Why I'm ashamed of Ireland's inaction on climate change
Brandon looks at the steps the Irish government has taken to tackle the climate crisis and why it's not enough
Brandon is an eco ambassador for USI's 'Student Switch Off' project, funded by Horizon 2020
It’s not very often I say I'm ashamed to be Irish. But when it comes to climate change, I can’t help but have a lack of respect for our “Emerald” Isle. Out of twenty-eight member states in the European Union, Ireland has landed itself as twenty-seven when it comes to tackling climate change. In fact, as of 2019 we are only 8% of the way toward meeting our 2020 climate obligations.
I don’t blame the average Irish person. We aren’t taught about what we can do to make real changes. As the saying goes ‘ignorance is bliss.’ However when you understand the scale of what we are dealing with and how we can make the necessary changes but choose not to, I have no problem in pointing the finger. When it comes to Ireland's obvious neglect of the climate emergency, we can all agree that the majority of our fingers will be pointed somewhere in the direction of the government with certain individuals taking centre-stage.
On Monday the 4th of November, I drank tea with Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Mr Richard Bruton. The purpose of this to take a few pictures with a few students, talk about some kettles and maybe the odd light switch or two. What Minister Bruton may not have expected was to be questioned on his choices as Minister. While drinking tea, we were asked “how can we save energy in our everyday lives?” Typical answers included “taking shorter showers” and “doing a thirty degree wash.” However, my addition of “adopting a sustainable diet” and “choosing to wear sustainable fashion” may have come as a bit of a shock.
I carried on by asking the Minister if he thought that the government's investment in Shannon LNG was counter productive in the climate goals we were striving toward. The response I got was a long winded mix about solar panels including a sea of unrelated figures. This continued on, implying the use of natural gas as both a finite resource and also one of clean energy. What I took from my meeting with Minister Bruton is that he does not have a passion for climate action, nor for the environment. I felt he has a passion for making people hear what they want to hear.
Ireland’s climate change actions
Following this meeting I decided to research a little further on Ireland’s climate change accomplishments. Ireland has successfully announced a climate emergency as of May 9th 2019 - great news, isn’t it? Well no, not exactly. Since the announcement of the climate emergency, it has been treated like anything but an emergency. As a matter of fact, as of October 7th, Minister Bruton and Fine Gael have added the much debated Shannon LNG project to the list of Projects of Common Interest (PCI). Projects on the list can gain access to a €5.35 billion fund and go through a fast-track planning and permit granting process due to their importance. I’ll let you process that one for yourselves.
According to the Sustainability Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) 2018 report, 90% of Ireland's energy usage is generated through fossil fuel consumption. In the same year 30.1% of electrical, 7.4% of transportation and 6.8% of heating energy came from renewable sources - a dismal effort in European terms. To put this in context, in 2015, 65.73% of Danish energy came from fossil fuels, 24.27% less than Ireland. Danish wind energy output has been close to producing nearly 50% of the countries energy needs by 2020, most recent statistics suggests. Irish equivalents are unfortunately not so promising. During this timeframe, Ireland’s economy also surpassed that of the Danish. So yes, what I am telling you is that both our country and people have more money than the Danish, but the key difference is outlook and priorities - to any Dane reading this, count yourselves lucky.
Do we value economic growth over our environment?
It seems to me that our government has sadly fallen victim to the ideology of capitalism. Valuing economic growth and stability over the longevity of our planet and our lives. The EU has set targets to increase the use of ‘green’ energy sources. Ireland's target is for renewable energy to make up 16% of Gross Final Energy Consumption by 2020. However, in 2017 the figure stood at 10.6%, up from 9.2% in 2016. Ireland is unlikely to meet its 2020 target.
Bottle deposit scheme
In knowing there would be a rally Wednesday 6th of November, outside the department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment - I made myself present. The rally was focused on a bottle deposit scheme (another area in which Ireland has not made a healthy investment). This is a scheme which was first developed by the Americans in 1971. Ireland, per head of population, is among the highest waste producers in Europe. Our waste every year would fill Croke Park to the top of the stands. The latest waste generation figures show that 2,763,166 tonnes of waste was generated in 2016 which has increased by 6% since 2014. This equates to 580kg of disposed waste per person in 2016.
During this protest, organised by Sick of Plastic Ireland, we stood up for something that could benefit our nation as a whole. This scheme would encourage recycling, reduce waste and also allow Ireland to focus on sustainability. A total of 38 countries already have deposit return schemes which charge an upfront deposit on drinks containers, ranging from 10 cents in Sweden to 25 cents in Germany. You get the deposit back when you bring back the container, usually through “reverse vending machines.” But will the government see this as something worth investing in?
To summarise, our economy is flourishing, amazing news! But we as Irish people need to have perspective on this problem. When a democracy begins to put money before the wellbeing of their people and the environment, we as a nation need to reevaluate our priorities. In my opinion, it seems that Minister Richard Bruton’s loyalties lie not with our environment but with the wallets of the docklands. I’ve always been proud to be Irish, but Richard you don’t make it easy.