Thursday, 25 January 2007

IS the NDP environmentally responsible

Liam Reid writing in The Irish Times raised some questions about the environmental aspirations of the NDP The Government is keen to portray the new National Development Plan as a paragon of environmental responsibility. Addressing climate change was a "cornerstone" of the plan, Minister for the Environment Dick Roche was keen to stress to journalists.
Climate change does merit its own section in the plan, which also speaks about the need for a "holistic" approach to the problem, which included an important role for individuals. However, judging by the 48 cars parked in the upper yard of Dublin Castle at the launch of the plan - many of them gas-guzzling ministerial State cars - the concept of individual responsibility on climate change is one which has yet to make an impact on many junior and senior Ministers.
When briefing journalists, however, Mr Roche said climate change was now at the centre of the Government agenda, and the plan would produce real reductions in emissions.
He dismissed critics of Government as "dissembling" when they claimed the Government was not doing enough to combat climate change.
Whatever Mr Roche might say, the harsh fact is that the commitments contained in the plan will merely have the country treading water in terms of the serious emissions reductions that will have to be made over the next 13 years.
The main reason for this is that all of the measures included in the plan have already been taken into account in Government calculations of predicted greenhouse gas emission levels between now and 2012, which are modest to say the least.
The Government's own calculations show they make only a small dent in the growing levels of emissions from the Ireland. In fact the principle contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the plan is to pay other less developed countries to reduce theirs. And while this is relatively cheap in the short term, it is storing up considerable trouble in the long term.
One of the main elements highlighted in the plan as contributing to greenhouse gas reductions is what the Government describes as an unprecedented investment of €13 billion in public transport. It will see people switch from cars to public transport, thus reducing the amount of fossil fuels consumed.
A second element is the environmental benefits of the national spatial strategy. Balanced regional development will mean less travel for many people because they will live closer to their places of work, and facilities such as education, leisure and shopping.
A third element in the plan relates to the €270 million investment commitment in renewable energy. In one of the most oil and gas-dependent economies in
the world, it will increase the amount of electricity generated from wind, biomass and other sustainable sources. These measures are all commendable in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However they make but a small dent. And they have already been included in the Government's estimates and commitments on climate change.
At best they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by less than one million tonnes, at a time when the reduction required under the Kyoto agreement is closer to seven million tonnes. For example, the spatial strategy element will reduce emissions by just 50,000 tonnes, according to the Department of the Environment's own projections.
The main measure contained in the plan for greenhouse gas reductions is the carbon fund. This €270 million fund, announced in last month's budget, will enable the Government to buy carbon "credits" to make up for a predicted shortfall on emission reductions within Ireland.
Under the international scheme, the credits are purchased through investing in carbon dioxide emission reductions in developing countries. In short, the Government will purchase 3.6 million tonnes a year between 2008 and 2012 in order to meet its Kyoto commitments. It is the single biggest element in the Government's climate change strategy. But the main problem with this is that the cost of meeting future commitments could be much higher.
The reason is two-fold. The successor to Kyoto, which the Government is committed to being part, will require Ireland to reduce its emissions by up to 20 per cent below 1990 levels. It would require a real reduction of up to 30 million tonnes a year, five times the current shortfall in reaching the Kyoto target.
Secondly, the cost of carbon credits is likely to rise significantly above the current estimated cost of €15 a tonne, as making reductions become more difficult not only in Ireland but also in developing countries.
The absence of serious emission reduction policies such as carbon taxes, stringent energy requirements for new homes, means that ultimately the taxpayer could be facing an annual bill similar in size to interest payments on the national debt.

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