Climate change: Nine ways Ireland can get its act together

Recommendations include expanding public transport and reducing oil use

Wind farm at Barna, near Scartaglen, Co Kerry. File photograph: Valerie O’Sullivan

Wind farm at Barna, near Scartaglen, Co Kerry. File photograph: Valerie O’Sullivan

 

The Climate Change Advisory Council, an independent body which advises the Government, has laid out a blueprint to ensure the country achieves big targets on climate action – especially in forcing down a rising curve of carbon emissions.

Ireland will only meet existing emissions reduction targets with “full and successful implementation of all measures in the Government’s climate action plan”, it says in its 2020 review.

There is no room for complacency – though it acknowledges “additional measures within the recent Programme for Government” that will play a vital role in meeting demanding 2030 targets.

So it believes a safety net is needed by considering implementation of additional measures “as a contingency for under performance of the measures within the climate action plan and for increased ambition under a new EU Climate Law”.

With that in mind, key steps it is now recommending are:

1 Just transition

Climate action policies, including those directed at households, must be consistent with “a just transition”; maximising economic and social opportunities. Decarbonisation costs must be fairly distributed across the population, ensuring those on lower incomes are not disadvantaged.

“Financial incentives are not the only motivator for climate action. Central to developing policies for Just Transition is continual public participation. This is challenging but is essential. Recognising the valuable role that communities, organisations and groups can play in tackling climate change challenges is a good platform for action.”

2 Public participation

Without citizen engagement, public acceptance of ambitious climate action diminishes. There needs to be a more coherent and focused approach to public participation on both mitigation (reducing emissions) and adaptation (building resilience to the inevitable impacts of global heating).

“Engaging the public and communities...should be an ongoing process, not a once off. Effort must also be made to reach beyond existing climate networks. Engagement with stakeholders and appropriate communication are important to build ownership and support for climate action.”

Although there was progress in early development of a national dialogue, “the impact has been somewhat limited and local in scope”. A more strategic approach to public engagement with a focus on awareness, participation and activation is required.

3 Adaptation

Successful adaptation is a key part of Ireland’s transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy and society. The Government must bring more coherence to how different adaptation plans and strategies are prioritised and funded; how the costs of extreme weather are assessed, how our cities are resourced to prepare and how they learn from the experiences of others. Furthermore, communities, businesses and households will need to take individual action to adapt.

4 Carbon tax

Carbon tax should be raised to €35 per tonne of CO2 equivalent in Budget 2021 and rise to €100 per tonne by 2030. It delivers long-term emissions reductions. Negative impacts on the poorest households should be offset by effective use of the carbon tax revenue.

5 Innovation and research

Continued funding for research and innovation is crucial to ensure we have technologies, tools and measures to help reduce emissions; enhance our carbon sinks and manage climate change impacts. “Maintaining alignment with EU strategy, for example in green hydrogen (produced from renewable sources), and ‘farm-to-fork’, is likely to enable access to EU funding to pilot or trial climate solutions at an appropriate scale.”

Electric vehicle charging point in Dublin city centre. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
Electric vehicle charging point in Dublin city centre. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

6 Transport

Additional measures will be essential if new Government and EU ambitions are to be realised, backed by “a suite of additional measures to provide contingency options if progress falters”.

To reduce emissions in the long term and achieve 2050 goals, focus must be on appropriate location of residential and commercial development.

Ireland’s dispersed settlement pattern and lack of co-ordinated transport and land-use planning in the past has resulted in “many people living remote from frequent public transport, creating conditions of forced car ownership and high usage. Better planning at local and regional level can support walking and cycling and improve access to public transport”.

Rapid uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) is central to emissions reductions by 2030. This could impose a high burden on the Exchequer, and depends on favourable developments in the car market. Instead, targeted subsidies should be combined with other policy instruments, including disincentives for conventional vehicle ownership and use.

EV incentives must be better targeted towards those with high usage including commercial and public service providers, and small- and medium-size enterprises. “Similarly focussing fiscal support on rural communities, where high usage and alternative means of transport are not available, will deliver more cost-effective reduction in emissions.”

Investment in public transport modes, and associated infrastructure and networks, will be essential to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The BusConnects programme “is a critical component”. The benefits of investment in public transport on reducing emissions can be enhanced by related investment in active transport modes (cycling and walking).

‘CAP income support payments should better support and encourage farmers to reduce emissions, including through reducing animal numbers’. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
‘CAP income support payments should better support and encourage farmers to reduce emissions, including through reducing animal numbers’. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

7 Agriculture and land

Absolute emissions in agriculture and land use have increased relative to 2005. Even with the policies and measures envisaged under the climate action plan, projections for the sector to 2040 “show limited progress towards emissions reduction”.

A separate target should be set for methane emissions arising from farming “consistent with the objective of carbon neutrality and Ireland’s contribution to achieving the global objectives of the Paris Agreement”.

CAP income support payments should better support and encourage farmers to reduce emissions, “including through reducing animal numbers and/or using their land more profitably, while providing additional positive environmental outcomes”.

New policies should encourage and enable higher rates of afforestation and improved management of high-carbon soils, including peatlands. The role of farmers in management of carbon stocks must be acknowledged; they should be “incentivised to adopt measurable and verifiable practices that sequester carbon”.

There should be constructive engagement with the EU farm-to-fork strategy initiative, to help achieve emissions reduction and other environmental benefits such as improved water quality, while reducing nitrogen use.

Invest in innovation, research and knowledge transfer to enable climate sustainability and resilience of Irish agriculture and land use.

8 Built environment

Focus first on eliminating the most carbon-intensive fuels from space and water heating, followed by phasing out oil. The cost and number of buildings requiring deep retrofit means that government supports must be prioritised to vulnerable households and then households where emissions are highest.

Private households will benefit in comfort and energy savings from retrofit and will be incentivised by an increased carbon tax.

Current plans to scale up retrofitting investment while facilitating household participation must take account of the behavioural obstacles to transforming the built environment. Addressing capital constraints and deployment of innovative funding options will be crucial.

9 Electricity and industry

Decarbonising energy supplies is crucial to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. This is already apparent with EVs and electric heating systems. Progress needs to be maintained in decarbonising the electricity sector with a new strategic approach to “zero carbon fuels”.

Offshore wind could play an important role. There has been limited progress in this industry with no long-term plan in place. A strengthened EU emissions trading system, including “a carbon price floor”, could deliver the transition needed here.