Throughout 2023, TASC has worked with Codema, Dublin’s Energy Agency, to understand the impacts that a transition to net zero could have on communities in Dublin. Net zero represents a scenario whereby the amount of emissions that are created is balanced by an equal amount removed from the atmosphere, primarily through natural resources like trees and forests, alongside carbon capture technologies. The phrase net zero is becoming evermore prominent due to its presence within statements from government bodies and businesses focusing on emission reduction targets. An example of this is the Irish Government’s commitment to achieve net zero by 2050. The growing focus on net zero can also be seen in the media, particularly within outlets that are opposed to undertaking climate action. Net zero has fast become a phrase, similar to the idea of 15-minute cities or ‘wokeness’, that conservative politicians and spokespeople use to argue against climate policy based on the perception that these novel concepts will reduce individual freedom and result in a form of ‘green authoritarianism’. While these viewpoints may be based on a determination to retain status quo structures of power, it is critical to ensure that climate policies are applied in a manner which places justice at the centre of decision-making processes. If the move away from fossil fuels and conventional approaches to agriculture, among other areas requiring change, creates uncertainty and worsens inequality, it is plausible that there will be a backlash against climate policy, thereby emboldening opponents of climate action.
Low-income communities and marginalised groups are particularly at risk of being negatively impacted by well-intended policies that fail to consider how certain groups will be disproportionately impacted by changes, namely carbon taxes, which increase the cost of using fossil fuels in areas such as heating and transport. Policies must be developed to align with the idea of a just transition. A just transition emphasises the need to move to a sustainable future in an inclusive manner, whereby the necessary support needed to assist groups who will be impacted the most by climate action is provided.
To understand what communities in Dublin could be most at risk of an unjust transition to net zero, TASC researchers analysed 2016 census data to identify several factors that could help pinpoint communities that could be particularly vulnerable to changes relating to net zero. The first factor considered was socio-economic characteristics, namely having a high proportion of marginalised groups such as older people, migrants, members of the traveller community, and long-term unemployed. The second factor was housing in terms of the age of the housing stock, the different forms of home ownership and tenancy and the forms of energy used to heat homes. The final factor considered was connectivity relating to access to public transport.
Upon completing this mapping exercise, the next step was to engage with community members in vulnerable communities to gain insight into their thoughts towards the benefits and challenges of net zero. Interviews and focus groups were conducted with community members in Ballymun, Beaumont, Coolock and Darndale. Each area is located on the northern edges of Dublin City in the Dublin 5, Dublin 9 and Dublin 17 area.
A central theme that emerged was the challenge of achieving net zero due to the current cost-of-living crisis. Due to increases in the cost of essential goods, community members described how their ability to invest in energy efficiency measures such as retrofitting or installing solar panels was limited. In the area of transport, the lack of safe cycle lanes and accessibility to public transport were viewed as factors impacting people’s ability to reduce dependence on private cars. Furthermore, the lack of electric vehicle charging points was one reason people would be unwilling to transition to EVs.
While community members identified several barriers to achieving net zero, they also spoke of the benefits it could have for their community. The most common response was the benefits that a move to cleaner energy and transport would have on air quality and the health of community members. There was also a sense that the move to cleaner energy would result in long-term financial benefits. In terms of actions that can help communities transition to net zero, the importance of financial support was highlighted as critical. This included the need for different incentives based on individuals’ circumstances, such as whether they are homeowners, renting privately or renting from a Local Authority. Participants also spoke of the benefits of communicating the transition via word of mouth. Central to this was the potential for people who have undertaken a change to explain their experiences to others. Aligned with this was the need for information to come from organisations that are viewed as trusted sources. These include organisations that are already closely connected to communities, such as family resource centres and civic centres, alongside experts in the area of sustainability.
The report on understanding the impacts of a transition to net zero on communities in Dublin highlights that while communities are aware of the benefits of net zero both environmentally and financially, achieving net zero will depend on providing adequate support for communities to achieve these goals. Aligned with TASC’s People’s Transition model, for climate action to be enduring, it must be inclusive. If decision-makers fail to provide the financial and informational support necessary to support the transition to climate action, net zero may be viewed as a further burden being placed on communities, particularly those who are disproportionately impacted by the cost-of-living crisis.
TASC would like to thank Codema for their collaboration on this report. Further information on Zero Together, a Codema-led initiative which aims to create and deliver a shared vision and strategy for a fossil fuel-free Dublin that is ambitious and inclusive, can be found on their website.
The full report can be accessed here.
Kieran is a senior researcher at TASC focusing on issues surrounding climate justice. he has a BA in Geography and Politics and International Relations from UCD and an MSc in Environmental Policy from UCD. Kieran is currently completing a PhD with UCD, Teagasc and BiOrbic, the national bioeconomy research centre. The title of Kieran’s thesis is ‘A farmer-centred approach to understanding the Irish bioeconomy in the context of just transition’. The aim of Kieran’s study is to identify measures which can facilitate the involvement of economically vulnerable agricultural sectors in the bioeconomy.