Cork City Councillor: Climate action doesn’t mean eco austerity

In a three-day series, starting today, LORNA BOGUE, An Rabharta Glas Councillor for Cork City South East, outlines her policies, and her views on the current political landscape
Cork City Councillor: Climate action doesn’t mean eco austerity

Retrofitting projects like wall insulating can save hundreds of euro a year on heating bills.

CLIMATE action is routinely framed as requiring individual sacrifice in addition to ‘hard choices’ by state and industry to achieve the carbon emission reductions necessary to avoid planetary breakdown.

But apolitical messages like ‘everyone must put their shoulder to the wheel’ often hide deeply political strategies which hand the cost of failing climate action to workers and carers.

Everyone will have received, in the coldest week of the year and as the cost of electricity and heating skyrocketed, the government’s ‘protect and survive’ pamphlet telling people how to keep their home warm while using less fuel. It’s a pity the advice is not taken by those giving it.

I asked in Cork City Council what low-cost measures were addressing fuel poverty. What I had in mind were simple measures; doors, windows, insulation on pipes and boilers, attic insulation or upgrades of open fires.

In low BER houses, even meagre investments in aggregate can reduce the emissions of the council’s estate while demonstrating climate action is not the slow-moving, belt-tightening exercise official propaganda would make us believe. In answer, this type of low-cost scheme, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) improved 1,057 houses annually in the city, but only up until 2021.

This vastly outperformed the government’s new scheme since, which has only retrofitted 127 properties.

New schemes only cover deep retrofit, a costly and time-consuming process while funding for low-cost interventions stopped over a year ago, without replacement.

Figures like these suggest this approach doesn’t make sense, unless state policy is made for class-based ideological reasons, rather than common sense or climate science.

When the low-cost scheme was running, it provided free, fast retrofitting to those who could least afford it. This differs both in principle and in rate to what now happens with the billions of retrofit funding we keep hearing about, which entails funding top-to-bottom complete refit on small numbers of individual houses or nothing at all. Choosing to benefit the few instead of the many clearly reflects the class politics of the parties of government rather than what workers and carers need.

In a world where we must decarbonise quickly and equitably, the government chooses to use the now approaching €1 billion gains from its universal regressive carbon tax and EU funding to give as little back as possible to workers and carers living in social housing, or indeed anyone who doesn’t have at least €20,000 down the back of the couch.

Instead, this money is drawn up into ‘pay upfront with reimbursment’ type retrofit schemes only affordable to the wealthy.

Cllr Lorna Bogue.
Cllr Lorna Bogue.

Case in point, MEP Grace O’Sullivan had an Irish Times property-section-style interview discussing her retrofit. This, while worthwhile, highlighted the chief problem of retrofitting in Ireland; it is a pursuit for the rich.

At the end of the day, money misappropriated from workers and carers is spent increasing property prices of three-bed semi-Ds in Ranelagh because shoring up government support is more important than decarbonisation. Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) data from the EU shows categories of ‘very affluent’ and ‘affluent’ spending less per week on energy costs than categories below them already. With the exception of ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘very disadvantaged’ who have always made tough choices between heating and eating.

Oxfam’s research paper, Confronting inequality in Ireland, showed workers and carers are not the biggest carbon emitters, with the lowest-earning 50% of the Irish population emitting only 29% of emissions.

Eco-austerity and elitist retrofit schemes are doomed to fail by design. 

Climate action is currently implemented through strictly neoliberal ideas, using ineffective pricing mechanisms, or ‘nudges’. Universal ideas that would benefit the highest number of people with lowest costs are rejected.

Rather than full-duck-or-no-dinner approaches to retrofit, we need bread-and-butter. A motion by PBP Cllr Adrienne Wallace passed in Carlow provides figures to this effect. Annual targets of 70,000 retrofits to a B2 rating were underachieved with 28,800 retrofits under the National Residential Retrofit Plan with a two year wait to apply for the Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme.

The solely political problems in delivering climate action rather than being a bad news story offers instead a huge vista of possibility.

Huge wells of funding are available to any EU member state should they be lucky enough to have a national government that isn’t as anti-working class as ours. It is the now sitting government that has, and continues to misappropriate both EU and national funding on a grand scale for the benefit of their own class.

That is the problem we have. Not resources, not lack of knowledge. It is very possible then to see what a new political economy could produce; an eco-socialist economy which puts workers and carers not only first in the queue but in more control of their workplaces, communities and homes.

Lorna Bogue is a Councillor with Cork City Council representing Cork City South East. She is the leader of an ecosocialist political party, An Rabharta Glas - Green Left.

TOMORROW: In day two of the series by Lorna Bogue, why the soldiers of destiny have reached their final destination.

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