Every four years, we add a day to the year to synchronise our calendar with the Earth’s revolution around the sun because, as climate activist and Canadian author, Naomi Klein, says “it’s easier to change our human systems than to change the laws of nature”. In the Leap Day edition of the Irish Examiner, I explain how the same can be said for addressing climate change and how Ireland and the rest of the world are calling for a leap away from fossil fuels in 2016. Read more here.
It’s the final week of General Election 2016 (#GE16) and at this stage, most of us can’t wait for it to be over. It’s hard to advance climate action when the Dail is dissolved and you don’t know what kind of government you’ll be dealing with in the future. At least the “quiet time” allowed me to trudge through political party manifestos to anticipate what kind of battles we might face in the next government with respect to climate.
To save you the pain and suffering of reading 665 pages to figure out where the political parties really stand on climate action, I’ve posted my entire analysis below both by party and by topic. I've also included my own personal ranking on how the parties measure up (biased as it may be).
Happy GE16 – This Friday!
Disclaimer: This is a volunteer, individual effort that does not reflect any organisation in any way. It may be an incomplete analysis due to limited time and resources. Feel free to email me suggestions if I neglected to include something related to climate and I’ll consider updating this post.
Update: New material added in red based on candidates responses to Friends of the Earth six questions to ask your candidate: here
No time to read? Watch my three-minute summary of where the parties stand on climate below:
First, the light stuff… How much does climate change feature in GE16 manifestos?
Now, some analysis by political party with respect to climate...
I’m a former Green Party member and their policies on climate action in line with scientific evidence were a key driver of my past support. So, it’s no surprise that when I scored the manifestos for climate action, the Green Party’s came out light-years above the rest. They have more specific, quantifiable measures and deadlines to be able to evaluate whether their promises would actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, since the Green Party candidate in my constituency is unlikely to get elected, my number 2 and number 3 votes are actually important in our preferential voting system. Based on climate action within the manifestos (but not necessarily the only issues I will vote on), here’s how the political parties scored in my humble opinion:
GP (111) > LB (52) > SD (50) > FF (33) > FG (15) > RN (14) > SF (11) > PBP (5)
Finally, more details on specific climate-related topics within the manifestos for the brave at heart...
- On Oil/Gas: FG supports oil/gas exploration. LB says oil and gas exploration will be “gradually curtailed”. SF wants staged tax measures. GP wants to end licensing for exploration. PBP wants public ownership and ring-fencing. No reference to oil/gas by FF.
- On Fossil Fuels: FG supports decreasing dependence on foreign fossil fuels through renewable energy development. GP wants to stop purchasing fossil fuel imports and switch to renewable energy system. RN also wants to remove dependency on imports and reduce emissions to improve air quality in cities. SD want lower prices for businesses in light of falling oil prices but also want to phase out subsidies. PBP doesn’t mention fossil fuels.
- On Fracking: FG will delay decision until EPA study is complete. LB, SF, GP, RN, and PBP are opposed to fracking. No mention of fracking by FF or SD though FF committed to ban it in a pledge to Friends of the Earth Ireland.
- On Wind: FG will update wind planning regulations within 6 months. LB plans to diversify away from wind and says it’s not suitable for every location. FF wants a full economic review of wind energy sector. SF will develop a Wind Turbine Regulation Bill. GP want 15% community ownership of wind energy projects. RN doesn’t support wind without improvement in economy of scale. SD want a new approach to wind, including farm microgeneration projects, offshore development, and community ownership. No mention of wind by PBP.
- On Solar: LB will incentivise solar uptake. FF will explore solar as an additional energy source. SF advocates a feed in tariff for solar and in response to Friends of the Earth, proposed that the government maintain and increase grants for householders to incentivise converting their homes for solar technology into the future. GP wants extensive roll out of solar, including support for communities to sell back to grid, solar panels on public buildings, and an auction process for farmers. RN wants to increase solar energy and would consider third party country purchase. RN also wants to include solar on current and future houses and put a price on solar to sell back to grid. SD’s mention solar as part of overall renewable energy strategy but have no specific policies on solar. In a response to Friends of the Earth on this question, the Social Democrats stated their position is "that electricity suppliers should be encouraged to expand home micro-generation pilot schemes, covering wind, photovoltaic and combined heat and power". FG and PBP fail to mention solar in their manifestos, though in a response to Friends of the Earth, PBP said they agreed with putting a price on solar.
- On Biomass: FG says indigenous biomass will play significant role in peat-plant co-firing. LB will incentivise uptake. FF will explore biomass as an additional energy source. GP mentions forestry as a source of biomass. RN wants to increase biomass sector through forestry for domestic heating. No mention of biomass by SF or PBP but in response to Friends of the Earth, SF said it would work with Coillte and Bord na Mona to develop a viable and sustainable biomass industry in Ireland.
- On Off Shore renewables: FG and LB support research into off shore renewables. GP wants extensive roll out of off shore wind. RN wants to develop tidal energy, which is still in R&D phase. SD wants Ireland to be leader in ocean energy and establish an offshore wind development agency. No mention of off shore energy by FF, SF or PBP.
- On peat: FG commits to a National Peatlands Strategy with a focus on peatlands as tourism destinations, but at the same time plans to keep peat-burning power stations running by co-firing with increasing amounts of biomass. SF only mention peat by supporting turbary rights to extract. RN want to reduce household peat burning to improve air quality. GP commit to closing the peat-burning power stations within the next government. SD want continued conversion of peat plants to co-fired biomass with full elimination target. In a response to Friends of the Earth on this question, the Social Democrats proposed "to phase out state subsidies for carbon-intense electricity generation, favour subsidisation of renewables where appropriate, continue the conversion of peat-burning electricity plants to co-fired biomass, set an achievable target to eliminate peat burning, and replace peat burning with domestically produced biomass where possible." LB, FF, and PBP don’t mention peatlands or peat-burning.
- On Community-ownership: Community-owned energy doesn’t feature in FG or RN manifestos. LB puts communities at centre of decisions and will encourage grid access and energy efficiency projects based on the Energy White Paper chapter “From Passive Consumer to Active Citizen”. FF emphasises community energy projects and ownership and in response to Friends of the Earth supported introducing a new community share options scheme on proposed wind farms where the local community must be given the option of purchasing a minimum of 20% ownership of wind farms in their area. SF supports a dedicated route for community projects to national energy grid, but when asked by Friends of the Earth if they supported 20% community ownership of development led projects, they had "no specific policy with regard to this item. On its face, it appears to have merit, however, I would need much more information about how it has been implemented in Denmark, and especially what might have been any unintended consequences". GP call for a cooperative ownership model for energy with at least 15% community-owned wind. PBP wants to establish community energy projects on unused Coilte land and in a response to Friends of the Earth on community co-ownership stated that they favour an entirely publicly owned system of major energy projects and therefore "on [their] watch developer led projects would not arise in the first place. SD want community involved wind planning, a rebalance of ownership and community energy coops. In a response to Friends of the Earth, SD said "we need to enhance supports for home energy retrofit (including a Pay-As-You-Save scheme) and work with Local Authorities to enhance Community Energy Schemes and Cooperatives, drawing on the Haringey model utilised in London and on our Smart Cities policy... We must rebalance the ownership model of such projects towards local communities where possible. We have adopted a formal policy position that endorses a Danish or German model-led approach to community ownership so that local communities benefit most and have the final say on the scale of proposed developments".
- On Moneypoint: LB will replace coal at Moneypoint power station with low-carbon technology by 2025. GP will close Moneypoint in next government. FG, FF, SF, PBP, RN, and SD don’t have policies on Moneypoint, but in response to Friends of the Earth, SF said it would investigate converting Moneypoint into a biomass power station.
- On Forestry: FG plans to add 6,000ha forestry in first year of government, increasing to 8.3k ha by 2020. LB plans to expand forestry by 43,000 ha (no timelines). GP plans to increase forestry by 15,000 ha per annum by 2030 with 30k subsidies and increase native, continuous cover woodlands. PBP makes vague reference to more job creation in sector. RN wants to expand to 20% for energy production. SD want greater forestry uptake for carbon sequestration and biomass production. No mention of forestry by FF or SF.
- On Food Wise 2025 ambition: FG will prioritise full implementation. FF will full realise Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025 (FW2025). SF doesn’t mention in manifesto but at Environment Hustings, Lynn Boylan said they supported herd expansion. No mention of FW2025 in GP or PBP manifesto, but they both rejected herd expansion at environment hustings. There was also no mention of FW2025 by LB, RN or SD.
- On Electric Vehicles: FG will establish a task force on E-Cars within 6 months. LB will increase grants to incentivise. FF will expand EV uptake to 10% in five years and proposes four incentives to increase uptake, including waiving motor tax, tolls, free charge points, and SEAI grants. GP plan to increase charge points for EVs. SD want EV incentives and subsidies including those for domestic charging points and more national fast charge points. No mention of EVs by RN, PBP, or SF.
- On Aviation: GP wants to add aviation to Emissions Trading System. RN wants to incentivise aviation. No mention of aviation by other parties.
- On Public Transport: FG refers to investment in greenways as specific carbon reduction measure. LB plans a Green Bus Fund, New Rail Strategy including energy efficiency, and possibility of exploring electrification of inner-city rail. LB also plans to bring Metro North plans forward to 2021. FF refers to the need to curb emissions from public transport and need for better public transport in cities. GP proposes orbital bus routes, more park and ride facilities, and greater rail investment. SD want to restore subsidies on fares, balance public transport spending with roads spending, build DART underground, improve reliability, and develop more light rail/tram. RN and SF have no public transport policies.
- On Cycling: FG refers to cycling only as part of enhanced blueways and activity-based tourism. LB proposes a Dublin city cycle system and Cycle-to-School scheme. FF proposes a National Cycle Way Strategy and EUR 2 million for GreenWays. GP allocates 10% transport budget to improving cycling routes. SD want to enhance cycling infrastructure and greenways. SF, PBP, and RN don’t mention cycling.
- On fuel poverty: FG will protect the warmer homes scheme and develop an energy poverty strategy with a focus on enhanced insulation. LB will implement the Affordable Energy Strategy and increase supports for fuel poverty. SF support retrofitting investment. No mention of fuel poverty by FF, GP, PBP, RN, SD.
On Green Climate Fund: FG says it will increase in coming years but doesn’t say how much. FF will increase contribution to 13 million. No mention of GCF by other parties.
On Governance: FG says that a long-term economic planning unit will include climate change, energy and environment. FF suggests Dept. of Climate Change including environment, flood defence, energy, transport, natural resources and heritage. GP want to strengthen emission reduction targets. SD want to reform climate action regime with domestic targets, mitigation measures, enhanced climate advisory council powers, and appropriate reduction targets to all sectors.
On Infrastructure: LB plans a Green Infrastructure Fund and carbon neutral cities. FF wants a long-term (25yr) National Infrastructure Commission with a decarbonisation mandate. GP wants traffic free “Proud cities”. PBP says they will invest in public infrastructure. SD want Smart Cities with rapid urbanisation. No mention of infrastructure by SF or PBP.
This was a mountain of (volunteer) work, so shares and retweets greatly appreciated before #GE16.
Keep fighting the good fight!
As I began to write my Climate Friday FAQ this week on General Election 2016 and the need to keep a green voice in politics, it struck me that this message needed to go out to as wide an audience as possible. So instead of posting my opinion on this site as usual, this week I'm writing in the Irish Independent. Check it out: 'This election is make or break for the Green Party'. Happy Friday and happy voting in GE16!
Climate Friday FAQ 18: What should we consider for our fuels of the future? Five points toward a sustainable Irish bioenergy sector
"Back in my day..."
My post-doctoral research at University College Dublin from 2007-2011 was focused on the bioenergy sector. It was all the rage, with plenty of funding available for research that could inform Ireland’s agricultural sector in making the transition to bioenergy production to meet the EU Renewable Energy Directive.
Has anything changed?
Only a year ago, the Irish Times reported that policy changes were still needed for bioenergy projects to proceed in Ireland, and a Coillte representative stated there is “absolutely no chance whatsoever we’re going to reach our heat target in the Renewable Energy Directive by 2020.” At the same time, Teagasc reported a significant cut in bioenergy research funding and that farmers who had planted miscanthus were now ploughing up their fields in resignation or committing to supply digesters in Northern Ireland - lost opportunities for Ireland’s efforts to meet renewable targets.
The wider implications on growth of the Irish bioenergy sector
What to expect for our fuels of the future
At the EU level, the Commission has recognised that an improved biomass policy will also be necessary as part of the EU’s 2030 Climate and Energy Framework. An EU renewable energy package, including a bioenergy sustainability policy for both biomass and biofuels, will be proposed between 2015 and 2017. Understandably, this could limit the role that bioenergy can play in efforts toward full decarbonisation. We simply don’t have the available land for 100% of our renewable energy to be provided entirely by biomass, and the EU is already moving toward a cap on biofuels for transport use for similar reasons.
As part of a sustainable bioenergy policy, it is also possible that the EU will encourage increasingly decentralised energy systems, involving smaller scale, local energy projects with benefits for local communities and rural development. While large scale industrial use of biomass could be discouraged as an inefficient use of biomass resources with little in the way of local, community benefits.
The Paris Agreement has renewed investor confidence in all forms of renewable energy including bioenergy, and I look forward to finally seeing the sector grow from the time when I worked in it. However, as with any sector that reaches maturity, we can expect bioenergy to be subject to closer public scrutiny and environmental regulation as it develops.
We’ve seen how the wind energy sector lost so much ground in Ireland by failing to anticipate public resentment and address potential negative impacts early enough. It is my hope that some of the potential issues above will be addressed and resolved at this early stage in the growth of the Irish bioenergy sector, so that our bioenergy industry can adopt genuinely sustainable practices now rather than having to address them further down the road when solutions become more costly and difficult to implement.