“Systemic change” still needed despite 2020 emissions reduction

Published by Kayle Crosson on

3 July 2020

Despite a 9.5 per cent emissions reduction this year, Ireland will still fail to meet its 2030 climate targets in the absence of systemic change, a new state-commissioned analysis reveals.

The Economic & Social Research Institute (ESRI) released its environmental and economic impact assessment of COVID-19 and projected economy-wide emissions would fall by almost ten per cent, but noted that the reduction would be “short-lived” due to low energy prices pushing up demand and predicted emissions to rise once more in 2021. 

“This will lead to a failure to meet the Irish EU legally binding targets in 2030,” the report stated. 

In order to meet its binding EU emissions targets, Ireland would still need to put in “considerable effort” to reach its EU emission goals, according to co-author Dr Kelly de Bruin. 

“The results of the study underline the importance of having a well-designed government response policy package, which considers the unique economic and environmental challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis,” Dr de Bruin said. 

The report also found that GDP is expected to decrease by around 13 per cent  in 2020 as a result of the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis. 

The inequality gap is also expected to widen, the research institute found, but decreases “with the government stimulus package”.

Oil well silhouette Photo: Piqsels

The effect of low energy costs

Even factoring in a gradual economic recovery in 2021, low energy prices will result in increased emissions when compared to a pre-pandemic Business-as-Usual scenario outlined by the ESRI. 

Fossil fuel energy prices haven fallen to the lowest levels in nearly two decades, which leads to a softening of “negative economic impacts of the virus crisis” due to lower production costs and a lower import bill of energy commodities. 

If energy prices stay in the realm of low costs for the next decade compared to 2019 levels, cumulative emissions could climb to 4.7 per cent in 2025 and 3.2 per cent in 2025 and 2030 respectively, the research institute found. 

“These are exceptional circumstances” 

Crucially, the ESRI projects that Ireland will miss its 2020 and 2030 non-ETS emissions targets “by far”. 

Non-ETS emissions, under the EU Emissions Trading System, cover a wide-ranging group of emitters, including homes, cars, small businesses, and agriculture. 

The only sectors which are poised to finish off the year with increased emissions are the public services and agriculture, the latter of which continues to be Ireland’s highest emitting industry. 

“The reduction we’re seeing has been primarily due to transport. While there may be underlying reasons due to improved energy efficiency and better insulation, the systemic change hasn’t yet happened and agricultural emissions are still increasing,” climatologist John Sweeney told The Green News. 

The near double-digit reduction predicted by the ESRI has been brought about by “exceptional circumstances, and we would therefore hope that they’re not taken as indicative of changes that would be expected from any policy going forward,” Prof Sweeney continued. 

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Kayle Crosson

Kayle is a multimedia journalist focused on climate and environmental issues and contributes to The Irish Times and The Green News.