Call for intensive effort to set sectoral limits on emissions

Chairman of Climate Change Advisory Council says reducing emissions while enhancing farmer incomes is realisable

The scale of effort required to bring in Ireland's first climate budget should not be underestimated if it is to be fit for purpose and begin a process of decarbonising Ireland, according to Prof John FitzGerald.

If climate budgets were to work properly in introducing sectoral limits on emissions across the economy, an intensive research effort over a year was necessary, the chairman of the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) told the 2020 Environment Ireland conference. In the UK, this required the input of 20 to 30 experts, he noted.

The Government plans to have the first budget in place next year, but he believed early 2022 was a more realistic target.

The extent to which the EU was embracing climate action could be a game-changer, Prof Fitzgerald believed, but he was nervous its proposals would not get through.


While there was an indication Ireland was stepping up climate ambition in the programme for government, “it is not clear what new actions are envisaged”.

On agriculture, Prof FitzGerald said reducing emissions while enhancing farmer incomes was realisable, but Common Agricultural Policy reforms needed to incentivise farmers to decarbonise and they should be rewarded for capturing CO2 in woodland.

While methane arising from farming was short-lived, “a substantial reduction would make a big difference on global warming”.

On retrofitting, he suggested prioritising houses using coal and peat as this would provide an early win in decarbonising Ireland.

While increased electrification would play a big role, he favoured using hydrogen, especially with heavy goods transport, and deploying unused wind energy to manufacture the fuel.

People living in rural areas would benefit most from the rollout of electric vehicles, he said, but supporting infrastructure had to be in place. A marketplace shift would be indicated when there was widespread availability of second-hand EVs.


Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan said a lot of progress was made in recent years. “We have done a lot of the groundwork, but [Irish] emissions are actually still increasing.”

There were good plans before; now there was a structure in the Bill for implementation to meet the carbon budget and to embark on a revolution that will be “as big as the industrial revolution or the digital revolution of recent years”.

For this to happen Ireland’s international focus on climate justice had to be extended to home by way of “a societal project” protecting affected workers and the most vulnerable.

How emissions reductions were to be achieved needed to be set out; “we can’t have the backloading of emissions reductions to the second half of this decade,” he added.

Strengthening expertise on the CCAC was overdue; the absence of climate scientists was notable. “We think it’s like having Nphet with no epidemiologists.”

Given climate change was already “ravaging the world”, he wished to borrow an Irish expression and ask: “Is there any hope on climate change, or are we just fecked?”

Activist Greta Thunberg had provided the answer, he noted, when aged 15 she said the one thing needed more than hope was action, and "once we start to act, hope is everywhere" .


The need to make places and communities climate-resilient to withstand inevitable climate disruption was underlined by Prof Conor Murphy of Maynooth University.

Focusing on reducing emissions – mitigation – with insufficient attention to adaptation could result in far-reaching impacts on landscape, including loss of place and solace. In Ireland this would be a consequence of more intense storms, increased flooding, more drought and sea level rise.

As a consequence adaptation was more than an engineering issue: impact on local environments and the whole of society needed to be factored in.

He cited the example of the Courtown beach in Co Wexford he remembered from his childhood. It has been lost due to climate change.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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