Climate Change Advisory Council strongly criticises Government plan on climate

Ireland has the third highest emissions per capita for residential energy use in the EU

New measures should include a substantial increase in the carbon tax, and a phasing out of coal and peat for both residential heating and power generation. Photograph: Getty

New measures should include a substantial increase in the carbon tax, and a phasing out of coal and peat for both residential heating and power generation. Photograph: Getty

 

Ireland is not on track to meet its 2020 targets or to decarbonise its economy by 2050, according to the Climate Change Advisory Council.

In addition, the actions in the current National Mitigation Plan (NMP) published by the Government earlier this year are not sufficient to “put Ireland on a pathway to achieve our 2020 targets or our long term decarbonisation objective”, said council chair Prof John FitzGerald.

Ireland has the third highest emissions per capita for residential energy use in the EU, he said, reflecting high dependence on oil, coal and peat – while rising emissions over the past two years are occurring in the key sectors of agriculture, energy and transport.

The council’s review of emissions data shows Ireland’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – which contribute to global warming – increased by 3.7 per cent in 2015, illustrating that Ireland’s economy and emissions “have not been decoupled” – most EU economies have achieved this environmental target.

In its first annual review published on Tuesday, the council warns that “If Ireland does not introduce major new policies and measures it will miss its 2020 targets”. These targets are legally binding; a failure to achieve targets will result in large EU fines, estimated at up to €455 million.

On its current trajectory, Ireland will also miss the proposed 2030 EU decarbonisation targets and the objective of reducing emissions of CO2 by at least 80 per cent by 2050, the review finds.

Provisional GHG emissions data released last week by the EPA show continued increases in emissions across the Irish economy in 2016. Based on these figures and its data, the council says “the pace and scale of GHG reductions need to be accelerated across all sectors of the Irish economy”.

The council, an independent statutory body, is tasked with assessing Ireland’s progress on the long-term low-carbon transition to 2050, which it has committed to under the Paris agreement on climate change.

While the review found some progress had been made in the built environment and the energy sectors, Prof FitzGerald said: “Ireland is still over-reliant on fossil fuels. For example, Ireland has the third highest emissions per capita for residential energy use in the EU, reflecting high dependence on oil, coal and peat.”

He added: “This has significant implications for both GHG emissions and air quality, and it has significant negative impacts on health. A clear medium-term strategy to phase out fossil fuels in the electricity, transport and residential sectors is required.”

“There is an urgent requirement for new policies and measures, and action beyond what is committed to in the NMP if Ireland is to reduce emissions by 2020 and to move onto a sustainable path to 2050 to tackle climate change,” Prof FitzGerald said at a press briefing.

These new measures should include a substantial increase in the carbon tax, and a phasing out of coal and peat for both residential heating and power generation. In particular, the subsidy for peat-fired electricity generation should be ended, he said.

In transport, investments in public transport fleets should avoid fossil fuel lock-in while overall capital investment should be rebalanced away from roads towards public transport.

Incentivising the take-up of electric vehicles over the coming decade will be vital in moving Ireland to a sustainable growth path and it recommended an assessment of the adequacy of the current EV charging network – some measures were announced in the Budget to promote EV use, while Minister for Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten has announced additional support measures since.

Under transport the council highlights the need for improved planning to minimise commuting in the future. It concludes the agriculture sector needs to urgently adopt and implement cost-effective decarbonisation measures. “The goal of carbon neutrality (not to increase emissions) in the agriculture sector needs to be defined and policies put in place to achieve it.”

The council was established under the 2015 Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act. Its role is to review national climate policy and advise Government on how Ireland can move to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy and society by 2050.

The report is available for download atwww.climatecouncil.ie