Government climate plan is unrealistic, says eco-theologian

Government climate plan is unrealistic, says eco-theologian Columban Fr Seán McDonagh

The Government’s Climate Action Plan lacks vital practicalities and doesn’t allow for necessary incentives and infrastructural changes to enable Ireland to play its part in tackling the global climate emergency, Ireland’s leading eco-theologian has said.

“We’ve had so much of aspirational things for the last 25 years,” Columban Fr Seán McDonagh told The Irish Catholic, expressing scepticism about whether the Government has given sufficient thought to necessary infrastructural changes around transport, electricity and housing, Fr McDonagh said it’s vital also to have plans in place so areas hitherto dependent on, for example, peat processing would not become unemployment blackspots.

“What are we going to do in counties like Offaly, and what are we going to do in West Clare when Moneypoint is no longer working? Again, I want to want to see concrete proposals on how the people who work there are actually going to get work into the future,” he said.


Similar plans need to be in place for changing agricultural patterns, with the State helping people to, for example, retrofit houses to make them energy efficient, he added.

“I’m also not sure if they are going to help people, for example, to get good loans from the bank, in other words that you’re incentivised to do this, because on the one hand you’re putting out a bit of money, but then you’re not paying for your petrol or your kerosene. I’m not too sure if that’s thought through in this thing.”

While welcoming the plan’s rhetoric, Dr Ciara Murphy, Environmental Policy Officer with the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, said she fears that it “fundamentally underestimates the challenges we face, and the opportunities now open to us”.

“This plan takes Irish society as it is, and tinkers with it to make it more green.

“What we need is a much bigger imagination,” she said, with the JCFJ’s social theologian Dr Kevin Hargaden echoing her concern.

Commenting on how Pope Francis has warned against taking environmental action solely on the basis of financial calculations, he noted that the plan features the word ‘cost’ 171 times while promising from the outset that the plan envisages no extra Government spending.

“The present Government may not like to hear it,” he said, “but this plan falls well short of the scope of imagination we find in a papal teaching!”