Ireland will miss climate targets 'by more than expected'

John Fitzgerald: by 2014 it was clear that we were not going to meet our targets

The Citizens’ Assembly in the Grand Hotel Malahide discussed climate change this weekend. Photograph: Tom Honan

The Citizens’ Assembly in the Grand Hotel Malahide discussed climate change this weekend. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

Ireland is going to miss its 2020 emission targets by more than expected, the Citizens’ Assembly has been told.

Professor John FitzGerald, the chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council, warned the Government had underestimated the strength of the recovery in the economy.

He said it was clear Ireland was going to miss its emissions targets when the economy started to recover in 2013. “By 2014 it was clear that we were definitely not going to meet our targets, but nothing was done,” he told the assembly.

“I’m not happy, the council is not happy. The fact that we have not made decisions on new policies that are going to make a big impact in the last two years is disappointing.”

Ireland committed itself to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 by 20 per cent from the 2005 baseline, an EU target.

Prof FitzGerald told assembly members that Ireland’s emissions are set to rise between now and 2020 and not fall. This will lead to fines from the EU.

As a consequence Ireland is also a “very long way from our target” of reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

He criticised the recently published National Mitigation Plan as lacking commitment to concrete new policies and measures that would reduce emissions.

“We are a laggard not a leader,” he added. The members of the assembly are meeting for a second weekend to discuss how Ireland can be a leader in tackling climate change.

Prof FitzGerald said successive Government could have taken measures in the last decade to mitigate Ireland’s carbon emissions.

Currently the carbon tax which was introduced in 2010 prices carbon at €20 per tonne of carbon dioxide produced.

The Paris Climate Accord recommends a carbon tax price of between €35 and €70 a tonne.

Peat was being taxed at €36.67 a tonne although it is a more damaging fuel than coal which is taxed at €53.67 a tonne, he pointed out.

Prof FitzGerald said the Government could have followed the lead of the Northern Ireland executive which insulated all local authority homes under its control, ensuring that people on lower incomes are shielded from the costs of climate change.

He also said “uncontrolled development” and the lack of a proper spatial strategy meant people were commuting longer distances.

The Citizens’ Assembly also heard from an expert on climate change who said agriculture should not be exempt from paying for greenhouse gas emissions.

Professor Alan Matthews of Trinity College Dublin said taxing emissions from agricultural output could change behaviour.

“The problem is that the costs caused by the greenhouse gas emissions associated with agricultural production are not taken into account by farmers when deciding how much to produce, and this is wrong,” he said.

Irish farmers could reduce beef production considerably and not be materially worse off, he explained.

Beef farmers make no money from their output and only survive because of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments which would be available anyway if they switched to a less intense form of agriculture.

Beef production produces five times more greenhouse gases than pork or chicken production and 11 times that of staple crops such as potatoes and wheat.

He said there should be a greater emphasis on energy crops, forestry and anaerobic digestion.

Co Offaly farmer Tony Garahy told the assembly how his 10 acre organic vegetable enterprise at Lough Boora sustains the livelihood of seven people.

Mr Garahy started off with one acre and one polytunnel. He now has seven large polytunnels engaged in agricultural production.

He sells approximately two-thirds of his products through farmers’ markets, the rest through independent shops and selected restaurants.

Mr Garahy said the money generated by his farm stays in the community. “It has long been my view that what we have achieved can be replicated throughout the country,” he told assembly members.

“Our success is developing in developing local markets for organic produce comes with all the environmental benefits of organic farming,” he added.

“There are no chemical fertilizers or sprays damaging the soil or making their way into water courses. Converting land from chemical farming to organics offers part of the solution.

“It is a less intensive, low input farms to organics. It seems to me that the best way to care for the environment and respect the other creatures who share our space is to farm organically. I believe it is the only sensible way to farm.”