Kathriona Devereux: This is a critical decade for our country to follow a greener way

We need the Green Party in government because Ireland has a pitiful record of environmental reformation, so says Kathriona Devereux in her weekly column
Kathriona Devereux: This is a critical decade for our country to follow a greener way

IN TUNE WITH NATURE: Kathriona Devereux has been admiring the natural beauty of Clashduv Park in Cork city recently

THE power of change is clear to see in Clashduv Park.

The park is beautifully and intentionally overgrown with buttercups, tall grasses and dandelions. Someone in charge has been reading the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.

Mowed path verges accommodate spanned out walkers or a picnic blanket and the park is nicely busy, with families in the playground, teenage girls practising dance routines and muscly types using park benches as their outdoor gyms.

Watching the bees enjoying the wildflowers, I appreciated the small, but meaningful, steps that are being taken by many to improve the environment and address the climate and biodiversity crisis.

Overlooking Clashduv Park is the Deanrock Housing Scheme, 65 A-rated new social houses.

Bedecked with photovoltaic panels, insulated to within an inch of their lives, these shiny new houses are an enormous and considerable symbol of the power change and what climate action looks like.

What was once a deprived and neglected corner of Cork is now an Instagram-worthy example of perseverance and the implementation of good public policy.

We need many more houses like this and the Programme for Government is promising 50,000 in the next five years. It will also start “an ambitious retrofitting programme to make our buildings warmer and more energy-efficient, reduce our emissions and deliver a crucial economic stimulus”.

Even though the climate crisis has slipped down the public agenda, it hasn’t gone away, and we need wide- ranging reforms to reduce our emissions and meet our Paris Agreement targets.

We need the Green Party in government because Ireland has a pitiful record of environmental reformation, preferring to pay huge EU fines or buy carbon credits rather than upset a particular cohort of future voters and make meaningful change.

In October, 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the world had only 12 years to implement urgent and unprecedented changes to limit global warming to 1.5C and avoid catastrophic environmental breakdown.

Debra Roberts, IPCC co-chair, said “This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilises people and dents the mood of complacency.”

You could argue it did because 2019 was the year that climate change moved up the public agenda and became mainstream news.

Everyone, not just Greens, started realising the scale of the problem. It was hard to ignore. Australia was on fire, the Amazon was on fire (still is), the Arctic Circle was on fire. Extreme events driven by rising global temperatures.

More than a million of the world’s children took to the streets demanding climate action to protect their future from a climate apocalypse. Greta Thunberg bluntly and emotionally told the UN climate action summit in New York: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words”, and she criticised leaders for ignoring the science behind the climate crisis “all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth — how dare you”.

A recognition that climate action was urgently needed was why Irish people voted for the Green Party back in February, quadrupling their TD count from three to 12.

Yet still, for some people, climate change is something that happens “elsewhere”. The Covid-19 pandemic has reminded us that the globe is very closely connected and humans are interdependent. Last week, the UN said that if we don’t stop destroying the natural world, we can expect more pandemics.

Even though the school strikes aren’t on the streets and pandemic and race riots news are filling the news agenda, the climate crisis is as critical as ever. Fossil fuels are still being burned and the temperatures and sea levels are still rising.

The climate forecast models that project and predict the weather in the future are being vindicated.

Twelve years ago, RTÉ aired a documentary called Futureshock: The Last Drop that featured Professor John Sweeney predicting that farmers in the east of the country would have to irrigate their land during the summer months. Many scoffed at the time but for the last two out of three summers, farmers in the east of the country have been watering their land.

Professor Emeritus of Maynooth University, Sweeney is one of Ireland’s most respected climate scientists and he has said that the proposed Programme for Government is the best chance we have at getting on the right path and is “an opportunity which is not likely to be repeated”.

In 30 years, we need to slash our greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. Massive changes to transport, energy efficiency and generation and land use need to happen.

This job of transitioning to a carbon neutral future would have been much easier if we had started in 1990 when IPCC scientists first started sounding the alarm, or even 13 years ago when the Green Party first entered government.

February’s general election showed that the big party dominance of Irish politics is waning. The only way to avoid another election is through collaboration, consensus, compromise and coalition.

This is a critical decade for our country, and the world, to swerve off the unsustainable road we’re on and follow a greener way.

Our Emerald Isle has just won a seat on the UN Security Council and we have the opportunity to use our considerable diplomatic talent to positively influence the course of history. The world’s eyes will be on us, so let’s be a good example by rebuilding our society and economy sustainably. Let’s be a truly Green world leader.

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