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Ireland to ban offshore oil exploration and increase carbon tax

Christian Fernsby |
The Irish Taoiseach has told the United Nations that Ireland will raise its carbon tax to 80 euro per tonne, while exploring for oil, but not gas, will be prohibited.

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Speaking at the UN's Climate Action Summit 2019 in New York on Monday, Leo Varadkar said he had been inspired by the thousands of young people who took to the streets last Friday to protest for climate justice.

He added that he wanted Ireland to be known as a green country because of how it responds to the environmental challenges facing the planet.

"With our Climate Action Plan, we know what we are going to do. Next year, we will underpin it through new climate action legislation, including carbon budgeting. We have already banned fracking. We have a climate action fund paid for by a levy on oil. Our sovereign wealth fund has divested from fossil fuels," he said.

"We will outlaw single-use plastics next and our public sector is already doing so. We have a carbon tax and have a cross-party agreement to increase it to EUR80 per tonne by 2030. From next year, all new revenue raised from carbon tax will be ring-fenced to fund new climate action and just transition," Varadkar continued.

"Just transition to protect those most exposed to higher fuel and energy costs and for whom new jobs must be found."

This is a change from the Government's initial proposals for the carbon tax, in which it discussed returning the money generated to households in a dividend.

However, Varadkar said earlier on Monday that although the dividend was "possible", it would be difficult and expensive to undertake.

"We will take coal off our electricity grid by 2025. Our renewable electricity will rise from 30% today to 70% in 10 years," he added.

"By 2030, we will have prohibited the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles.

"By then, we will have substantially electrified our fleet. All new public buses bought from now are hybrids.

"In the last week, on foot of a request from me, our independent Climate Change Advisory Council recommended that exploration for oil should end, as it is incompatible with a low carbon future.

"They recommended that exploration for natural gas should continue for now, as a transition fuel that we will need for decades to come while alternatives are developed and fully deployed.

"I believe we must replace a climate of fear and anxiety with a new climate of action and opportunity."

The Taoiseach also said he would be informing world leaders although Ireland had banned fracking, it would still allow exploring for natural gas.

The Fine Gael leader said: "We have committed in our climate action plan that we've banned fracking, we've divested from fossil fuels, the decision that we've taken that any new revenue raised from carbon taxes will be reinvested into climate action, new money for new projects, over and above what we've committed to already.

"I'll also be informing the UN, after a request from (climate minister Richard Bruton) and I, we've received advice from our climate advisory council and they recommended a change in policy when it comes to exploration, recommending that we end exploration for oil in Irish water but continue to explore for natural gas because that is a transition fuel that we're going to need for the next few decades."

Varadkar's trip to the climate conference was met with considerable criticism from his political rivals, many of whom say the Government's plans do not go far enough to tackle the climate emergency.

Both Brid Smith and Ruth Coppinger criticised the Government over its decision to halt the Climate Emergency Measures Bill from progressing through the parliament.

The Bill had passed two separate votes in the Dail in 2018 and was set to move to the third stage when it was halted from progressing after Fine Gael claimed the legislation would be too expensive.

Likewise, the Green Party, Friends of the Earth and a number of other environmental groups have released statements admonishing the continued exploration and recovery of gas in Irish waters.

"We need to drive investment towards renewables, grid upgrades, storage and hydrogen power, away from fossil fuels as fast as we can. Gas licences have to go," Green Party spokesman on climate councillor David Healy said.

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