Climate council unveils recommended carbon budgets up to 2030

Experts set out plans for reducing emissions by 51% across sectors within next decade

The Government must now set out how the carbon ceilings outlined by the advisory council will be applied to each sector, including the most challenging activities in transport, agriculture, heating, power generation and carbon-intensive industry. Photograph: David Sleator

The Government must now set out how the carbon ceilings outlined by the advisory council will be applied to each sector, including the most challenging activities in transport, agriculture, heating, power generation and carbon-intensive industry. Photograph: David Sleator

 

The Climate Change Advisory Council has finalised its recommendations for two, five-year carbon budgets aimed at reducing the State’s carbon emissions by 51 per cent by 2030.

The average year-on-year reductions in the first “budget” to 2025 has been set at just under 4.8 per cent, while the average year-on-year reductions in the second budget to 2030 is set at 8.3 per cent.

The advisory council, which includes leading climate scientists and energy experts, accepts the most significant reductions will be towards the end of the decade – as key investments will take time to kick in – but it warns urgency is required in the meantime.

The key figures are a limit on emissions for 2021-2025 of 295 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent and a 200 million tonnes CO2 limit for 2026-2030 relative to a 2018 baseline.

The carbon budget for 2031-2035, which is provisional, is recommended at 151 million tonnes CO2.

The ceilings set out the total amount of emissions allowed under two five-year carbon budgets.

The Government must now set out how they will be applied to each sector, including the most challenging activities in transport, agriculture, heating, power generation and carbon-intensive industry.

Once adopted by Cabinet and the Oireachtas, the Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan will use each carbon budget to prepare sectoral emissions ceilings for relevant sectors of the economy in consultation with other relevant Ministers.

The Climate Action Bill, signed into law in July, put in place a legally binding commitment that the State must reduce carbon emissions by 51 per cent by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

On Monday, the council said “strong, rapid and sustained reductions in emissions” in all sectors and all greenhouses gases were required to meet the climate challenge facing Ireland.

Issuing its recommendations to the Government on emission ceilings that must apply up to 2030, it says: “The proposed carbon budgets will require transformational changes for society and the economy which are necessary; failing to act on climate change would have grave consequences.”

It is critically important that potential for adverse impacts is addressed, it continues. “Individuals and communities at risk of loss of employment or disproportionate costs need to be identified and assisted in making the transition. The impact of these changes will require significant Government action with budgetary implications that need to be included in medium-term planning.”

The advisory council highlights that social and economic impacts can be mitigated by appropriate policies and supportive infrastructures, “while opportunities arising from a green reputation, and innovation in products and services to support the low carbon economy should be seized”.

Ireland emitted 68.3 million tonnes of CO2 in 2018. Therefore, the first two carbon budgets must be consistent with emissions being cut to 33.5 million tonnes CO2 by 2030.

“This is a very significant challenge for our society and economy while we also grapple with other societal challenges such as the Covid pandemic, Brexit and housing,” the council pointed out in its report to the Government.

The budgets are consistent with the Government’s commitment to halving greenhouse gases by 2030 and to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, council chair Marie Donnelly confirmed.

“The carbon budgets provide a framework, but what is urgently required is transformative change which is led by all of Government on a sustained basis, supported by all sectors of the economy, and all members of society. This will require significant investment across the economy,” she said.

The budget is based on the best available science and defines “an appropriate and necessary path” to addressing the climate challenge and for Ireland to comply with international commitments.

“Many of the changes required will only have a real impact on emissions in the second period,” Ms Donnelly accepted.

The council does not believe a 7 per cent per annum reduction – set out in the programme for government – in the first carbon budget is appropriate.

However, the carbon budget programme for the decade “requires immediate action and investment in the first period . . . to deliver the accelerated reductions (in excess of 7 per cent annum) in the second carbon budget period required to meet the 2030 target of a 51 per cent reduction”.

Methane

The council endorses the need “for a strong, rapid and sustained reduction in methane emissions” as set out recently in a UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, but acknowledges this is challenging in agriculture.

About 93 per cent of Irish methane emissions come from livestock-based agriculture, which are particularly hard to mitigate without changing output levels – ie cattle numbers. New methane-based mitigation pathways (changing animal diet, additives and genetics) are being investigated in Ireland and internationally, which may deliver methane reductions in future, it finds.

A critical issue in the Irish context is “agricultural emissions are not offset by sequestration actions provided by the land use, land use change and forestry”. This means based on EPA scenarios, land use will still be an overall source of emissions in 2030.

The CCAC outlines different combinations of reductions in dairy and suckler beef numbers could deliver emissions reductions but is not prescriptive.

It cites Teagasc analysis which concludes only relatively small reductions in agricultural emissions can be achieved by “currently proven technical mitigation alone” and under all scenarios analysed these alone are insufficient to leave agriculture within any of the core carbon budget scenarios considered.

Larger reductions in agricultural emissions “require both actions to achieve technical mitigation and actions to reduce livestock agricultural activity with reductions in beef and/or dairy activity contributing increasing shares of the reduction in agricultural GHG [greenhouse gases] across the progressively more ambitious carbon budget scenarios”.

Transport

The carbon budget scenarios for the energy sector suggest a need to maximise electrification of cars and vans with an associated requirement for expansion of charging infrastructure. The scenarios see a range of between 600,000 to 1.5 million battery electric vehicles by 2030 to meet targets along with 130,000 battery EV vans.

“The more ambitious scenarios for the energy sector would effectively mean all new car registrations would have to be battery electric vehicles before 2030 with significant early scrappage of ICE [internal combustion engine] vehicles. Additional biofuel blending will also be necessary,” it adds.

A reduction in transport demand and mode switching from private car transport to public and active transport could reduce transition costs as well as having important co-benefits related to improving health and easing congestion, the CCAC finds. Land use planning and public transport infrastructure would have an important role to play in this.

The CCAC modelling suggests “a complete removal of coal and peat for residential heating and up to 600,000 retrofits of houses between 2020 and 2030”.

This means upgrading homes to a B2 energy rating or “cost optimal standard” by 2030, of which 35,000 would be houses owned by local authorities. This would mean an 80 per cent reduction in kerosene use and largescale electrification for home heating, it suggests. Heat pumps or electrification are also foreseen for space heating in the commercial sector.

Climate Justice

The CCAC stresses the need for climate action in the context of a just transition. “Individuals and communities who are vulnerable or at risk of loss of employment or livelihood, or disproportionate costs need to be identified and assisted in the transition,” it adds.

The importance of providing policy supports aimed at alternative forms of income for small and medium enterprises, farmers and other impacted households “should be considered urgently”.

The CCAC concludes it is possible to implement carbon budgets while protecting and enhancing biodiversity. “However, it is critical further pressure on biodiversity from all aspects of climate mitigation measures is avoided, in particular from poor siting of renewable energy infrastructure and inappropriate land-use change such as over reliance on, or poor siting of, mono-species afforestation,” it warns.

Care must be taken, it adds, to identify and implement measures which deliver “synergistic gains” for climate mitigation, biodiversity protection and restoration and river catchment resilience by improving water quality.

The 51 per cent target applies to GHGs “attributable to industrial, agricultural, energy, land use and other anthropogenic activities in the State”. It does not include emissions from international aviation or shipping but this may be re-considered in the context of the next programme of carbon budgets and international developments in the interim, it says.

Dr Cara Augustenborg, environmental scientist and member of the advisory council, described the budgets as “historic”, and said “we are officially on the road to bending the emissions curve in Ireland”.

Welcoming the outcome of the council’s deliberations, Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan said: “When we passed the Climate Act in July we embedded the process of carbon budgeting into law.

“The Act also strengthened the role of the Climate Change Advisory Council, to empower this independent body to do this important work, based on the most up-to-date climate science. These first carbon budgets are a significant milestone in our efforts to tackle climate change.

“The first two five-year carbon budgets equate to a total reduction of 51 per cent emissions over the period to 2030. This is part of the journey towards ‘net zero’, which commits us to the transition to a ‘climate resilient, biodiversity rich, environmentally sustainable and climate neutral economy’ no later than 2050.

“The Government will shortly publish Climate Action Plan 2021. Every sector of the economy will need to play its part.

“There will be different targets for each sector, based on their respective starting points and the relative difficulty, cost, speed and benefits of reducing emissions.

“This will be challenging and will require fundamental changes in many parts of Irish life, but it is also an opportunity to create a cleaner, greener economy and society that cuts emissions, creates jobs and protects our people and the planet,” Mr Ryan said.