Ireland's National Mitigation Plan - A Disconnected Plan For An 'All Of Government Approach To Climate Change'


Sabrina Dekker, Climate Change Policy Analyst, gives her views on the shortcomings of the Irish National Mitigation Plan (NMP)

Last week, I waited with bated breath for the release of the National Mitigation Plan (NMP). Once it was released, I spent a fair amount of time reading through the plan and was disappointed that none of the criticism that emerged in the consultation period was heeded.

The National Mitigation Plan is a weak plan, not because it does not indicate how Ireland will achieve its “All of Government Approach to Climate Change", and its excessive use of words and phrases like ‘consider’, ‘research the feasibility’, and ‘propose’. There is another reason, the underlying message that is communicated by the plan – The government does not care about climate change and the impacts it will have on the people they are accountable to.

It is evident that addressing climate change is not important and everything must be done to shirk on Ireland’s responsibility for a global problem. More critically, as climate change is about how we live it is an opportunity create places where people want to live. However, it is evident that providing people with high quality living environments now and in the future is not a priority of this government.

While the plan attempts to acknowledge that responding to climate change is an opportunity; it does not understand what the opportunity is and how it can be realised. Perhaps, this is because the plan is focused on mitigation and leaves adaptation to another department, when in reality mitigation and adaptation are complementary. (Ironically, this is silo’d thinking, the opposite of what this plan is proposing to overcome).

The figures here were developed for my PhD thesis to highlight the impacts of climate change on the economy, environment and society (figure 1) and the current policy responses that have been employed by cities to build resilience to climate change and to create more livable places. The primary objective behind the figures is to not only show how climate change is and will impact us, but how we can respond and where the opportunities are to collaborate and develop responses.

Figure 1. Vulnerabilities from Climate Change (Dekker, 2016)

Figure 2. Responses to Build Resilience to Climate Change (Dekker, 2016)

Ireland’s opportunity is its potential to be a leader in climate change responses; if the government begins to understand that this is an important issue for its people (and if it is not, what is the harm in ensuring that Ireland continues to be a country of immense beauty, that attracts people from all over the world because of its high quality of life?)

There is no recognition that Ireland, or more specifically Dublin (and other Irish cities and towns) are in competition with cities like Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Glasgow, New York, San Francisco, Vancouver, Auckland, Singapore, and Seoul. The global competition is not just for investment and multi national companies, but human capital, a country’s most valuable asset for economic and social growth.

Attracting talented people and keeping talented people involves being in tune with what people want and need; something this plan is lacking. There is a disconnect.

It does not seem that a significant amount of time was spent researching and understanding what is going on in Ireland in the area of climate change. There is a lot, from renewable energy companies to community led projects and programmes that promote awareness of biodiversity conservation, waste and energy use. There is no shortage of talented individuals with the knowledge and expertise to address climate change comprehensively.

A quick browse through any Irish tertiary institution’s website will reveal a treasure trove of not only research projects, but courses and degrees in a range of fields related to climate change adaptation and mitigation; such as engineering, information technology, finance, health, biology and planning. There is a whole generation of students ready to contribute to Ireland’s resilience and transition to a low carbon society, that will graduate and enter a job market that is not ready to capitalize on their knowledge.

This is a simplification. There are private companies both international and local that are committed to responding to climate change and will hire these bright young minds. However, how long will these companies stay in Ireland when there are is complex legislative and regulatory environment that inhibits their ability to progress projects that can add value to Ireland’s transition to a low carbon economy? Further, will the next generation see Ireland as a place where they can advance their careers? What will be the consequences for Ireland’s economy?

What will it take to keep talented people in Ireland and the companies who hire them? - A deliberate and considered long hard look at how current policies, legislation and regulations interact and impact on one another.

There are two examples of this need for greater deliberation and consideration that come to mind: transportation policy and waste policy

While a recent PWC report predicts an Ireland in 2050 where everyone drives electric vehicles; the aspirational goal is not far fetched and could be a reality, (and contribute to CO2 reduction, if the electricity comes from renewable sources). However, it makes several assumptions about how people make travel choices: that people will always want to drive, that people will want to spend hours in their car (getting to and from work rather than with their families and friends), that people will not use public transportation or cycle or walk even if these options are more efficient, safer and healthier, and that people need cars.

Transportation policy is not just about swapping diesel and petrol cars for electric cars or reducing parking to discourage driving. It is about encouraging employers to offer flexible work arrangements so that people do not have to drive to work everyday and perhaps offer child care facilities. It is about schools offering after school programmes. It is about providing car owners with incentives to drive less through differing insurance rates. It is about providing public transportation options that are reliable, predictable, efficient and affordable. It is about making the roads safer for all users and this is not just about lowering speed limits but about enforcement of these new speed limits, which requires cooperation and resources from the Garda.

In short, transportation policy requires cooperation not just from the ten (possibly more) organizations responsible for delivery mobility services, but stakeholders in health, education, and energy and most important the people who use these services, citizens.

Waste is a key contributor to green house gas emissions and litter is growing challenge in Ireland and elsewhere. Recently, I had the pleasure of attempting to explain household waste collection to a visitor. Having spent almost five years living here and researching local authority governance, I have a basic understanding of the logic behind why waste is picked up by five different privately-owned companies and not the local authority, (economies of scale). However, explaining how waste is collected out loud, one quickly realizes there is no logic to having five different companies drive down the same street picking up bins. The emissions alone are a reason to end this practice. It also contributes to the growing problems of litter, fly tipping, and illegal dumping. (Not to mention the onslaught of sea gulls that terrorize people for their lunch).

There is a place for market competition to deliver services, but not all services should be left to the market.

The reality is that everyone produces waste, and therefore, has a responsibility to produce less waste and to recycle and compost. However, it is difficult to enforce recycling and proper disposal of waste when you rely on a middle man. Consequently, it is difficult to guarantee compliance with EU legislation.

There are other areas of policy such as energy that could benefit from reform and greater consideration. However, all I will say is this: if people are willing to pay a premium for organic produce, might they be willing to pay for clean energy?

There are two words describe the plan - disconnected and disrespectful. Government needs to acknowledge that they owe Irish citizens a better plan and livable future.

It is a long road ahead...

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