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December 12, 2018

IRELAND: All Talk, No Action

The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) for 2018 has been released and the verdict is in: Ireland is the worst country in the European Union on climate action for the second year in a row.

Why is this relevant? Well, beyond an abysmal performance on climate action, this year Ireland also made headlines for being the “world’s first country’ to divest from fossil fuels.” The lower house of Parliament passed a bill that requires the country’s sovereign fund to move out of fossil fuels “as soon as practicable.” Eamonn Meehan, executive director of Trocaire, an Irish environmental lobby that has pushed for the bill, said in a statement the measure was “both substantive and symbolic.”

Telling by Ireland’s climate change rating, the measure is more symbolic than anything

Just look at the facts presented in the 2018 CCPI: Ireland ranked 48th out of 56 countries worldwide with a “very low” performance in the Greenhouse Gas Emissions category, and the country is also among the low-ranking performers in the Energy Use category. Ireland’s performance on international climate policy is rated medium, but the experts warned that “existing climate mitigation efforts will not enable Ireland to achieve either its EU 2020 or 2030 targets domestically.”

So clearly, Ireland has yet to get a handle on what actual ‘climate mitigation efforts’ really are since they’ve confused it with divestment, a symbolically empty gesture typically used to diffuse activist protests. Numerous studies have shown that divestment is of zero use to those trying to reach quantitative, measurable emissions reduction goals. With these being the facts – why did Ireland choose the road unnecessarily traveled?

Well, Ireland is one of the most energy dependent countries in the world – and imports approximately 85 percent of its energy. Natural gas makes up nearly 30 percent of its total energy supply and helps generate 55 percent of Ireland’s electricity.  Approximately 96 percent of the natural gas used in Ireland is imported.  While the country looks to expand its use of renewable energy and build out its wind capacity, it will continue to rely heavily on natural gas. This reliance has pulled Ireland into the spotlight for its failure to reduce carbon emission, and the country will face up to a €600 million fine when it misses the 2020 emission target set by the European Union. The drama surrounding Ireland’s climate lag sparked an uptick in protests and activists calling for Ireland to make a change.

Ireland, however, chose to answer that call with placation instead of actual change.

Divestment and other policies that seek to ban the use of natural gas and other fossil fuels will only hurt Ireland’s economy and cause energy prices to soar. Just recently, seven utility companies in Ireland announced they were raising electricity prices, causing one Irish Bishop to warn of an “energy poverty crisis” in the country. Divestment and other failed policies that limit the use of fossil fuels will turn a climate change crisis into an energy poverty crisis that even grandstanding and empty gestures can’t placate.

It seems clear to everyone but the Emerald Isle that the country’s focus needn’t be on divestment, but on climate change solutions that produce real results. In the U.S., we’ve leveraged the success of the shale revolution to pivot to natural gas, a low-carbon fossil fuel that has significantly reduced emissions. The European Union has made similar progress by setting realistic goals and investing in low-carbon technologies that balance the necessity for fossil fuels.

Climate action should not be tied to divestment.  After all, actions speak louder than words.