The Irish General Election had a shaky start with climate, with the issue barely featuring in initial debates and when it was mentioned, it seemed to solely focus on the contentious problem of whether to reduce the national herd. After public pressure on social media, RTE aired a special ‘climate debate’ with representatives from the main parties and concerned Irish citizens. The Primetime leader’s debate on Wednesday seemed in danger of skirting the issue altogether but in the last segment, coincidentally when most viewers tend to tune out or go to bed, Varadkar, McDonald and Martin were probed on environmental policies. However, it does seem that the ‘Green Wave’ that swelled in Ireland for the European elections in May has subsided for the time being.
The bread and butter issues of housing and health have remained front and centre in all debates and party manifestos, and while they are problems that absolutely have to be addressed it must be questioned why climate change hasn’t become part and parcel of this discourse. The RTE climate debate was comprehensive on certain issues such as agricultural emissions and the retrofitting of homes but there was scant mention of important elements of tackling climate change such as biodiversity, greening public transport and solid measures for a just transition in agriculture. Much of the debate, as it often does, descended into finger pointing and dismantling of proposals from opposition parties. As Catherine Martin, the Green candidate for Dublin Rathdown, rightly pointed out; solutions to climate change need to be framed in a positive, solutions-focussed manner for them to be effective.
Certain parties have been accused of ‘Greenwashing’ their manifestos and using the climate issue for political clout, rather than with the intention of truly making a difference in emissions and environmental issues. It must be acknowledged that compared to the 2016 election, environmental policies feature much more prominently in all parties, but the sense of urgency does not match that which is required to tackle climate change as recommended by institutions such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This lack of urgency seems to come from both the government and the general public, with only 7% of respondents of an Irish Times opinion poll saying climate change was of high importance to their vote.
It is interesting that climate is seen as a ‘party issue’ when in reality it should be integral to every parties’ core manifesto seeing as it is a cross-cutting and multifaceted issue. For long enough, climate change has been relegated to being a problem for environmentally-focused parties such as the Greens to grapple. However, it is becoming more and more accepted that it is inherently connected to social and economic problems and the sooner that all parties realize this, the easier it will be to solve. It remains to be seen what parties will constitute the next government but no matter what conglomerate enters the dail in a few weeks, I hope they keep the Irish environment in mind.
For more information on party manifestos and climate action you can read this handy article written by Cara Augustenbourg: https://greennews.ie/ge2020-manifesto-analysis-climate/
Photo by Markus Spiske
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