Leo Varadkar’s announcement yesterday that Ireland will begin to phase out fossil fuels has been met with praise from some quarters, but the reality is that this is just the latest ploy by the Taoiseach and his government to greenwash their image while they continue to kick the can down the road on fossil fuels. In the wake of the largest environmental demonstration in Ireland and all over the planet, this is a deeply cynical move to try and convince the movement that something is being done.
The reality of the situation is that this new move will do very little to stop fossil fuel exploration in Ireland. Firstly, the ban excludes 37 existing licences and another 11 licencing options which will not be affected. Secondly, the ban only applies to 80% of Irish waters. This means that the North Celtic Sea basin will continue to be drilled by Providence Resources.
Finally, and most importantly, gas exploration will be allowed to continue in 100% of Irish waters. This, along with the construction of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminals on the Irish coast, has very deep implications that will lock us into a fossil fuel future for decades. It will make it almost impossible to avoid the 1.5° or even 2° Celsius warming that will lead ecological breakdown and a humanitarian catastrophe for the planet.
Varadkar has made use of the Climate Change Advisory Committee (CCAC) – a body dominated by neoliberal economists rather than climate scientists – who have twisted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report on fossil fuels to hoodwink the public into thinking that gas is a transitional fuel.
The IPCC report states that burning the remaining proven reserves of coal alone would take us over 2° warming and that burning the remaining proven reserves of oil alone would cause 1.5° or more. With regard to gas, the IPCC has said burning the remaining proven reserves would leave us with a 60% chance of staying under 1.5° warming – if nothing else is burned except gas. This is obviously not the current reality, as coal, oil and peat are currently still being burned at an alarming rate.
Varadkar is therefore using the CCAC as cover to mislead the public in a thoroughly reckless manner. His claims that gas is a transitional fuel are false and equally dangerous.
The reality is that gas can be even worse than oil or even coal when its full life cycle is taken into account. There are severe dangers that significant amounts of methane may be released into the atmosphere when drilling for gas. There is currently a global methane spike in the atmosphere, with some research showing that up to 1/3 of this could be associated with gas being fracked in North America.
Moreover, Fine Gael support of LNGs in Shannon and elsewhere will tie Ireland and the EU into using fracked gas for decades to come.
The fact that Varadkar has moved so quickly to make it appear as if he is dealing with fossil fuels is a testament to the pressure of the magnificent school student strikes last Friday, as well as the thousands of other workers and ordinary people who came out to support them. While this move is nothing more than an exercise in greenwashing, Fine Gael are being backed into ever tighter corners by the movement.
Varadkar may wish to continue playing fast and loose with the future of the planet and its children, but he is running out of room. The global climate movement is growing ever more powerful and will not accept this kind of posturing for much longer.