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The fourth leg of the stool

Ireland's environmental budget

13 November 2021

Eamon Ryan, Green Party leader and Environment & Climate Minister.

In the weeks preceding COP26 the Irish government published its proposals for limiting climate change. The proposals had many of the weaknesses of overall climate strategy as outlined by the capitalist powers.

High on aspiration and nebulous voluntary targets, low on detail, skewed towards payment by the working class and poor, heavily reliant on the private sector and technical innovation, the Irish proposals, as with the circus in Glasgow, are essentially a gesture of contempt towards the mass of humanity. The long history of climate denial and of the criminal environmental exploitation of capitalism are quietly forgotten.  No serious modification of the capitalist system or the profit motive are considered.

The capitalist reaction to climate change resembles that of the Dickens character Wilkins Micawber, one of whose principles was; "Something will turn up." The second principle, that expenditure must not exceed income, fits in well with the pro-capitalist environment in which climate change is discussed.

The Irish climate proposals came in two parts. The first was a carbon budget that proposed cuts to CO2 emissions. The second, a climate action programme, allocated €125 billion to specific actions. It is important to note right away that the cost is not a cost to the state - the working class are expected to bear the expense of change. It is also important to note that Ireland ranked among the worst performers in 2021 climate rankings.

The carbon budget, launched by Climate Minister Eamon Ryan from a meeting of the Climate Change Advisory Council, is utterly aspirational, setting targets to meet a 51pc reduction in greenhouse gas emissions required by 2030 under the Climate Act passed last summer.

The programme for government committed to an average 7pc reduction per year between now and 2030,

In a classic case of kicking the can down the road, that has now been modified to a percentage change of 4.8pc until 2025 and 8.3pc from 2025 until 2030. A third period from 2030 until 2050, with a target of net zero emissions, is left blank.

The CCAC, an advisory body, noted that in all scenarios, some reduction in beef and/or dairy activity was necessary, as was rewetting of large tracts of grassland and peatland, along with a dramatic increase in afforestation. However, there are no proposals, nor any recognition that the state would need to overrule private property rights and completely overturn the economic structure of the sector to achieve change.

A week later the government announced the climate action plan based on the carbon budget.

The €125 billion cost the new Climate Action Plan will be borne by private individuals, households and the private sector and not by the State, the three Coalition leaders confirmed. It includes offshore wind power, retrofitting 500,000 homes and putting a million electric vehicles (EVs) on Irish roads.

“That €125 billion is primarily private,” Mr Ryan said. “It is an investment that will take place in any case, people buying cars, people improving their homes."

There will be modest cuts for agriculture, with the primary focus on a reduction in the use of chemical fertilisers and an increase in organic farming. There are no specific proposals for how the national herd will be stabilised.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said there was “an obsession with the issue of the herd”. He said food production was important and argued “agriculture would play its part in terms of the reduction of emissions”. In other words, the ranchers have a free pass and no major changes are contemplated.

The same pattern can be seen in transport and housing. The economic plans of the government run directly counter to the aspirations for climate protection. A million electric vehicles are to be put on the road; a million vehicles scrapped as a way of reducing climate change! At the same time a public transport Metrolink project from Dublin to Swords is yet again delayed for a further 10 years and the National Transport Authority presses ahead with widespread privatisation of bus services.

In housing billions are to be spent subsidising speculators and vulture capitalists. With the government guaranteeing profit, how can environmental changes be implemented?

The fact is that the climate action proposals are the fourth leg of the stool in an overall strategy of exploitation. Housing for All, a reduced 15% Corporation tax, the general austerity budget aiming to claw back covid costs and finally climate action, the proposals are both a direct attack on workers with a mixture of fairy dust to convince us we are moving forward.

The Irish proposals shape it as a mini-me to the COP26 summit. As Greta Thunberg said, Blah, Blah, Blah!

There is a crisis at home and across the globe.  Targets will not be met and the capitalist system will roar on, shrugging its shoulders at growing catastrophe and preaching adaptation to rising oceans and growing deserts.

Yet this is also a crisis for socialists and environmentalists. No matter how passionate the protests, they are in essence lobbying the tiger to change its spots. We need a programme that will engage the working class, put constraints on the polluters and stress the need for a planned socialist economy to save humanity.

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