Irelands’ Climate Culture: Great on Rhetoric, Painful when it comes to Action

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The impacts of climate change are no longer just in the paper, or in far flung tropical countries, they are right on our door step.

Warm Irish summers may be a blessing for our tourism industry, but are our now mild winters, early springs, and frequent cold snaps frequently cause wide spread disruption. An extra couple of weeks baking in the sun are not something that Irish people will complain about too much. Ireland’s changing weather has begun to bring unwanted guests to our shores, such as swarms of venomous Lions Mane Jellyfish, and the Portuguese Man O’ War. These problems are set to worsen as our climate warms.

The upcoming COP 20, which is to be held in Lima, is of utmost importance for Irish people. The gathering is expected to produce legally-binding global targets for reducing climate change.

Petra Woods, the Deputy Head of the Irish Delegation at the Department for the Environment, and Oisin Coughlan, Director of Friends of the Earth Ireland, is optimistic about Ireland’s role in negotiations on climate change:

“It is a good thing for all of us that Ireland has a seat at the negotiating table, there are a 192 countries involved in negotiations, and it is extremely important that Ireland is very clear on what we are going to be called upon to do as part of the EU,” she said.

When asked about Ireland’s priorities with regards to climate change, Deputy Woods highlighted agriculture as one area Ireland pays particular attention to. In Germany, Ireland spearheaded attempts to reach an agreement on a program for agriculture, which Deputy Woods described as a breakthrough. Deputy Woods highlighted that there is plenty of focus on big member states, and what they are doing, but many forget that this is an open negotiation, and Ireland is as capable as anyone else of setting the agenda. Deputy Woods described Ireland as progressive and forward thinking, and our role within negotiations as constructive.

However, while both Petra Woods and Oisin Coughlan agree that the current global emissions trajectory is not shifting fast enough to stay within 2 degrees, they disagree on what Irelands contribution has been thus far.

Director Coughlan did agree that Ireland does prioritize agriculture as a key objective, but emphasized that it was less about saving the planet, and more about saving money.  Irish agriculture accounts for 30% of Irish emissions; Ireland making the case that agriculture is “special” is an attempt to get agriculture off the hook as it were, meaning that Ireland will have to take less action when called upon.

Ireland has been supportive of the EU stance on climate change, but Director Coughlan regards Irish action on climate change as leaving a lot to be desired, saying that, ‘Ireland has been supportive of EU ambition in talks, but then hopeless when it comes to implementing action, Ireland has begun to realize that ambition on the part of the European Union will absolutely mean action for Ireland, which we are less keen on’.

When asked why Ireland lacked ambition when it came to climate action, Director Coughlan highlight that Ireland is unwilling to potentially put itself at a disadvantage economically by taking more than the minimum action required.

In Director Coughlan’s opinion, the department is not strong enough to get other departments, such as the Department of Finance or Agriculture, to fall into line. “It is a Combination of the department of the Environment not doing enough, and not being strong enough. The only thing that can cut through that is a really strong minister, but we have never had one”, he said.

Director Coughlan emphasized that Ireland may not be among the very best when it comes to taking action, but we are not being dragged along kicking and screaming either.  We can, and should do more.

In order to force climate change onto the government agenda, government ministers need to feel like it is a priority for Irish people. Director Coughlan also eluded that, only when politicians appreciate the risk from climate change, and appreciate the risk to their own positions from an angry public, will we see a real change in climate change action.

The jokes about climate change and the sudden onset of fantastic Irish summers have begun to come to a close, now is the time to put pressure on our decision makers to act in, not just the national interest, but the global interest.

As the Irish people begin to realize the annual disruption that climate change has begun to cause on the shores of this island, Coughlan, borrowing from Al Gore, warned that there is a danger that we will go from denial to despair, without stopping for action along the way. It is not too late for action, but it won’t stay that way forever, it is high time that Irish decision makers found out how important our country, our landscape, and our climate is to all of us.

By Colm Padraig Duffy

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