The Government’s failure to finalise a long-term climate strategy, address planning regulations for solar panels and decide how to phase out fossil-fuel heating from public buildings are among 116 climate action measures not delivered on time.
They are listed in the first progress report on Ireland’s Climate Action Plan 2021, which was published on Thursday.
Although 307 of 423 (73 per cent) measures met deadlines between last October and the end of March, the report is critical of several “high impact” measures that fell short.
Others include the publication of a public sector delivery strategy; a review of planning guidelines for electric vehicle charging infrastructure; increasing participation in forestry schemes; and finalising a policy statement on petrol and gas exploration.
Around one third of the 116 delayed actions missed have been put down to “minor delays” and were expected to be dealt with in the second quarter of this year. The varied reasons for delays include administrative setbacks often related to procurement; “capacity constraints” including resourcing; the need for public consultation; and the slow delivery of legislation.
“There is a need to overcome these delays in keeping with the urgency of emissions-reduction efforts and legally-binding carbon budgets, the first of which must be met by 2025,” the report notes. Overall, Ireland has committed to reducing emissions by 51 per cent by 2030.
The progress update also acknowledges many longer-term measures “will take years to realise”, including tree planting, changes in planning, retrofitting and the development of transport infrastructure.
“Any delays in early steps or measures must be rectified to reduce negative knock-on effects,” it said.
The Department of Environment, Climate and Communications had the highest number of “delayed actions” of all Government departments at 42. While it also had the highest overall level of actions due (102) and the second highest number of completed actions, its delivery rate was just 59 per cent, the lowest of 15 departments.
“The actions achieved so far in the 2021 Climate Action Plan set us on the right path towards emissions reduction but will also lead to a number of social and economic benefits for people across Ireland,” Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said.
The report noted a number of measures that were delivered have “significant potential for emissions reduction”. Such high-impact moves included the implementation of “targeted social welfare measures” to prevent fuel poverty and support a so-called just transition; a capital programme supporting the retrofit of public buildings; and awarding a contract to replace 78,000 lights in the southwest region.
Similarly, a climate toolkit for businesses was launched, as was the SEAI National Retrofit Scheme, pitched as a “one stop shop” to drive the delivery of homes with B2 or better energy ratings.
The report also cites the second phase implementation of Dublin’s new Bus Connects corridors, and the submission of a draft Common Agricultural Policy Strategic Plan to the European Commission.
Oisín Coghlan, of Friends of the Earth, said the update, and future versions, as useful in keeping Government departments focused on delivering the climate commitments.
“But there are limits to the report too. The fact that an action has been [listed as] delivered doesn’t actually mean it has been done as well as possible or will actually reduce pollution,” he said. “For example, the Department of Agriculture has a higher percentage of its actions delivered than the Department of Environment, and yet we know it is agriculture that is holding out for the easiest 2030 target possible in the negotiations to allocate the emissions budget between sectors.
“The test that really counts will be whether we start to see emissions reduce radically across all sectors in the next few years.”
Sinn Féin’s climate spokesperson Senator Lynn Boylan called for immediate action to address what she considered to be slow progress. “The gap between the Government’s rhetoric and climate action continues to widen. The pathway to a sustainable future gets steeper and steeper with every progress report. The Government must outline how it is going to make up lost ground.”