK’s own climate change act. And while we in WWF-UK are calling for the UK government to increase its ambitions and call for net-zero by 2045, this is a fantastic starting point for Ireland, one they can easily build on and improve upon. More importantly, Ireland can now be used as an example for those who are yet to engage their carbon issues, or they can push other nations who are already working towards a net zero target even further. A little competition never hurts, especially in a race this important.

With this new declaration of the net zero target, it would be amazing to see a more focused and ambitious drive forward on climate issues in Ireland.

The proposed plan does have its faults and will require a lot more work to ensure it is a robust and effective plan to combat climate change, however, it is a great place to start the conversation for a nation who have been falling behind. Regardless of the critiques of this plan, it is a hugely important and ambitious step towards a net zero Ireland, one that we at WWF welcome.  

Comhghairdeas ar do uaillmhian!

Seán Mallon is a climate change specialist from Ireland, working for WWF-UK.

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