In keeping with the 2015 Paris Agreement, the EU has committed itself to carbon neutrality by 2050 in an effort to halt global warming. The Green Deal expands on this agreement by providing the legislative foundations for progress on climate change to all EU member states.
With the European Union set to become carbon neutral by 2050, Ireland must step up to meet the ambitious targets set out by the Green Deal.
Green Party member and Irish MEP, Ciaran Cuffe said that in keeping with current progress on climate change it would be unrealistic for Ireland to become carbon neutral by 2050, but that it is not an impossible task.
“We’ve often pointed out that Ireland has been a laggard and not a leader on climate change and I think it really exposes Fine Gael’s greenwashing rather than substance to green issues,” he said.
According to Cuffe, the current Fine Gael-lead government “just get captured by the industries they represent,” hindering their progress on issues of climate change, of which are often considered to be conflicting to the interests of industry.
The Green Deal is largely centred around the four key sectors of energy, transport, agriculture and construction, allowing for a Just Transition that ensures no one gets left behind in the move towards carbon neutrality.
The deal itself was finalised in December 2019 and voted on by European Parliament in the plenary session in Strasbourg this January, with 482 in favour, 136 against and 95 abstentions.
In a statement released shortly after the vote, it was set out that the EU parliament wants to create more ambitious short term targets for the EU’s 2030 goal of emissions reductions. They also hope to set out higher targets for energy efficiency and renewable energy, including binding targets for individual member states.
As discussions of the Green Deal remain topical, Ireland’s peatlands have come to the forefront of conversation regarding the transition towards carbon neutrality, bringing into question the future of the industry and those who work within it.
“We have to phase out the extraction of peat, and not just because burning it creates carbon emissions, peat sequesters carbon in the ground, it also is an extraordinary source of biodiversity and there’s a biodiversity crisis as well as a climate crisis,” said Cuffe.
“In practical terms for the midlands and Ireland we need a just transition, where somebody who is the same age as myself, in their late fifties, and they’ve been working in the peat industry for thirty years, we need to give them the training, the skills and the opportunities to move into other sectors.”
The idea of a Just Transition ensures that those who have been working in a particular sector for the majority of their lives will not be left without a livelihood or opportunities when the industry closes down or adapts to pursue more carbon-neutral practices.
In terms of transport, Cuffe believes that it is easier for compact cities to reduce their carbon footprint than large sprawling cities.
“A lot comes down to the planning policies we pursue. If we have a laissez-faire approach of allowing people to build anything anywhere we just end up with more traffic, but if we have compact cities, towns and villages where people can live and work close-by they can get around on a bike or walking,” he said.
As a classified low-rise city, Dublin may struggle more than other European cities in its efforts to become carbon neutral.
Minister for Housing and Development, Eoghan Murphy released new guidelines last year in an effort to grow Dublin upwards rather than outwards.
He said: “Our cities and our towns must grow upwards, not just outwards, if we are to meet the many challenges ahead. Constant expansion of low-density suburban development around our cities and towns cannot continue.”
Aside from building Dublin upwards in an effort to become carbon neutral, capacity must be increased across the public transport sector in both urban and rural Ireland.
“At the moment we put about three-quarters of our transport money into roads so we just need to flip that around and put most of the money into public transport,” said Cuffe.
With the annual Dublin Bus fare for a regular user being around €1,400, it is essential that fares are reduced to encourage people to avail of public transport. According to Cuffe, cities such as Vienna have an annual €365 fare for all public transport, making it accessible and affordable for all.
Cuffe also believes that rather than taking an aggressive approach with carbon taxes, it is essential for the Irish government to endorse and encourage positive changes such as a reduction in bus fares or the introduction of safe, segregated cycle lanes.
“You go to a city like Utrecht in the Netherlands or even in Brussels there’s a transport revolution going on of safe, segregated cycle lanes, and that can get rid of a huge amount of car journeys,” he said.
“It’s not rocket science, it’s happening in Copenhagen, in Amsterdam, even in Brussels… so if we can do it in those cities we can certainly do it in Dublin.”
But for Ireland, one of the biggest challenges in becoming carbon neutral by 2050 will be in the agriculture sector.
The Green Deal has outlined a “Farm to Fork” strategy as part of their efforts to reduce the carbon footprint produced through agriculture. The strategy aims to reduce the use of pesticides, fertilisers, and antibiotics whilst promoting sustainable food consumption and the reduction of food waste.
The deal also states that 40 per cent of the Common Agricultural Policy budget should go towards climate action.
In a recent statement, President of the Irish Farmers Association, Joe Healy said that the measures proposed by the Green Deal will require an increased CAP budget if the EU wishes to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.
Despite the adversities, Ciaran Cuffe along with his Green Party colleagues in the European Parliament believes that carbon neutrality is a matter of priority.
“I think we can be carbon zero, I think we have to be to stop the worst of climate change and it’s a real challenge in every sector,” he said.
Áine O’ Boyle
Image Credit: Chloe Rooney