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14th May 2019

Leo Varadkar’s comments on climate emergency are his worst yet, and that’s saying something

Carl Kinsella

Leo Varadkar climate emergency

When is an emergency not an emergency?

When it’s declared by Dáil Éireann.

The last time Leo Varadkar embarrassed himself, he was stood behind a busker in Limerick city, pretending to know the words to ‘Zombie’ by The Cranberries and telling the cameras that he doesn’t “do bullshit”.

He was not present last week, when just a handful of TDs in Dáil Éireann took a vote which resulted in Ireland being only the second country in the world (after the United Kingdom) to declare a state of climate emergency.

On Tuesday, Leo Varadkar took the first chance he could to make sure we all understand that this statement of emergency is utterly meaningless, and that Ireland’s approach to climate disaster has not changed one iota.

Speaking about the declaration in Dáil Éireann today, Varadkar called the declaration “symbolic” and “a gesture”.

You know what I hate?

When you get stuck in one of those symbolic emergencies. Like when you see an old lady being mugged at knifepoint so you give her a thumbs-up to symbolise your support and keep on walking. Or when your house is burning down so you start fanning at the flames as a symbol of resistance before getting the hell out of there.

Maybe the scariest thing about Varadkar’s downgrading of the climate emergency is that he used to be a medical doctor. Can you imagine being his patient? The nurse wheels you in, screaming that there’s a medical emergency and Dr. Leo writes you a prescription for symbolism and gestures towards the exit.

Varadkar’s pussy-footing around the issue of climate emergency is especially galling since it shows just how far away Ireland is from the country we pretend to be.

Leo Varadkar climate emergency

Ireland is currently the worst performing country in Europe on the Climate Change Performance Index, and has been for the last two years, with a status of “very low performing”. Performance is based on assessments by NGOs and think tanks from the respective countries, to assess if nations are taking adequate action to limit global warming to below 2C by 2100, as set out in the Paris Climate deal.

We are set to miss both our 2020 and 2030 targets.

In the European Parliament, Fine Gael MEPs have routinely voted down climate measures including: having binding renewable energy targets, increasing the EU’s 2030 emissions reductions target to 55% – what is scientifically necessary, against making the producers of single use plastic contribute to the costs of litter clean ups.

The Taoiseach himself has said he would not look at higher climate action targets for 2030, only for 2050. Because nothing says “emergency” like “We’ll deal with it in 21 years”.

Fine Gael MEPs voted against a call for the EU to present a 100% renewable energy strategy. Fine Gael MEPs voted against including climate justice as a fundamental value of the EU. Fine Gael MEPs voted against calling on the EU to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton has also been quick to note that there is no option of ceasing Ireland’s reliance on fossil fuels at present.

Fine Gael are stuck at an impasse. They desperately want the public to think they are bold and progressive on issues like climate change, but they cannot impose a carbon tax for fear of losing votes. They cannot tax corporations or meaningfully reduce our reliance on fossil fuels for fear of losing business. They cannot live up to a declaration of emergency.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan puts it like this: “This party have been two-faced when it comes to climate. They get out in the media and make great noise about their deep concern for our future but behind closed doors they support huge increases in emissions in transport, agriculture, and award licences to explore for oil and gas. We need solutions not soundbites.”

It would be a biting quote, if Leo Varadkar weren’t standing up in the Dáil and proudly admitting it to our faces.

Nine of the hottest years on record have been since 2005. The top five is comprised entirely of the past five years.

Global carbon emissions jumped to a record high in 2018, dashing hopes a plateau of recent years would be maintained. Just this week, it was announced that planet-warming CO2 levels in the earth’s atmosphere had reached the highest levels seen in 800,000 years.

A landmark United Nations report published last week reported that “thanks to human pressures, one million species may be pushed to extinction in the next few years, with serious consequences for human beings as well as the rest of life on Earth.”

David Attenborough is absolutely raging all of the time. The man is 93 years old and we can’t let him enjoy his retirement because of bullshit like this.

There’s a heatwave outside your door right now. Go and check. The planet is dying, and its leaders needed to take drastic action yesterday.

The only symbol Leo Varadkar is giving the future is two fingers.