You’ve probably all heard the news that Ireland is set to become the first country to divest from fossil fuels. Any move away from fossil fuels is a move in the right direction, but the headlines threaten to become slightly hyperbolic. So here’s exactly what the government agreed to do, and exactly what it means for Ireland.
The lower house has voted to sell off public investments in fossil fuels ‘as soon as is practicable’.
The Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill requires the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) to divest from direct investments in fossil fuel undertakings within five years. ‘Fossil fuel undertakings’ are defined as undertakings in which 20% or more of the turnover comes from the exploration, extraction or refinement of a fossil fuel. The divestment will mean that no public funds will be directly invested in fossil fuels. Indirect investments with assets likely to consist of 15% or more fossil fuel undertakings will also be avoided.
There are exceptions, however: the original bill had to be watered-down to pass the lower house. Fossil fuel investments deemed to be in line with Ireland’s climate goals (let’s not even go there) and investments in hedge funds or exchange traded funds will be exempt. Thomas Pringle, an independent member of parliament who introduced the bill in 2016, said these changes were made to allow for investments in undertakings such as natural gas, which may be part of the transition to renewable energy.
As of June last year, the ISIF was estimated to have around €318million invested in fossil fuels, so the divestment represents a serious commitment from both sides of parliament. The bill has passed the lower house of parliament, and when the Seanad (upper house) votes, it may delay the bill, but it will not be able to reverse it.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar is one of the bill’s supporters, and no wonder: he has said he wants Ireland to be ‘a leader in climate action’, and if that’s the case, he’s got a long road ahead of him. The 2018 Climate Change Performance Index rated Ireland as the worst performing European country. Climate Action Network Europe also called Ireland out as a member of ‘the so-called Green Growth Group’, which includes other poorly performing countries such as Italy and Spain, and rated Ireland the second worst EU country in terms of fighting climate change. A big part of Ireland’s struggle in reducing emissions is the average Irish household, which emits 60% more carbon than the average EU household, undoing a lot of the good that Ireland’s renewable energy investments aim to achieve.
Addressing this, Mr Pringle said, ‘We have had a very carbon-based economy and society for a number of years, so this is a huge change for us, but it has to happen […] Climate change is real, and if we are going to have any chance of meeting the [climate] goals, we may as well start now.’
What can we do?
There are plenty of ways we can help Ireland to achieve and exceed its climate goals. Here are just a few:
- Get active within your local community – contact your council and ask what they are doing to reduce your region’s environmental footprint. Reach out to others and help spark change at a grassroots level. All it takes is one voice!
- Contact your parliamentary representatives and encourage them to publicly support the bill, or congratulate them if they have done so. Use your voice and your vote – as an Irish citizen, you really do have the power!
- Make changes in your own life. Recycling, reducing your consumption of single use plastics, avoiding burning coal and turf, planting trees and nurturing a garden, unplugging electrical appliances, reducing your meat intake and looking for the FSC symbol when purchasing wood products are some simple ways to reduce your household’s environmental footprint.
Now that you know exactly what’s going on and how you can get involved, I think celebrations are in order! Here’s to a fossil fuel-free Ireland!