Climate change: Ireland’s pace of action ‘not acceptable given existential threat’, watchdog warns

Government will not meet its legally-binding targets unless ‘urgent action taken’

Wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes

The pace at which the Government is implementing agreed climate policy “is not acceptable, given the existential threat and impact” climate change is having on society, an independent watchdog has warned.

The Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) said Ireland would not meet its legally-binding climate targets set in the first and second carbon budget periods up to 2030 “unless urgent action is taken immediately and emissions begin to fall much more rapidly”.

In its annual review the council said: “2023 is a critical year for delivery of Ireland’s national climate action and ... we must see emissions fall consistently if we are to meet our national and EU legal obligations in full and on time.”

Its warning coincides with publication of an analysis by scientists with the organisation World Weather Attribution that indicates extreme heatwaves, such as those occurring in southern Europe, are set to become hotter, more frequent and longer due to climate change.


This will impact across the northern hemisphere if greenhouse gas emissions are not rapidly cut, its evaluation of recent global weather patterns shows.

With global temperatures set to continue to increase until significant action is taken, “this will lead to more extreme weather events in Ireland such as heatwaves, droughts, storms and flooding,” the CCAC predicts.

Amid soaring temperatures on the Continent, the battle to contain wildfires across Greece continued for a seventh day yesterday as firefighters struggled to extinguish blazes amid scenes of pandemonium prompted by the nation’s biggest evacuation of tourists on Rhodes.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said his department had received queries from “quite a number of Irish nationals” on the affected Greek islands and that “everything we can [do] logistically to help facilitate people to leave safely” would be done.

While the CCAC recognised milestones including the adoption of carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings, it said “not enough has been done to address the gap between climate action and ambition” in Ireland.

The Government must address areas of uncertainty in how Ireland will reduce its emissions, it said. Sectoral emissions ceilings must be set for the land use, land use change and forestry sector, it said, “and it must be clear by how much each sector has to reduce its emissions”.

The Environmental Protection Agency confirmed recently that Ireland reduced its emissions last year by a small margin – 1.9 per cent – with progress undermined by surging transport emissions. Agriculture emissions fell by 1.2 per cent driven by reduced fertiliser use, but this was countered by an increase in dairy cow numbers.

The agency warned that Ireland would achieve a reduction of only 29 per cent in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, far short of a legally-binding target of 51 per cent that is core to the Government’s climate policy.

The CCAC sets out actions “to prevent longer term damage and increased costs to society and the economy” such as redesigning motor tax to promote energy efficient vehicles, increasing use of parking levies, and updating building regulations to increase use of timber, lower-carbon cement and concrete in construction.

The council says rapid and far-reaching transitions are necessary “to achieve deep and continuous emissions reductions and to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all”. These include “new approaches to address emissions reductions, creating investment and enhancing skills across the economy, particularly in retrofitting and renewable energy”.

Marie Donnelly, the council’s chair, said it was “extremely concerned” that clarity regarding emissions for some sectors “may arrive too late to provide necessary signals” to all about their obligations to 2030 and beyond.

“If we are to achieve our targets this needs to be clarified urgently to enable sectors to prepare their approach to ensure they comply with their targets in the future,” she said.

The CCAC says the Government must build and maximise public support for climate action, ensuring a just transition, while leveraging actions already in place where higher ambition or quicker delivery would positively impact change.

Feasible, effective and low-cost options for mitigation and adaptation are already available including roll-out of district heating, onshore wind development and community-based restoration of coastal environments – and they must be implemented now,” Ms Donnelly said.

“Strong leadership from Government is required to make the difficult decisions that are needed to deliver systemic change throughout our economy and society. Key to this is effective and consistent engagement with communities, ensuring a fair and equitable transition, while building and maintaining public support and action. We all have a role to play.”

Friends of the Earth head of policy Jerry MacEvilly said in response to the report: “We welcome the Council’s latest assessment that ‘Ireland is vulnerable and needs to plan for this climate volatility, and for a future based on a significant and rapid reduction in the use of fossil fuels’.”

“The Council’s analysis on the risks of households becoming locked into the gas network is striking: we strongly support their recommendation that the connection of homes to the gas network and installation of fossil fuel heating ‘needs to be phased out urgently’,” he added.

It was particularly important that the Government also responds to the call to significantly increase retrofitting of low-income housing through increased funding for local authorities and the SEAI. “We agree with their conclusion that this is as a clear ‘no regret’ measure with benefits not just for climate but also for combating energy poverty and reducing reliance on expensive, polluting fossil fuels,” Mr MacEvilly said.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times