Saturday, March 22, 2008

John Gormley - the Irish Minister for Climate Change has nothing of substance to say on the issue

Irish Environment Minister John Gormley meets the Irish NGOs (representatives of Non-Governmental Organisations) at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2007. Pictured, from left to right: Declan Murphy (Ecology Foundation), Mark Ruttledge (Feasta), Niamh Garvey (Trocaire), Minister John Gormley, Pat Finnegan (Grian), Fr Sean McDonagh (Columban Missionaries).

In another decade, most of Ireland's current Cabinet will be like old nags, grazing on fertile pasture - a pension system linked in perpetuity to current payment levels of politicians. Individually, they will be remembered for nothing while collectively, they will be reviled for abject lack of vision and political courage to bring about enduring change during a period of unprecedented prosperity, known as the Celtic Tiger period. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will be forever linked with the corrupt era of Irish politics and his supporting role in the Northern Ireland peace process - - credit where it's due but without the unprecedented commitment of a British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to the Irish issue, it could have taken years post Ian Paisley, to reach a political settlement.

Some readers may think it unfair to lump John Gormley, Minister for the Environment and Green Party leader, with other mediocrities in the Cabinet but the public raison d'être for serving under a man - Bertie Ahern and his Party - whom Gormley and his colleagues had repeatedly criticised as corrupt, up until May 24th 2007, the date of the last General Election, was that the urgency of the melting polar ice caps, eclipsed all else.

Anyone who believes that Gormley's own personal ambition and the other Green Party negotiator Dan Boyle's dependence on Bertie Ahern's patronage of appointment to the Senate, had nothing to do with the decision to enter government, is a fool.

Gormley's Faustian bargain came at a heavy price. Beyond climate change, the Green Party got a ragbag of promises from Fianna Fáil. There would be no fundamental change in the Irish system of governance. The London model of an elected mayor was agreed for Dublin but beyond, this essentially cosmetic plan, it would be business as usual.

On the issue of climate change, it is striking how little of substance John Gormley, the Minister for Climate Change, has to say on the issue.

Gormley said in February 2008 at an European Commission seminar : Climate change is the biggest challenge facing humanity. It is the challenge that will define this generation, and most likely the generation after this. And we will be remembered and judged on how we respond to this challenge.

Last December, he presented a much spinned "Carbon Budget," which was devoid of any references to costs and also in December, Economist and Social Research Institute economist Richard Tol said in a paper that the Irish government plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3% per year, which can only be achieved by drastic measures on the demand side, such as a rapid reduction in the number of cattle or people. The Irish government also plans to introduce a carbon tax. A tax that applies to emissions that are not covered by the EU emissions trading system, and that roughly equals the expected permit price, would achieve emission reduction at almost the lowest possible cost. Tol said that a carbon tax that is levied on emissions covered by the EU ETS, would not reduce emissions, but would cost Ireland and the rest of the EU money.

Gormley said nothing in response.

Biofuels have been shown to be a fool's panacea but again, Gormley has nothing to say.

As regards a carbon tax, again Gormley has nothing to say.

Last month, the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, Brian Cowen, announced the establishment of a Commission on Taxation, which is to look at how a "carbon levy" could be introduced.

Gormley said at the European Commission seminar: For too long I believe Ireland has been content to play a back seat role on the environmental agenda at European level. We have been too slow in the past to implement environmental directives that Ireland itself negotiated and agreed on. As a small island with a clean, green image, I believe there is a much greater and meaningful role for us to play in environmental and climate change policy at EU level.

We need to define what that role is, but I believe that already we are beginning to show leadership on aspects of the climate change agenda. We now have a very ambitious target to reduce Ireland’s emissions by 3% on average over the lifetime of the Government. The 3% target is ambitious because it needs to be – it is very much in line with the scale of reductions recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The Government is also committed to putting in place a long-term target for Ireland, but we do need to achieve a broad consensus on the scale of effort that is required; this is why the Government has proposed to work towards an all-Party Oireachtas agreement on the necessary long-term targets.

There's the cat out of the bag!

Gormley and his ministerial colleagues haven't the cojones to take tough decisions. It wants all political parties to agree and provide the Government political cover. Fat chance as in the Irish system, the politicians in power take ALL the credit for good news and no responsibility for anything else.

Gormey's Green Party ministerial colleague Eamon Ryan has called for "a national debate" on nuclear power. How should such a national blatherfest be conducted?

Again, like his leader, Ryan wants to pass the buck.

As for blather, Gormley's comment on having a "much greater and meaningful role for us to play in environmental and climate change policy at EU level," while failing to articulate a credible position on climate change, nine months after taking up office, shows that like his ministerial colleagues, he lacks both vision and leadership.

The notion of taking a leading role in Europe on climate change while acting as political jellyfish at home, is simply a joke.

Finfacts Climate Change Reports