Manifesto Watch: SocDems on climate and biodiversity

Source: Greennews.ie

February 6th, 2020

As we enter the final days of the election cycle, we are asking where the parties stand on climate and biodiversity. Next up, we delve into the Social Democrat’s manifesto, starting with its well-thought out biodiversity policy.

Biodiversity

The Social Democrats have outlined a very comprehensive
biodiversity plan
, only rivalled by the Green Party in
terms of both ambition and concrete actionable measures.

Party policies include the voluntary purchase of
unprofitable farmland for converting to native woodland. This would help to achieve
the party’s other goal of connecting and doubling the size of protected nature
reserves across the island.

The party also wants to bring in new legislation to improve
urban biodiversity, expand wildlife corridors across the country, and examine
upstream natural based solutions for flood relief.

It also plans to provide “significant state funding” for the
conservation of endangered and vulnerable native species, as well as providing
additional resources to monitor and tackle invasive species.

The establishment of a Wildlife Crime Unit within An Garda Siochana, the protection of existing hedgerows and trees in the planning process, and the potential eliminating of non-agricultural pesticide use also form part of the Social Democrats ambitious plan.

Children’s Rally for Climate Action Photo: Kayle Crosson

Climate targets, Just Transition and Energy

The party aims to halve Ireland’s emissions by 2030 in line with the EU’s goal for higher ambition and places the Just Transition as central to its approach to the climate emergency and, like several parties on the left, are in favour of setting up a Just Transition Task Force.

The party wants to ring-fence income from carbon taxes to fund the retrofitting homes, improve electric vehicle infrastructure, and other low carbon measures of benefit to all income brackets.  

It wants to establish
a new Offshore Wind Development Agency to attract investment in the sector, as
well as grant-aiding small-hydro schemes with a focus on community-led
projects. It will also support current grants for solar panel installation but
does not indicate if it plans to offer more ambitious funding or feed-in
tariffs in the future.

The party would uphold
the national ban on fracking, legislate to block fracked gas imports, support
the phase out of peat-burning power stations (although there is no date set), and
also wants to reduce, but not end, subsidies for non-renewables over the next
five years.

Unlike most other parties
on the left, the SocDems are vaguer on a rapid transition away from fossil
fuels and acknowledges a “need to continue the use of fossil fuels in the
interim” and would phase out offshore drilling for oil and gas.

Transport

The manifesto outlines the party’s desire to bring Ireland
closer in line with our European counterparts in terms of public and active transport
infrastructure, including rebalance proposed spending in the National
Development Plan (NDP) away from road infrastructure and toward public
transport, including improved funding for the expansion of public bus fleets.

The party wants funds generated through greater than
expected corporation tax or any possible Apple dividend to be ring-fenced for the
“game-changer” DART Underground project. According to the manifesto, meeting
this demand will be a condition of entering any future Government.

Charges for school transport will be abolished and the party
also wants to reduce public transport fares and to examine alternative no or low-fare
models that are in place in other EU states.  It would also oppose any attempt to privatise
bus routes and wants to put an extra €80 million into the Local Link rural small,
community-based bus service. The current budget is €21m.

Cycling is also a key part of the party’s transport policy, including
a significant improvement in funding to equal 10 per cent of the land transport
budget and for 20 per cent of the overall transport capital budget to go to cycling
and walking. Appropriate segregation lanes, better enforcement and training, support
for active transport to schools, and more greenways and urban bike schemes are
also included in the manifesto.

The party also wants all new major developments to have adequate provision for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and a new public transport policing unit set up.

Rooftop Solar Photo: skeeze

Housing

Like the Greens,
the party also wants to bring forward legislate to stop land hoarding by introducing
a site value tax. The SocDems would ensure that the tax is set at an annual
rate that exceeds inflation in land values in that local authority.

The SocDems also
want extensive residentially zoned public land to be made available to public
authorities to build homes that are affordable following the O’Cualann model in
Ballymun where the company built community-orientated, energy efficient homes
at an affordable price.

The manifesto outlines
plans to expand existing retrofitting grant schemes and introduce a
pay-as-you-save home insulation loan scheme. The party also strongly supports district
heating options such as the proposal to use excess heat from the Poolbeg Incinerator
to supply energy to homes and businesses that will be built on the nearby former
glass bottle factory site.

Waste

The party has a
fairly strong mandate on cracking down on illegal dumping and would establish higher
targets for household and business recycling and compost bin services, as well
as setting higher food waste targets. It would also review of the effectiveness
of the Repak Scheme in terms of how we approach waste and the respective roles
of producers, retailers and consumers.

Funding would be
reinstated to develop recycling centres, and the party would support the creation
of more social enterprises such as the Rediscovery Centre, Food Cloud, and
Recreate Ireland and other charities and businesses working to advance a circular
economy model.

The manifesto also
outlines plans to provide better consumer information on recycling and bring in
regulations to ensure that anything sold with a recyclable label can be
recyclable in-country. A levy on plastics that cannot be readily recycled here
would also be introduced, and a deposit-return scheme introduced (similar to
the scheme proposed by the Green Party).

It would set down a new environmental levy on aggregates extracted for the construction industry and encourage the recycling of aggregates and more sustainable use of our natural resources.

Calves touching ceiling with their heads during live export Photo: AWF

Agriculture

On agriculture, the
party would support a move away from intensive monoculture farming, and to support
a fair and simpler CAP which ensures more farm payments targeted towards
low-income farmers. It would also further develop horticulture and organic
farming, but does not mention its position on any possible reduction of
livestock numbers.

It wants to ensure
biodiversity is protected on farm, and would increase funding to farmers in
Areas of Natural Constraint and Special Areas of Conservation. The party would
also formalise walking routes through commonages in the uplands and greenway
programmes (pending public consultation processes).

The party does
favour a ban on live exports of animals to countries with poor animal welfare
protections, although there are issues with conditions of livestock exported to
other EU states. The party is also against fox-hunting and fur-farming and
would aim to improve animal welfare standards.

On fisheries, it would introduce marine protected areas to cover certain nurseries for species which are still below maximum sustainable yield and work towards an EU-wide ban on super-trawlers

Enforcement and transparency

The party would ensure
that the EPA and Local Authorities meet their responsibilities in terms of only
allowing waste operations on suitable sites and under strict and enforceable
conditions.

While not explicitly
focused on climate or biodiversity, the Social Democrats have outlined
extensive plans to strengthen transparency in decision-making from public
authorities that would greatly reinforce environmental rules and regulations
and ensure poor planning and policy decisions are scrutinised or do not even
occur in the first place.

For example, the
party wants to introduce an Oireachtas Committee vetting procedure for all senior
appointments to public bodies to ensure that appointments are made on the basis
of merit, suitability and qualification rather than political connection. In
addition, the party would reform the Ministers and Secretaries Act to make
senior civil servants accountable for their actions.

In addition, it
would introduce an e-governance platform and publish extensive open source data,
and bring in a clear and transparent system of resource allocation that is based
on objective, pre-constructed and evidence-based criteria.

The party would also end the practise of no minute taking at official meetings to ensure the public can have access to accurate records of key government decisions and actions, and also ensure that lobbying activities are more closely scrutinised.

About the Author

Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London

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