All political parties must commit to deep and rapid emissions cuts in line with science and justice

Much public and media discussion around the Green Party’s insistence on any future government committing to a minimum of 7% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions per annum appears to focus on the supposedly ‘unrealistic’ nature of these targets.

The former Minister for Climate Action Denis Naughten TD has, for example, been quoted as describing this reduction rate as “unsustainable and unachievable”. In so doing, Mr. Naughten appears to have forgotten that the government he represented fully signed up to the 2015 Paris Agreement, which commits Ireland to urgent and dramatic emissions cuts in line with the science and climate justice.

Prof Barry McMullin of An Taisce’s Climate Committee, noted: “It is thanks to political procrastination and predatory delay that today’s targets have become so challenging. Every year that vested interests and lobbyists, abetted by politicians with little care for science, have enabled inaction and delay on tackling the climate emergency has made effective action far more onerous than would have been necessary had we collectively acted in a timely manner. Sadly, we cannot simply turn the clock back and ‘start over’: we must deal with the much deeper crisis we have now created.”

Despite this reality, current media commentary continues to place the onus exclusively on the Green Party both to insist on the required emissions reduction pathway, and to explain in detail how this should be delivered on. An Taisce believes this is misleading and unhelpful. Rather than making a political “demand”, the Green Party is simply reflecting the overwhelming scientific consensus on the minimum steps needed to avoid catastrophic and irreversible climate change.*

[*Note that An Taisce is strictly non-party-political; these comments do not imply support or endorsement of any specific political party.]

Such targets, and the responsibility for measures to achieve them, do not ‘belong’ to any one party or group: they represent the clearest understanding of the scale of the challenge and the time frame within which global humanity, including here in Ireland, now has to respond.

The currently suggested figure of an overall emissions reduction compounding at a rate equivalent to at least 7% per year is based on the 2019 “Emissions Gap” Report from the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) which assessed the global average rate now required to maintain a plausible chance of limiting temperature rise within the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement as being at least 7.6%, compounding each year from 2020 onward.

But it is critical to emphasise that this does not apply as an equal requirement for all countries.

For a relatively wealthy, high per-capita-emitting country like Ireland, the required annual reduction rate is now considerably higher, as this must reflect the “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” between different countries.

Thus, it is An Taisce’s view not only that the suggested 7% per annum reduction rate is indeed the absolute minimum that must be included and actively endorsed by all partners in any proposed programme for government, but that the programme must commit to enshrining this in a new Climate Ambition Act, with full independent recourse by citizens to the courts to ensure enforcement, within the first hundred days of such a Government taking office.

Further, a restructured and rebalanced Climate Change Advisory Council, with appropriate expertise in physical climate science, ecological economics, international development and climate ethics, must be mandated to critically assess the further increase in mitigation ambition necessary for Ireland to play its fair share in this unprecedented global effort. This should be coupled to a properly scaled and resourced “national climate dialogue” process that gives the opportunity to every citizen to engage with and influence this immense national effort.

“We believe it is now incumbent on those parties and commentators who reject such commitments to declare openly and honestly whether they reject the science, or the ethics, or both”, added Prof McMullin.

In our view, you can’t claim to accept the expert diagnosis while rejecting the treatment path set out by those same experts. It is now beyond time to commit to “flattening the curve” on climate change, before our collective ability to respond is overwhelmed.

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