Last chance for Department of Environment to deliver climate action

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Friends of the Earth has claimed that the Department of the Environment is on its last chance to show it can coordinate climate policy across Government. The environmental campaigning organization says that since 1997, when Ireland signed the Kyoto Protocol, the Department has consistently failed to deliver timely and adequate action to meet Ireland’s emissions reductions targets.

Friends of the Earth Director, Oisin Coghlan, commented:

“New Minister for the Environemnt Alan Kelly has a reputation for energy and toughness. He will need both those qualities to give Irish climate policy urgently needed direction and spine. Ireland is already off track for our 2020 targets, we have no national action plan, and our international position is best described as a defensive crouch.

“Minister Kelly can make a good start by publishing the long-delayed Climate Bill before the summer break. But then he needs to take the process to develop our National Low Carbon Roadmap by the scruff off the neck. Out last national action plan expired in 2012 and there is no whole of Government policy direction on how we will meet our fast approaching 2020 targets.

“The Department made a mistake in deciding to let other Departments write their sectoral plans first rather that Government agreeing a national framework first as it does for the Budget, economic strategy and job creation. As we predicted what we have seen is line ministries special pleading, offering as little as possible, and dragging their feet. The Government promised a new national climate action plan by end of 2013 but now says it will be the end of this year before we even have a draft.

“This policy vacuum has allowed the national interest to be sidelined by vested interests. Climate policy is effectively being run by the Department of Agriculture. The only consistent message from Government ministers is that they are working to exempt agriculture from future EU targets. The Department of Transport has offered little by way of a pathway to low-carbon mobility. It is being left to Energy to do all the heavy lifting and that simply won’t be enough to meet our 2030 targets, nevermind our 2030 and 2050 obligations.

“The pity is that the research shows that there are real economic opportunities for Ireland in making the transition to a low-carbon future and we risk missing them with this uncoordinated, unfocused approach from Government. The contrast with the centralised and focused way the Government manages the Action Plan for Jobs could not be greater.

“Ireland risks the same mistakes it made with the Kyoto protocol. We agreed our Kyoto target in 1998 based on expert advice presented to Government by the Department of Environment but the Department simply lacked the administrative and political weight to get the recommended policy measures adopted and implemented. Of the three main planks – a carbon tax, halting the use of peat for electricity generation, and converting Moneypoint to gas – only the first was done, in 2010, far too late to help meet our 2008-2012 Kyoto target.

“In the end we only met our Kyoto target because of the economic crash. Following the tortuous and climate policy-making process now you would sometimes wonder is that the fallback plan for 2020 as well.

“It is striking that as Ireland prepares to agree our 2030 target with our EU partners, the new civil service committee established to aid ministers is being chaired by the Department of Energy.

“Friends of the Earth wishes the new Minister of Environment well as he tries to get a handle on the situation, get the Climate Bill into the Dáil before the break, and drive the completion of a national climate action plan before the end of the year.

“Otherwise it may well be time to consider whether climate policy should move from the unwieldy Department of the Environment to a more focused Department of Energy and Climate Change, a common enough configuration across Europe, after the next election.”

Information is taken from Friends of the Earth press release.