It’s been a long struggle for environmental campaigners to get climate change onto Ireland’s political agenda, but there was significant progress last week when an Oireachtas all-party committee reached agreement on a series of actions to counter global warming. Inevitably, the key proposal of increasing carbon taxes fourfold over the next decade — from €20 per tonne of CO2 to €80 — has already been identified as the most contentious issue on the climate-change agenda. Higher levels of tax will increase the cost of fossil fuels, leading to higher energy bills and significant additional costs for motorists. Separately, there will have to be changes in agriculture where rapidly expanding beef and dairy production is a large contributor to higher emissions. The notion that undoing the damage we have caused to the environment could be achieved without any pain has been well and truly disabused by the committee. The strength of last week’s report is that it has the support of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, the Labour Party and the Green Party. While Fianna Fail was slow to sign up to the quadrupling of the carbon tax, it was convinced by a last-minute amendment. This will ensure the government comes up with a plan to support those on low incomes or experiencing “fuel poverty” before increasing the carbon tax. The hope is that this will be sufficient to mitigate hardship for the less well-off. With the first increase likely to be announced this autumn, in time for the 2020 budget, those plans will have to be produced as soon as possible. Not only will this maintain the momentum generated by last week’s report, but it will have the added benefit of heading off the inevitable protests from the left and other activists who are already making comparisons between the increase in carbon tax and the failed introduction of water charges. In that context, it is significant that Sinn Fein is already trying to carve out a role for itself as the only established political party opposed to an increase in carbon tax. While most of the political establishment was getting on with the business of saving the planet, Sinn Fein and the hard-left Solidarity-People Before Profit voted against the report purely on the basis of the proposed tax changes. Sinn Fein argued that the tax will not reduce emissions. Maybe, but as of now there is no evidence to support the party’s stance.
Times 31st March 2019 read more »