If its carbon budget was a revolution it was very much one with a small r. It’s the first budget of its kind every attempted in Western Europe and yesterday John Gormley admitted that in a sense, he was taking a shot in the dark.
"The concept of the carbon budget is new, and this year’s format can be seen as a pilot. I will consider how its content and format will be developed and improved in future years," he said.
What Gormley secured in the budget was the go-ahead for the much-touted 3% reduction in carbon emissions. And in his carbon budget yesterday Gormley essentially painted a picture of where we are now and where we need to be in 2012. And most importantly, he announced the first of the measures that need to be taken to get there.
n a complicated table that is strictly for anoraks, there were enough statistics and figures to tell us how it can be done. The broadbrush picture is as follows: The 2006 figures will show that Ireland emitted 70 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent that year. To meet the 3% annual reduction and to meet our Kyoto targets, we need to reduce that by an average of 6 million tonnes each year. And the first of the new measures to help us reach that target include initiatives in energy; industry; and residential. As each year goes on, more measures will be added.
It’s a huge ask and will mean some pain. Gormley accepted that we might not achieve it but he said it would not be for the want of trying.
"We are not making it easy on ourselves. There is always a danger we may fail. We have set the bar high in striving for a 3% annual reduction in the Programme for Government," he said yesterday.
And to that end, when you look at the chart produced, it looks very like the Government will have to rely on what is euphemised as ‘flexible methods’. In simple terms, that means a carbon fund. At the moment we have E290 invested in it. In opposition, the Greens railed against it saying that Ireland was essentially buying its way out of its Kyoto commitments. But even with the new political dispensation, we may still need to rely on it. Note the subtle use of language in Gormley’s Dáil speech:
“I recognise – as Al gore did when he was in Dublin last weekend –that the flexible mechanisms are an integral part of the Kyoto Protocol agreement and an important instrument in promoting low emissions investment in developing countries. Notwithstanding this, the Government is committed to ensuring Ireland is able to fulfil its commitments by emission reductions.”
The message is: we may have to resort (reluctantly, sure) to the fund.
There were positives yesterday. The new measures that will phase out traditional incandescent lightbulbs in favour of energy-efficient ones; the new motor tax system that will be based on emissions not engine size; and the mandatory environment label system for cars (very similar to the labelling system used for white goods).
But it’s partly Lord Make Me Green but not yet. The new system for light bulbs will not be introduced until 2009. And despite the changes in vehicle registration tax being flagged in last year’s budget, they won’t be introduced until July. John Gormley didn’t really have a decent explanation for this yesterday; nor did he for the fact that the new motor taxes won’t be introduced until July.
And it’s generally been recognised that to achieve a 3% reduction in Co2, the Government will have to introduce a carbon tax. This was in the 2002 Government’s programme but was ditched in 2004. Now it’s back on the agenda. But Brian Cowen announced on Wednesday that it that the issue has been kicked to touch, with a Commission for Taxation being established to explore etc etc etc. When will it decide? How long is a piece of string?
Still, yesterday was a good start for the Greens and for Gormley. It will mean that a person buying a gas-guzzling car will be paying the top rate of 36% in VRT and the maximum E2,000 in motor tax. That means that the VRT for a high-powered car selling for E75,000 will be in the region of E24,000 with a E2,000 per annum tax bill.
As the AA’s Conor Faughnan pointed out yesterday:
“A mid range car emits 173 grams per carbon dioxide per km (an example would be a Ford Mondeo 1.6 litre petrol which emits 177g). I suggest within a short space of time the general public will be as familiar with these figures as they are with miles per gallon.”
Faughnan made a fair point that the motor tax was also a revenue raising operation (raising E83 million for the local government fund), which he considered unfair:
“Because it was called a Green Budget the Government was able to get away with increases in car tax of between 9 and 11%. There was no environmental dividend but there was a revenue dividend,” he said.
It was an undramatic yet promising start. There is still a long way to go on the road to reach the targets but at least the Government has at last got its hands on a road map.