Climate Action Plan must prioritise workers and communities

21 April 2021

Speaking on the Climate Action Bill in the Dáil, Labour climate spokesperson Duncan Smith TD expressed his disappointment at the failure of Government to aspire ambition on climate action in Ireland. While the Bill contains many positive steps forward, Deputy Smith noted the excessive influence of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in the drafting of the Bill. 

Deputy Smith said:

“If we are to reduce our emissions by 7% annually, then Government must begin to visualise what that will look because Ireland and how we live our lives will not look the same. How we travel, commute, work, socialise, everything, will look and feel very different. Over the last year we experienced an Ireland which was unrecognisable. It changed to our eyes and to our experience, industrial activity dropped, transport decreased. During the most stringent lockdowns, the roads were quiet. We will be telling our grandkids and great grandkids about the quiet streets, of how people spoke of being able to hear nature again and how our natural environment re-asserted itself into our built communities. Yet, despite a unique global event like Covid, we still only hit just shy of 6% carbon reductions.  

“This Bill is not just about today or tomorrow, it is about the very existence and sustainability of our country. We live in a country that is experiencing climate change incrementally through increased flooding, coastal erosion, hotter summers, more extreme weather events. This Bill represents a step forward towards tangible climate action but there are still a number of issues which are of huge concern and could weaken the integrity of the Bill itself thereby undermining future climate action plans and carbon budgets.

“The introduction of carbon budgets is hugely welcome and something that the Labour Party has long called for. Budgeting climate action into every economic decision this State makes is crucial. However the pressure of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is evident in the drafting of this within the Bill, choosing to kick the can down the road and leave the heavy lifting of the budgets to future Governments. These two parties need to stop playing a defensive game when it comes to climate change. Instead of defending the status quo, they need to embrace ambition and understand that if we are to meet our targets, that not only will one or two sections of our society need to change, but all of it will need to change.

“Whilst the Bill has been strengthened, the Government must listen more to stakeholders on the frontline, the NGOs and trade unions and those working with the marginalised and vulnerable in society. These stakeholders have informed policy proposals rooter in their work with communities experiencing poverty, social exclusion and inequality. The addition of ICTU General Secretary Patricia King to the Just Transition Advisory Council is very welcome in this regard. Ensuring workers and the outcomes for all workers is at the core of how we tackle climate change. 

“The influence of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is abundantly clear in the Bill’s silence on corporates, an area that we must address if we are to make progress. We are on course for having 100 data centres in this country by 2025 and the carbon impact from these centres is alarming. As well as energy use, data centres have an exorbitant appetite for water, which is another area of resource security we need to tackle in this country. During the recent level 5, data centres were considered essential construction projects at a time when house building in a housing crisis wasn’t. In research I’ve had commissioned, data centres could account for up to 29% of our emissions by 2030 which is bad environmental policy when we are already behind the 8 ball with our targets.

“Corporates are seeking to present themselves as climate activists, aware that this is a good market. We cannot be fooled by green washing and self-regulating carbon labelling. This can’t continue to happen. With carbon labelling on the way, it cannot be led by profit making. I’ve presented my NSAI Carbon Labelling Bill at First Stage which I call on Government to include this in its Climate Action Plan. We need a trusted state led carbon labelling system that doesn’t allow corporates to greenwash their products. We can be leaders on this. Let’s do it.

“We must act to save lives and livelihoods, not only from the physical effects of climate change but by ensuring a restructure of our economy by creating well paid public jobs with a publicly owned system of green energy production. At the heart of every climate decision should be workers and people. We cannot allow the market to lead climate action or policy. The State must lead with ambition and vision for all in society.”

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