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Report card on Government’s climate change warns of failure to meet some key commitments

A group of independent experts who carry out a yearly assessment of the Government’s performance on climate action has said for the first time there is a danger of some of the key commitments in the programme for government not being achieved.

In its third annual assessment, the three independent academic experts give the Government a C+ grade, denoting “moderate progress” on its own climate and environmental promises.

The mark represents a small improvement on the C grade the Coalition received last year, reflecting some additional effort and investment in environmental commitments and a significant improvement in the energy category.

The assessment was commissioned by Friends of the Earth and carried out by Dr Cara Augustenborg from University College Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Torney from Dublin City University and Dr Paul Deane from University College Cork.

The panel identified some key environmental commitments in the programme for government that are in danger of not being achieved by the Coalition. “On the current trajectory, Ireland will not meet its commitments on the first carbon budget and the sectoral emissions ceilings,” the report stated.

The areas identified as problems and challenges include agriculture and forestry. It also pinpoints commitments on drinking and waste water, expressing concern about “dangerous” levels of nitrate and phosphate concentrations in many of Ireland’s rivers, estuaries and coastal waters.

Both area are marked as “poor” on the scorecard, while climate, biodiversity and transport get “moderate” scores. There are “good” results for buildings, air quality and energy, while waste and circular economy got 7.5 marks out of 10, albeit a point down from last year’s assessment.

Dr Augustenborg said there were positives to be taken from the exercise. “The Government’s work since 2020 provides clear evidence that progress is being made to improve Ireland’s environmental health in most areas,” she said. “It’s frustrating that this work is not yet apparent in people’s lives and we’re not seeing the transformational changes needed to address the climate and biodiversity emergency.”

She said the big question was whether the Government was strong enough to accomplish this in the short time it had remaining in office, with an election due before 2025 and widely expected next year.

Dr Deane said the review was not a reason for celebration. “Ireland’s greenhouse gas pollution has reduced marginally this year, but we are still massively addicted to fossil fuels. However, we are seeing a positive foundation for a cleaner future being put in place.”

The review revealed a mixed picture, said Dr Torney. “Although a good foundation is being laid and there is solid progress in some areas, overall delivery is slower than I would have liked to see approximately two-thirds of the way through the Government’s term in office.”

Oisín Coghlan, chief executive of Friends of the Earth, said the Government was delivering “incremental policy changes when meeting their own commitments now requires transformational change”.

“The Coalition leaders need to be upfront with people that a certain amount of inconvenience and disruption is unavoidable now, in order to prevent climate chaos and destruction down the line. My fear is party leaders will become more timid as elections approach, when what we need now is honesty and courage.”

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