In an unfortunate convergence of seismic events, the absolute need to slow the pace of global warming has coincided with a global health pandemic and the outbreak of war in mainland Europe. The unfolding of Covid-related restrictions has exposed supply chain vulnerabilities and led to consumer price inflation – hugely exacerbated and likely prolonged by the Ukraine War.
Put simply, Ukraine – the breadbasket of Europe – is under threat Russiathe continent’s effective fossil fuel reservoir, which faces mounting but slow-acting sanctions.
The ensuing spiral of food and energy inflation has, among other things, put energy security at the center of the political agenda. And this emergency, in turn, calls into question the moral urgency of taking action to address the climate crisis. In Ireland, the government has introduced a range of measures to ease inflationary pressures on many households. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to these problems, so it was probably inevitable that the government’s best intentions would lead to anomalies and contradictions.
The coalition remains committed to raising carbon taxes as part of a series of measures to encourage citizens to use energy more sustainably to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets in the coming decades. In order to mitigate the immediate effects, the VAT rate is to be reduced from 13.5 percent on gas and electricity.
This has led to such an anomaly: the current VAT rate on oil, which is used mainly in rural Ireland for transport and domestic heating needs, is to remain at the higher level. In addition, the Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan‘s, signaled intent to ban the harvesting and sale of peat, and it’s easy to see why rural citizens feel they are unfairly shouldering the burden.
Both of these problems could lead to political instability here in the coming months if no solution is found. Having won the battle over the carbon tax, the minister may have to make compromises, at least in the short term, over the looming turf war. But as Kevin McPartlan, CEO of Fuels for Ireland, writes in this newspaper today, more urgency is also needed to ensure this country’s energy security in the medium and long term.
There are other options to address the over-reliance on Russia as a fuel source and to address the climate emergency – for example, by increasing support for wind energy and domestic production of biofuels and green hydrogen, which can replace fossil fuels for transport heating.
Governments here have traditionally been competent in dealing with immediate emergencies, less so in planning for longer-term contingencies.
One certainty is that the planet is warming at an unsustainable rate. A ban on lawn mowing and the rewetting of Ireland’s peatlands will help the country’s efforts to reduce emissions. Rural dwellers need to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. Retrofitting homes with funds earmarked by carbon taxes will help in this regard.
It was St Augustine who said, “Make me clean—but not yet.” Fairness is required in the transition away from fossil fuels, but there should be no doubt: climate catastrophe remains the most critical issue facing humanity and must take precedence over all events, no matter how harrowing.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/editorial/critical-climate-emergency-demands-greater-urgency-41560013.html A critical climate emergency requires greater urgency