The Green Party is on course for a clash with coalition partner Fine Gael over new land-use plans, which it deems essential to meeting the State’s climate change targets.
The party’s belief that the priority for Budget 2024 should be focused on advancing public transport and other major infrastructure projects through capital spending may also prove contentious.
The land use plans involve rewetting agricultural lands, but this is already the source of unresolved differences between the two Government partners.
The latest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) projections show Ireland is on course to fall well-short of meeting its binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, with Friday’s report showing the country on course for a cut of 29 per cent rather than the 51 per cent goal.
Responding to the expected shortfall, which he inisted was not insurmountable, Green Party leader and Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said a proposed EU nature restoration law – the subject of strong Fine Gael opposition – needs to be accepted if Ireland’s climate mitigation goals are to be met.
The law aims to protect at least 20 per cent of land and sea areas by 2030. However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this week said his party cannot accept the law as currently proposed as it could reduce the amount of land available for food production and lead to food prices rising.
Asked about his Coalition partner’s stance, Mr Ryan said “We need the nature restoration law.”
“The benefit here of protecting nature and addressing climate at the same time is that they really do complement each other. We can do that in a way that funds a whole generation of family farms. The way it is presented at the moment is around a bad news story for Irish agriculture, and I don’t agree with it.”
In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Ryan said planning laws needed to be revised so that major projects such as the Metro and Dart Plus expansion were not delayed.
“”We have a whole range of projects that are ready to go but the planning system takes such a long time. We have overcome some of that with additional resources being supplied to An Bord Pleanála but we also need a revision of the planning legislation,” he said.
Major changes are needed in construction as well, he said, such as “a massive scaling-up of timber-framed modular housing, which would be a very useful way of addressing the housing crisis but also not blowing our emissions budget”.
The Government on Friday said it was not conceding that it would fall well-short of the binding climate change targets. Tánaiste Micheál Martin said environmental measures the Government had put in place in the past 2½ years would “take time to bear fruit”.
Mr Varadkar said the Coalition needed to concentrate on implementing its climate plan, but added that “we have to see things in the round”. He said emissions had to be cut but in “such a way that doesn’t cost jobs, doesn’t reduce people’s living standards, doesn’t impede rural development”.
Exchequer figures for May, published on Friday, showed a further boost to the Government’s finances, potentially giving Minister for Finance Michael McGrath more scope in the upcoming budget.
Asked whether the large projected surpluses should be directed towards tackling climate change, Mr Ryan said the government should focus on capital spending in order to get major public infrastructure built.
“We need to focus on capital investment over current spending because that is where the shortfall is in the economy,” he said. “There is a shortfall in housing, in public transport, in water infrastructure, energy infrastructure and I do think we need to prioritise that, though I don’t want to go into the details of any one budget provision otherwise that could turn into an auction every week.”