A wide range of failures in the Government's response to the climate crisis have been highlighted by the Climate Change Advisory Council in its review of the year.
It warns that these failings heighten the risk that critical targets for the period to 2030 will not be met, especially in terms of reducing carbon emissions.
The independent body identifies “a significant gap between climate action policy and climate action delivery”. It singles out “the lack of a long-term emissions reduction strategy”, delays in implementing the 2019 climate-action plan and missed emissions reduction targets last year.
The council emphasises the urgency required in shifting from planning to action, to reduce emissions and the need to put Ireland on track to achieve climate neutrality and climate resilience by 2050.
“Such ‘implementation gaps’ underline the importance of a continued and deepening focus on climate governance in Ireland and the need to further institutionalise implementation, monitoring and evaluation of climate action,” it said.
To be resilient to a changing climate, the council warns that a much greater focus must be given across Government to climate-change adaptation to prepare for inevitable impacts. It said there was little evidence found of the necessary responses in individual departments, as highlighted in the council’s “adaptation scorecard” which rated their performance.
The climate-action plan published earlier this year needs to be implemented in full and on time, it says. Focusing on implementation is made more difficult by the fact that the “annual transition statement for 2020” is overdue; the long-term emissions reduction strategy remains outstanding and the detailed climate-action plan “annex of actions” has not yet been published.
The council acknowledges positive steps in efforts to reduce emissions and mitigate the impact of climate-change mitigation and in building resilience to inevitable impacts from global heating, but it says there remains “a significant gap between climate action planning and climate action implementation”.
Council chairwoman Marie Donnelly said: "Ireland's failure to meet its targets is due to not matching the ambition of plans with timely and complete delivery of actions . . . many of the measures in the original 2019 climate action plan have been delayed.
“The time-lag between policy development, implementation and actual emissions reduction means that unless Government takes action now, we will be unable to meet our targets in future years.”
It also meant implementation of carbon budgets to curb emissions across all sectors published by the council in October “will be unachievable, if this pattern within Irish climate policy is not overcome”.
Greater action is also needed to address the current and future impacts of climate change on Ireland’s economy, society and environment through adaptation, it adds.
The “flood risk management” and “water quality and water services infrastructure” sectors have implemented the most substantial adaptation plans, but the council found little progress in the areas of “health” and “communications networks”.
Electricity demand is going to increase significantly in coming years but so far, it concludes, there is only limited progress in building the resilience of the “electricity and gas networks” sector to climate impacts.
"Climate change adaptation will be vital in order to protect our environment and society against changes in extreme temperatures, droughts and intense rainfall events. The council has found that some sectors are more prepared than others, but overall there remains a real need for more meaningful leadership and co-ordination regarding adaptation across Government," it notes.
The council was unable to give the highest score for adaptation progress to any sector.
“The journey to climate neutrality will be challenging for everyone, but we must ensure Government supports target poorer households and those whose livelihoods currently rely on carbon-intensive economic activities,” said Ms Donnelly.
The council provides science-based advice to Government and policymakers on what Ireland needs to do “to achieve a climate resilient, biodiversity rich, environmentally sustainable and climate neutral economy by 2050”. It is also tasked with assessing progress made towards this goal and on carbon budget implementation.
Its review is available at https://www.climatecouncil.ie/councilpublications
The implementation gap
Despite positive steps, there are critical gaps in implementation of climate action, where policy and ambition is not yet translating into the necessary action, the Climate Change Advisory Council review finds. These include:
- Ireland has failed to meet its 2020 target of a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions under the EU "effort sharing decision" and will have to purchase emissions allowances from other Member States to meet the shortfall;
- Many of the measures in the 2019 Climate Action Plan were delayed, with the transport and heat sectors of particular concern. Timely delivery of measures is essential if we are to meet our targets;
- The national Climate Action Delivery Board, whose role is to hold each department and public body accountable for the delivery of actions set out in the Climate Action Plan, did not meet in 2020 despite a commitment to meet quarterly;
- The annual transition statement for 2020 has not yet been published;
- Publication of the National Coastal Change Management Strategy expected in the first quarter of 2021 is overdue;
- Ireland has not yet submitted a mandatory long-term strategy to the EU due by January 1st last under the 2018 Energy Governance Regulation, nor has it provided a voluntary submission to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.