Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development: Statements
Given that my colleagues failed to do so earlier, on behalf of our group, I thank all the ushers, the cleaners, the porters, the canteen workers, those who serve us, the officials and the staff throughout the Houses for their helpful, hard-working and good-humoured approach to us all year. I wish them and their families the very best for Christmas and the new year.
A number of things strike me about the Government's transition statement. It has the hallmarks of a box-ticking exercise in its list of achievements and aspirations. It is as if the officials cut and pasted from the climate action plan and various PR releases made over the past year. Missing from it is an honest assessment of what has happened, what will happen and what has not happened, both here and globally. An honest assessment of the Government's climate action plan would have noted that last year, at the behest of the fossil fuel lobby, every trick in the book was used to stop the Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill, which articulated one key demand of the global movement, namely, to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Stripped of the spin, the underhand trickery used to stop that Bill was astounding. Belatedly giving in to the demand of the movement and the school strikers, the Government is claiming to ban oil exploration but not gas exploration. Of course, we discovered in the detail that a plethora of licences that have been issued will remain good in some cases until 2035. No one seriously believes that it is possible to ban exploration for one fossil fuel and not another. Instead of putting the measures needed in place, the Government sabotaged the Bill and sabotaged democracy to signal to industry that Ireland would not step on its toes.
At the same time, the Government made it clear that Ireland is happy to become a major hub for one of the most damaging and dangerous fossil fuels, namely, fracked gas.
It is a complete refusal to understand the science yet again. It ignores the evidence that the plans of companies that want to build liquified natural gas terminals, LNG, revolve around fracked gas. This is an industry that is responsible for a huge spike in global methane emissions. All of this time the Government has relied on a false narrative that gas is a safe transitional fuel. It is not. The science is clear, and holding out the idea that it is the lesser evil for the climate is a death sentence for large parts of our world.
In general terms, the problem confronting the global movement is not that we have lots of outright climate deniers - we do not. Most people in power and the ruling elites accept the science and make noises towards the need to cut emissions. As we have seen with this Government's record and with COP 25 in Madrid, formal acceptance of the science is meeting an utter inability to take the steps that are needed at home and globally. We see an almost religious faith being placed in market mechanisms and in new technology that may be achieved at some stage in the future, maybe tomorrow, next year, in ten years, or by 2050. In the meantime we are planning for fracked gas terminals and continued exploration, for one million electric vehicles on our roads and we hope, like children playing on a beach while ignoring the ocean beside them, that the warnings of the science and nature are wrong. This is an utterly ridiculous faith in the market mechanism and is totally misplaced.
COP 25 ended in failure not because of the wrangles between one group of nations and another group or because of squabbles over old carbon credits. It failed because the only attempt to deal with the threat posed by climate change has been to rely on finding some way to ensure that somebody can make a profit from it. One commentator has noted that the proposals from some countries allow for massive loopholes that would deliver reduced emissions on paper but not in reality. This is exactly how carbon markets work. Their chief purpose is not to reduce emissions but to allow for the continued use of oil, coal and gas. The so-called clean development mechanism, CDM, has been a fraud on the developing world and on the global environment. It lacks basic social and environmental safeguards and has led to human rights violations and environmental destruction. Like the various carbon markets, it has facilitated double counting where theoretical emission reductions can cheat the accountant, but it cannot cheat the atmosphere and it cannot cheat nature.
Offsetting emissions will do nothing to stop climate crises and will only shift pollution from one place to another, guaranteeing only that somebody makes a profit on the way. While countries reach their climate targets on paper, emissions continue to rise. The full failure of carbon markets, which remain the only mechanism envisaged at COP and globally, is catastrophic for our planet. We have seen more than 30 years of this trading market and trading permits, during which time there has been a continued rise in CO2 emissions to historic levels not witnessed in three million years.
I am certain, unfortunately, that we will continue to see the same pattern repeated, that the demands of the movement will be ignored and that profit will be the priority over planet or people. In 2020, and with certain urgency and determination, the global and local movement has to return to the streets. I look forward to joining them throughout 2020, to get the radical action we need to save our planet, our biodiversity and our people from catastrophic climate change.