30 September 2020
Ireland will fail to meet its EU 2020 climate targets and “huge efforts” will be needed to meet existing 2030 targets, the Climate Change Advisory Council has said.
According to its Annual Review 2020, overall national emissions showed no significant change in 2018. There was a 10 per cent reduction in the electricity sector, which the Council attributes to reduced operating hours at Money Point.
The coal-powered plant was offline for maintenance periods in 2018 and 2019 and that led to a temporary reduction for the sector.
Other sectors however, have failed to deliver emission reductions on the scale required, and some sectors, such as agriculture, even saw increases in their emission contributions.
In the background of failed emission reductions was the fact that 2019 clocked in as the ninth consecutive year with temperatures “above normal” according to the report and the winter of 2018/2019 was the warmest on record in almost 120 years.
Therefore, meeting the challenge at hand will require drastically reducing emissions by following a long-term blueprint and preparing for current and future worsening climate extremes.
The need for a long-term strategy
Any strategy the Government puts forward must be a long-term strategy, according to Chair of the Council Professor John Fitzgerald, and it must map out “cost-effective pathways to decarbonisation after 2030”.
Without such a pathway, Prof Fitzgerald said, it would be impossible to “assess what needs to be done”.
Additionally, the Council noted, the Government should implement additional policy measures “as a contingency for under performance” of the 2019 Climate Action Plan and for increased ambition under a new EU Climate Law which could consolidate a net-zero emissions target for 2050.
Current national policy is a 80 per cent reduction by 2050, but the Programme for Government has upped the figure to a net-zero target by the same year, therefore further ambitious action would be needed, the Council concluded.
EPA Director General and Climate Change Advisory Council Member Laura Burke stressed that there is an “important caveat” to recent projections that Ireland can meet future targets under the Climate Action Plan and that is the full implementation of all the measures listed.
One of the key messages from the Review, Ms. Burke went on to say is that “we’re relying on one-offs” in relation to Money Point maintenance periods and pandemic measures-induced emission reductions.
“We need to move into action across all sectors, and then we’ll see sustained reductions rather than what we’re seeing at the moment,” she added.
In order to meet the challenge, the Climate Change Advisory Council issued a number of policy recommendations in its Review.
First named in the document itself is the need for a Just Transition. The costs of decarbonisation must be “fairly distributed across the population, ensuring that those on lower incomes are not disadvantaged”.
Notably in the same paragraph, The authors label a “dialogue of blame” for emissions as an inappropriate approach as it does not “foster cooperation”.
Speaking at the Review’s Launch, John Fitzgerald stressed that coming out and telling individuals they’re doing a bad job “doesn’t help” help improve outcomes.
“A blame game is not what this is at. There are a lot of opportunities that are there and helping people do the right thing through a range of measures is important,” he said.
With a recommendation of a carbon tax increase to 35 euro per tonne for the 2021 Budget, the Council says that revenue generated from the tax should be used to offset its negative impacts.
The Government should then pursue further incremental increases towards 100 per tonne by 2030 as set out in the Programme for Government.
The financial sector in Ireland must understand, assess and communicate its climate-related risks in a coordinated way, in areas such as insurance provision, Professor John Fitzgerald said at the Review’s launch.
A more “coherent and focused approach” to public participation in terms of both mitigation and adaptation is needed, the Council stressed, and that “efforts must also be made to reach beyond existing climate networks”.
Agriculture, Transport and Heating
Agriculture, Ireland’s largest emitting sector, saw increased emissions relative to fifteen years ago and even with the Climate Action Plan, the Review finds that there will be “limited progress” towards its emissions reductions up to 2040.
The Council has recommended setting a separate target for biogenic methane emissions and for the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy income support payments to encourage farmers to reduce emissions.
Such measures agriculture could take would be through reducing animal numbers and/or “using their land more profitably”, while providing additional positive environmental outcomes that sequester carbon.
Another large emitting sector of the economy is transport, and the Review notes that it will be “challenging” to meet Climate Action Plan targets in relation to the sector.
Therefore, additional measures will be “essential” if new Government and EU ambitions are to be realised.
Better planning at local and regional level to support walking and cycling and improved access to public transport will be key to reducing transport emissions.
In relation to electric vehicle uptake, the Council is calling for targeted subsidies to be combined with disincentives for conventional vehicle ownership and use.
Carbon intensive fuels, such as coal and peat, must be eliminated from building heating systems followed by a phase-out of oil, according to the Review.
The cost and number of buildings requiring deep retrofit means that government support “must be prioritised to vulnerable households” and then to households where emissions are highest.
In regards to the electricity sector, an area where there has been some progress, the success must be maintained and a more strategic approach is needed for zero carbon fuels.
The role of offshore wind, the Council observed, could be “very important”.
A key component of a transition to a climate-resilient economy will be successful adaptation, and it was something that was not adequately addressed in the Programme for Government, according to Prof Fitzgerald.
More coherence is needed in relation to how different adaptation plans are funded, how extreme weather costs are assessed, and how urban areas are resourced to prepare, the report concluded.