It was branded a ‘caring Budget’ but there was little care for the environment or the planet we all live on.

As the Irish Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe got to his feet to announce the detail of Budget 2019, there was some hope that he would take a firm stance on climate change and environmental issues.

But that hope quickly faded.

A total of 22 pages and 8,500+ words later, lip service was paid to climate change. Less than 600 words and zero meaningful measures were allocated to tackling the biggest issue of our generation.

The timing could not have been more tragic. Budget ‘19 came just 24 hours after the UN released one of the most in depth reports ever carried out into climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reviewed over 6,000 scientific papers and warned that urgent changes are needed to cut the risk of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty.

The report stated that there is only 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

This means that we need collective and immediate action but it is clear there is no political will to do so.

So what was actually announced in those 600 words in Ireland’s Budget ’19 and what does it actually mean?

1: The Minister referred to the National Development Plan and the fact that ‘one in every five euros’ in the Exchequer investment in the plan will be devoted to addressing climate change.

But there was no further detail on where these euros will be invested, or what measure of carbon reduction they would deliver.

2: In 2019, the Department of Communication, Climate Action and Environment will invest over €164 million in ‘targeted measures to achieve Ireland’s energy efficiency and renewable energy objectives, in line with the Government’s National Mitigation Plan’.  

Again, no detail was provided on what measures these would be, or what is the expected outcome.

3: Additional climate related measures in 2019 include:

  • €103.5 million for improvements in grant and premium rates for planting forests;
  • Introduction of the Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot (BEEP) to further improve the carbon efficiency of beef production;
  • €70 million for the Targeted Agriculture Modernisation Scheme (TAMS);
  • Additional funding of €70 million for the Environment and Waste Management Programme.

While increased forestry cover will undoubtedly help remove carbon from the atmosphere, it will only make a small dent in the work we need to do.

4: The VRT relief for hybrid vehicles has been extended until the end of 2019.

However, until we improve our public transport system and encourage more people out of their cars, encouraging the use of hybrid vehicles is akin to putting a sticky plaster on a broken leg.

5: A 1 per cent surcharge for diesel vehicles is being applied across all VRT bands.

This is a great measure for gathering more revenue for the Exchequer but it is not going to shorten the distance between people’s homes and workplaces. Nor is it stringent enough to encourage people to leave their car at home and opt for public transport or other modes of transport such as cycling.

6: The Minister has ‘welcomed’ the ESRI report on Carbon Tax – but he didn’t welcome in any changes. He ‘intends’ to put a series of carbon tax increases in place which will run between now and 2030.

But again, there was no detail, no timeline, and no targets for us to reach.

7: A new accelerated capital allowances scheme for gas-propelled vehicles and refuelling equipment will be introduced. This is designed to encourage the uptake of gas-propelled commercial vehicles as an economic and environmentally friendly alternative to diesel.

However, we are likely to face the same problem we face with electric cars – there are simply not enough places to recharge electric vehicles which make consumers reluctant to purchase them. Gas propelled vehicles require a different type of fuel and refuelling stations will be required across the country.

But again, there was no detail, no timeline, and no targets for us to reach.

8: Ireland will no longer purchase diesel-only buses for the urban public service obligation (PSO) bus fleets after July 2019.

This is a good move but why are we waiting until July 2019? Why not put this measure in place immediately?

9: Ireland is to join the Paris Collaborative on Green Budgeting. Under this initiative, Ireland will develop ‘new and innovative ways of embedding climate change in the budgetary process’. As a first step, the Department will publish a list of all Exchequer climate related expenditure in this year’s Revised Estimates Volume.

While this is a step in the right direction, it is not worth the paper it’s written on if that’s all it is, words. Climate related expenditure is worthless unless it’s having a real and measurable impact on emissions and the environment.

So overall, Budget ‘19 has been a crushing disappointment.

At UrbanVolt we had hoped that the Irish government would no longer be complacent when it comes to our planet and environment, and that measures would be put in place to impact on climate change.

Unfortunately all we got were some minor measures and we are still on track to miss our 2020 targets for emissions reduction. As well as the immediate financial implications because of the fines Ireland will face, we are continuing to fail future generations who will have to deal with the consequences of our inaction.  

Publicly owned buildings alone could unlock millions of tonnes of CO2 reduction but tragically, bureaucracy seems to be standing in the way.  

The Irish government is proud of their announcement that they will balance the budget next year.

But there is little point in balancing the books if we are wilfully destroying our planet.