Taoiseach Micheál Martin has conceded the Government’s €125 billion Climate Action Plan will require people to agree to “a profound change” in lifestyle over the coming decade.
He said it will mean adaptations to homes, that workplaces and communities must all adapt and change. However, he added that if it is successful it will benefit this generation, and future generations, of Irish people.
Mr Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for Climate Change and Transport Eamon Ryan spoke at a press conference to mark the publication of the 200-page plan containing 475 actions designed to reduce greenhouse emissions in Ireland by 51 per cent by 2030.
However, while acknowledging that significant societal changes were required, the three leaders emphasised that the benefits could outweigh the sacrifices that may be expected.
“In terms of our public health and our overall quality of life, the plan has the potential to be transformational,” said Mr Martin.
“For some it will be difficult, but the simple truth is if we delay any further we will face greater costs and be able to seize fewer opportunities.”
Mr Varadkar said that Ireland was a small country but, per capita, was one of the highest emitters in the world. He said that before Ireland could have the moral authority to ask others to do it, “we must first do it ourselves.”
He portrayed the plan as offering each individual a choice over the next decade.
“It is not about coercing people. It’s about convincing people. It’s about bringing them along and getting them on board.
“Nobody’s going to be forced to buy electric vehicles (EVs) but when the time does come to change you car, we want to make sure that the balances of incentives and disincentives is right so that you make the decision to go electric.
“Nobody is going to force you to go out and insulate your home particularly when you can’t afford to do so. But again, we put in place the right incentives and disincentives to tip the balance in favour of making that decision over the course of the next few years...
“You’re still going to be able to fly but that’s going to be done with the help of synthetic fuels. And of course you’re still going to be able to farm.”
Mr Ryan said that transport, and its the ambition of having one million EVs by 2030, would be sector that would find it hardest to meet its targets.
He said the plan would allow an Ireland where it was “safe for children to walk and cycle to school, where food production is in harmony with nature...where rivers are once again pristine and the air we breath is pure.
“Change is never easy. There are serious obstacles ahead.”
It was confirmed that the overall budget for the plan was €125 billion but that was a mix of public and private funding. Mr Ryan said the National Development Plan had committed almost €45 billion to transport and climate change during this decade, but said the majority of the funding in the plan would be private - with the primary costs for individuals being the purchase of EVs and retrofitting their homes.
He said that the €360 million per annum for walking and cycling was crucial in terms of encouraging modal shifts (the plan aims that people will be encouraged to shift to taking 500,000 daily sustainable journeys by 2030) and reducing car dependency.
Mr Varadkar said today’s society had taken a century to build up to its present state but it would take a generation before these changes are made fully. “The heavy lifting has to be done between now and 2030,” he said.
Mr Martin defended the commitments on agriculture (which undertake to reduce emissions by between 22 per cent and 30 per cent) against claims they were not ambitious enough. He said there was an "obsession" with herd numbers and also argued that food production was important. When it was put to him that herd numbers have continued to increase and that emissions have also continued to increase, he replied that Ireland had one of the most efficient and sustainable food production systems in Europe.
“Agriculture will play its part ,” he said, “while maintaining food production.”
He later said that a reduction in chemical fertilisers, environmental incentives, tree planting, and change in land use would help in achieving the reductions in the biggest emitting sector.
He said the country needs to provide sustainable farming for young farmers and that “consumers will demand food product that has a low carbon”.
Mr Varadkar said that a mixture of grants, tax incentives and low-coast loans would be used to encourage people to buy EVs and also to improve energy efficiency in their homes.