The Irish Times

Special treatment for ‘rich’ Ireland may be hard to justify Harry McGee

Ireland has vowed to continuous­ly cut emissions from the agricultur­al sector

- Harry McGee

The Government’s approach to the climate talks in Paris could be summed up by the country expression: “You can’t run with the hare and chase with the hounds.”

On the one hand Ireland has played its full part as part of the EU negotiatin­g block, seeking ambitious long-term goals, transparen­cy, and momentum towards the target of a 1.5 degrees Celsius limit on global temperatur­e increases.

On the other hand, both Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for the Environmen­t Alan Kelly have made the same argument about protecting Irish agricultur­e. It’s a growing sector in Ireland, helped by the removal of quotas. It comprises 12 per cent of GDP, and there are plans to increase the national herd by 300,000. The Government says this can be achieved without increasing emissions.

But emissions in this sector are already high (a third of all Irish emissions). Even without Europe moving to more ambitious emissions target in Paris, Ireland will face an uphill struggle to meet 2030 targets.

Carbon charges

It has essentiall­y argued a special case for Ireland on the basis that Irish agricultur­e is among the most sustainabl­e in the world. If it doesn’t succeed in that argument the State will be on the hook for hundreds of millions of euro in annual carbon charges.

The focus will now turn to Brussels in spring when EUs tates will debate how to divide the burden of meeting the EU’s 2030 targets.

Mr Kelly yesterday stressed the inclusion of reference to “food security” in the text of the proposed agreement, which he said acknowledg­ed the reality that food will have to be produced for a rising global population. “Ireland is a very environmen­tally friendly producer of food, will continue to do so. We will continuous­ly reduce our emissions from the agricultur­al sector.”

Richest countries

But climate expert Prof John Sweeney said with economic growth Ireland would be one of the richest countries again in two to three years’ time. “I just do not expect to see any special favours for Irish agricultur­e,” he said.

He said it was incumbent on every country to share the burden, and Ireland had to put a price on agricultur­al emissions under the “polluter pays” principle. “Agricultur­e and food companies should be brought into the net. I don’t see Ireland getting special treatment for agricultur­e in the longer term. We will have to adjust our agricultur­e and our agricultur­e taxation system to reflect that.”

Prof Brian Ó Gallachóir from the department of energy policy in UCC said there had been less discussion on heat and transport, even though they comprised 80 per cent of energy use.

“We have higher emission per capita because of dispersed population. We have a poor standard in building stock, though there have been improvemen­ts in new buildings. We still have a large legacy stock.

“The challenge is to persuade one million households of the benefits of retrofitti­ng their homes.”

Another reality that will emerge from Paris is that all transport will have to be electrifie­d by midcentury.

“In the public transport area, electric vehicles do not exist in the Irish bus fleet,” said Prof Sweeney.

“They were using hybrid buses in Paris for COP 21. The network in Paris is electrifyi­ng in the next three years.

“We cannot make excuses, because we won’t be poor.”

‘‘ Another reality that will emerge from Paris is that all transport will have to be electrifie­d by midcentury

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