Budget 2024: Some solid steps, but on energy poverty missed opportunities 

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Reacting to the overall Budget 2024 package, Friends of the Earth welcomed some solid steps towards a cleaner, healthier future but expressed disappointment at some missed opportunities on energy poverty.

Earlier, Oisín Coghlan, chief executive of Friends of the Earth had described the new €3bn Climate and Nature Fund as a “landmark development” and a “substantial downpayment on a fair and fast transition to a zero pollution future”. (see here and below). 

On other measures in Budget 2024 Mr Coghlan commented:

On rooftop solar

“It’s great to hear 70,000 buildings now have solar panels and that households can now earn €400 a year from selling electricity without paying any tax. 

“On the other hand, a year ago the Government promised funding to make “every school a solar school” but it turns out not a single school has got panels yet. 

“Today they announced that schools will no longer have to pay VAT on panels but the Department of Education really has to get the finger out and start actually putting them on roofs."

On public transport fares

“It’s great that 24 and 25 year olds will now get half price public transport fares too and that the 20% fare cut for everyone has been extended for 2024. But those reductions should be made permanent."

On facilitating clean power

“It was good to hear Minister Donohoe announce ‘funding for the staffing of agencies to support the delivery of this critical target’ of 80% renewables in power system by 2030. This is something Friends of the Earth called for along with Wind Energy Ireland and Birdwatch. But most of the money is for MARA, the new Maratime Regulator and it’s not clear there’s enough there to get An Bord Pleanala up to speed.

On the National Parks and Wildlife Service

“It is good to see another 28% increase for the National Parks and Wildlife Service. It’s funding has more than doubled since 2020. But it’s still playing catch up on protecting nature and preventing wildlife crime the wilderness years where it budget was slashed during austerity. It needs years of increases to be strong enough to fulfil its mission”.

On energy poverty and retrofitting

“There is almost €400 million for upgrading homes to make them warmer and cheaper to run. But this Budget was a missed opportunity to really tackle energy poverty. 

"We pushed for people on the Working Family Payment to get the Fuel Allowance but that didn’t happen. Not only would it have helped people at real risk of poverty with their energy bills this winter, it would have made them eligible for the 100% free retrofits.

“Inexplicably, the Government still only plans to upgrade a quarter of the social housing stock it owns and manages by 2030. That means state owned housing won’t be upgraded any quicker than any other part of the national stock, despite the social and project management advantages of prioritising those homes. 

“Three in four people in a recent Ireland Thinks poll said the Government should upgrade all social homes by 2030. Instead, too much state support for upgrades is still going to Leo’s “people who get up early in the morning” and not enough to the people who really need it."

On the Climate and Nature Fund

"The establishment of an Infrastructure, Climate and Nature Fund is a landmark development that can help underpin climate action and nature restoration for years to come. 

"It means that whoever is in Government after the next election will have funds to invest in getting off fossil fuels and reducing pollution, no matter what happens to tax receipts. It’s not everything we need to fund a fair and fast transition but it is a substantial downpayment.

"It’s equally significant that whoever is in Government can only spend this money on climate and nature, increasing the chances of the policy consistency that households and businesses need to drive the transition to zero pollution. 

"Finally, it’s very welcome that this part of rainy day fund can be drawn down from 2026 given that when it comes to climate breakdown and biodiversity loss, the rainy day is already here."