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The Citizens’ Assembly should call for a referendum to give a constitutional right to environmental protection to the people of Ireland, according to an alliance of leading environmental groups.
This would help ensure more effective implementation of Irish actions to counter human-induced climate change, the coalition of 26 organisations said in a submission to the assembly.
It is to consider this autumn “how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change”.
“Giving the people the constitutionally-protected right to live in a healthy environment would encourage politicians to take real long-term actions, and ensure that those actions are not diluted with the change of guard at Dáil Éireann every five years,” the Environmental Pillar (EP) said in joint submission with the campaign group Stop Climate Chaos Coalition.
It was among hundreds of submissions filed by Friday’s deadline.
The assembly had an unparalleled opportunity to use its unique position to propose an amendment to the Constitution, “and fill the gap left by government inaction on climate change”, the environmental groups added.
Their submission includes 18 detailed recommendations which if adopted would indicate the State is bringing years of inaction to an end; moving Ireland to the level of most of our EU partners, and taking a leadership role in certain areas, “notwithstanding our poor record to date”, said Stop Climate Chaos Coalition spokesman Oisín Coughlan.
The document sets out how long-standing commitments to help Ireland meet existing targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could be achieved.
Specifically, it calls for an end to the use of peat to generate electricity in the midlands by 2020, and for coal-burning at Moneypoint power station to stop by 2022 – much sooner than is planned.
The government was first advised in 1998 that such peat and coal use needed to cease, and more environmentally-acceptable energy sources needed to be adopted.
The group also outlined best practice being achieved in other countries, which if adopted here “would kickstart a real transformation”.
“This process demonstrates that citizens are capable of showing the sort of leadership on climate change that our politicians have so far failed to take. The Citizens’ Assembly can be the catalyst for transformational change that will put Ireland on a path to a genuinely low-carbon society,” said Mr Coughlan.
Every Irish government since 1990 had endorsed the findings of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the serious implications of climate change, and “yet the State’s response has failed to deliver a meaningful response”, said Environmental Pillar spokesman Dr John Sweeney, an emeritus professor at Maynooth University.
The Government had introduced legislation for climate action in 2015, but it did not cover the activities of some semi-States, including many of our major energy producers such as Bord na Mona.
“The decisions of these companies are key to Ireland’s emissions and our contribution to climate change, and the fact that they are either partially or explicitly exempt shows the Act is a weak and inadequate piece of legislation,” said Dr Sweeney.
A constitutional approach to addressing climate change would yield benefits to the economy, society, and, most importantly, to the health of Irish citizens, said Donna Mullen of the EP.
“Already 1,200 people are dying prematurely from air pollution in Ireland each year, with over 150,000 deaths across the globe already attributed to climate change every year.”