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Failing to tackle climate change

Comment & Opinion

FEELING THE EFFECTS Severe weather events have battered our coastline with increased frequency, and flooding has been causing problems from Crossmolina to Carrowholly.

There was, as seems to be the case with all Budgets, a mixed reaction to last Tuesday’s Budget commended to the Dáil by Minister of Finance Paschal Donohoe.
There will never be enough money to satisfy all the various stakeholders in a Budget, and with many of these stakeholders holding competing views as to what’s important, no Budget, even with sizeable finances, can cater across the board.
But the last few lines of Paschal Donohue’s Budget speech are worth noting.
“Budget 2019 is about securing our future … It addresses the risks we face both domestically and on the international front. The Budget I have announced today is a progressive Budget  … It is a responsible Budget for a modern and caring Ireland that aims to be at the centre of a changing world.”
Given what was revealed just 24 hours earlier by the United Nations’ intergovernmental panel on climate change you would imagine that the Budget had taken steps to address Ireland’s chronic failure to address our Climate Change obligations.
Sadly, such an assumption would be misplaced. The reasons for this are, on the face of it, somewhat unclear.
Speaking last July, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the Government was planning to increase carbon taxes for 2019. Meanwhile, Paschal Donohoe can generally be credited as being a forward-looking politician, and he has spoken in the past about Ireland’s clear responsibilities on climate change.
The lack of anything of substance on Ireland’s need to tackle its climate-change obligations was shocking, especially 24 hours after the UN report was released.
One can speculate that political considerations were at play – most notably the weak position that the current Government finds itself in, what with Independents propping it up and Fianna Fáil facilitating its continued occupation of Government Buildings.
If this is the reason, then whoever used their support as a dealbreaker against such a crucial issue ought to be made known to the voters of the country. For while a carbon tax may affect transport, agriculture and rural Ireland in particular, this issue is far bigger than vested interests at this point.

UN report
The UN’s warning, which came the day before the Budget, was stark. The world’s leading climate scientists compiled a landmark report for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and it said that urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach necessary global-warming targets.
The scientists state that the world has until 2030 for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. An increase of even half a degree more than that will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people, their report stated.
At present we are heading for a 3 degree increase, and we have already seen the damage wrought by inaction to date.
In Mayo alone we have seen clearly the impact of climate change in recent years. Severe weather events have battered our coastline with increased frequency, and flooding has been causing problems from Crossmolina to Carrowholly. Are these events just going to stop magically without meaningful action? The reality is they will get much worse.
Ireland is towards the bottom of the pile in Europe when it comes to controlling harmful emissions, and it continues to sit on its hands. ‘A modern and caring Ireland’ indeed.
It would appear that political expediency is more of a motivation to this Government than tackling such a pressing crisis. But, then, politically we’re not sure Fine Gael will pay a price for this at the next General Election. Some Government down the line will bear the brunt of an electorate’s rage when reality starts to hit home but perhaps the Government see that as someone else’s problem.
It has long been a problem in Irish politics that Governments of all colours struggle and fail to see too far past the next election. And that is facilitated by an electorate often more concerned with relatively minor local matters than the Ireland that our children and grandchildren will occupy.
Climate change is the single biggest issue facing the human race, and the Irish Government in its Budget has failed to show leadership and take ownership of it.