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Taoiseach: Government will 'nudge people to change behaviour' in bid to tackle climate change

The Taoiseach has said it is the fault of Fianna Fail and the Green Party that eight of his ministers are currently driving diesel cars.

Speaking at the launch of his government's new climate action plan in Grangegorman in Dublin, Mr Varadkar said bad policy decisions by the Brian Cowen-led government made it too attractive to buy diesel cars and ministers did so.

“One of the biggest mistakes which was made by the Fianna-Fail-Green government was to encourage people to buy diesel cars. They hallowed our tax base and we now know diesel cars are probably worse for the environment in the round because they damage our air quality. If you want a top 10 list of worst policy decisions in the past couple of decades it was that one,” he said.

When pressed as to why so many ministers still drive diesel cars, he said: “The reason eight ministers have diesel cars is the same reason one million people have diesel cars is because they were incorrectly incentivised to purchase diesel cars by a major environmental policy error made by Fianna Fail and the Greens when they were in government.”

“We are going to need to correct that now but not in a way that punishes people. We need to incentivise people over time to move to hybrids and electric cars,” he added.

The action plan envisages almost 1 million electric vehicles in Ireland within the next decade; bans on oil boilers in new homes from 2022, and for gas boilers by 2025; and the phasing out coat and peat-fired electricity generation, among other measures.

It will also begin an ambitious retrofit “easy pay scheme” that will see 500,000 homes retrofitted to B2 energy standard.

Mr Varadkar said the plan detailed “a way forward that is both effective and sensible. One that achieves our targets, and in a way that is thought through and considered, supports employment and living standards and enables a just transition.

Our approach will be to nudge people and businesses to change behaviour and adopt new technologies through incentives, disincentives, regulations and information.

Speaking at the launch, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe confirmed that the level of carbon taxes will increase four-fold from €20 a tonne to €80 per tonne by 2030 but said he was not in a position to confirm the timing of the increases.

“No decisions have been taken as to the phasing of it. What we set out is a long term goal of where we want to get to by 2030,” he said.

“What is more important than the timing is to be able to demonstrate to the country that the revenue that is being raised is being used to support citizens through the change they have to go through to respond back to the challenge or is being reinvested back into the country to be more resilient to the challenge,” Mr Donohoe said.

Speaking at the launch, Mr Varadkar said the Government will “nudge people and businesses to change behaviour” in a bid to tackle climate change.

Mr Varadkar said: “A lot of our policies are going to be about nudging people and business to make the right decision and make it simpler and cheaper to do the right thing.

“Often when I hear the whole debate around climate action, it bothers me it is framed on certain targets and if we don’t meet them we have to pay fines.

“The whole point is to take the decision because they are the right thing to do. We will have warmer homes, cleaner air, shorter commutes.”

He said the strategy did not seek to find the moral high ground but to find common ground on climate action, which gave a “platform which we can all work on”.

The plan, Giving Ireland a Sustainable Future was launched at TU Dublin, Grangegorman at an event attended by 12 members of the Cabinet. The Taoiseach and his ministers arrived at the venue on one of Dublin Bus’ new hybrid vehicles which are due in be service on the Lucan route this week.

However, just three ministers – Shane Ross, Michael Creed and Michael Ring – took the bus back from the event while others took their ministerial cars.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action & Environment Richard Bruton said that the plan would involve “radical change in the way we do things”. He echoed the sentiments of Mr Varadkar that Ireland had been a “laggard” until now.

He said the plan had emphasised the next decade until 2030 as the period in which change could be brought about which was “most economic and would create the least burden on our people”.

He also said the most vulnerable must not be left behind during the transition to sustainability. “We have to be fair to those who are most exposed to change,” Mr Bruton said.

The plan sticks to its previous timeline for closing down the Moneypoint power-generating station (fuelled by coal), which remains at 2025, and the phasing out of peat-fuelled stations (2028).

In terms of agriculture, much of the emphasis is on changes in farming practice, land-use management, biodiversity, and new technology. There is also an ambitious plan for afforestation which will increase the capacity of Ireland to for carbon capture, and to have carbon sinks.

The plan proposes an additional 8,000 hectares of new forestry every year for the next five years, establishing 40,000 hectares in total. That will be reflected in changes in CAP and also in land use. Implicit in it, but not stated, will be an unspecified fall in the national herd, particularly in the beef sector.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said the contents of the report would be challenging.

“We export our product to 180 countries,” he said. “We are aware of our obligations under Paris but we are equally aware that the international market place is unforgiving on a food industry that does not meet its obligations (for sustainability).”

Transport Minister Shane Ross said there would be 1 million electric vehicles in Ireland by 2030, a big shift to buses, and hundreds of thousands more people cycling, walking and using other forms of transport.

“There is a revolution in transport coming,” he said.

Key actions identified in the plan include:

* Eliminate non-recyclable plastic and impose higher fees on the production of materials which are difficult to recycle, implement measures to ban single-use plastic plates, cutlery, straws, balloon sticks and cotton buds;

* Establish a new microgeneration scheme, allowing homeowners to generate their own electricity and sell what they don’t use back to the national grid;

* Move to 70 per cent renewable electricity by 2030, currently only 30 per cent of our electricity comes from renewable sources;

* Expand our network of cycling paths and “Park and Ride” facilities,helping ease congestion;

* Deliver an intensive programme of retrofitting to install 400,000 heat pumps in homes and businesses, replacing the existing carbon-intensive heating systems;

* Establish a system of five-year carbon budgets and sector targets, with the relevant minister responsible for delivering on the target, with penalties if they are not met. These targets will be underpinned by a new Climate Action Act. All major government investments and decisions will be carbon-proofed;

* Deliver reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture by creating new, sustainable opportunities for family farms;

* Deliver a new Retrofit Plan to retrofit 500,000 homes, with large groups of houses being retrofitted by the same contractor to reduce costs, smart finance, and easy pay back methods;

* Every public body will be given a climate action mandate by their line minister to prioritise climate action and new letters of expectation will issue to semi-state bodies on Climate Action.