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Editorial – Laggard

This is my second to last editorial, so I wanted to take the chance to talk to ye about something important. Here is the thing: the planet is changing, and there is no stop button, or painless fix. Ireland has been denounced as a “laggard” by our own Taoiseach in terms of our approach to climate change, underperforming when it comes to meeting key targets and falling far behind our European neighbours in terms of measures that would reduce our emissions. The Government’s new 2040 national development plan hopes to change all that. It’s ambitious. Public support for environmental protection has never been unwavering; especially in times of economic recession, and even now, in the wake of some of the most extreme weather events the world has ever seen, powerful Western countries (who also happen to be some of the worst offenders) are taking a step back from global accords like the Paris Climate Agreement when they should be taking steps forward.

There is hope: the Citizens Assembly last year voted near-unanimously (98%) to recommend that climate change should be at the centre of all policy-making decisions in Ireland, and this is reflected in the recent national development plan. The policy envisions a radical modernisation of how we view climate change, and the Government have put their money where their mouth is, designating one-fifth of the entire budget (€22 billion) to new environmental protection measures, with the ultimate aim of transitioning the country to a low-carbon economy by 2050. There will be a ban on the sale of all petrol and diesel cars by 2030 in a bid to decrease air pollution, with the State promising the construction of many more charging points to accommodate a resulting predicted 500,000 new electric cars. From 2019, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus will only be permitted to purchase electric buses. From 2021, up to 45,000 homes each year will be upgraded with more environmentally-sustainable components and, to finance all these essential advances, a new climate action fund will be instituted, financed from part of the pre-existing tax on petrol products. These kinds of fundamental changes in the way society operates scares people, and that’s understandable, but the alternative is much worse. We have the  capacity, if we act now, to lessen the blow: create new, sustainable green jobs, shed our “laggard” reputation and, most importantly, protect the wellbeing of Irish people through sustaining one of the most determinant influences on our health and welfare: our environment.