Every Government department will have to adopt and implement specific climate change actions and targets in its own area of responsibility under a new policy initiative to be brought to Cabinet on Monday.
As EU pressure increases on Ireland over its failure to meet legally binding targets on reducing carbon emissions, Minister for Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton is to seek Cabinet approval for an "all of Government" plan that will spread responsibility across all departments.
The move is understood to come in response to an acceptance that climate change is now too big an issue for one department to ensure the level of decarbonisation required in the economy and throughout society is achieved.
Commenting on Ireland’s climate change performance at the weekend, Mr Bruton said he wanted the State to be “a leader in responding to climate change, not a follower”.
“That will require a significant step change across Government,” he said.
The plan would set out actions to be taken in every department and State body “to stimulate the step change we need to achieve across all sectors of our society”, he said.
Nine years ago Ireland was given a target to, by 2020, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to 20 per cent below what they were in 2005. The State has consistently lagged behind in reaching these goals and is on target to have reduced its emissions by less than 1 per cent come 2020.
The EU’s targets for 2030 include a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Climate and energy experts estimate Ireland will face EU fines running to hundreds of millions of euro for failing to reach the targets, but the Government insists the penalties will not be this large.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in his speech to the Fine Gael Ardfheis that in transitioning from a laggard on climate change to a global leader, the State would meet its 2030 targets on reducing carbon emissions and adopting renewable energy. He said on Sunday that the Government was working on increasing carbon tax with a view to "giving it back to people in tax credits" as a way to prompt behavioural change.
Mr Bruton said there was no Irish sector on track to meet its carbon reduction targets so “it’s not a question of singling out individual sectors. Every sector has to make a significant effort.”
Way off target
The Minister said climate action was an area where the Government “needs to have a huge step up” as it was “way off target on the commitments we have made”.
Referring to the proposed new approach, he added: “I will need the support of colleagues and the oversight from the Taoiseach’s department to ensure we can deliver on commitments we’ve made.
“By 2020 we won’t have a huge deficit, but in the longer term if we fail to adapt now we will see a widening gap and by 2030 it will be very serious, and beyond . . . the [emissions] numbers are growing in energy, in transport, in agriculture. Those are the big sectors. Industry’s also set to grow.”
The Government has an end-of-year deadline to produce a draft national energy and climate plan for the EU on the policy models the State is adopting.
“It’s by December 2019 we have to have a detailed strategy with all the policy instruments in place,” the Minister said. “We need between now and the end of next year to build that road map that puts in the detailed policy instruments that we’re going to use.”
A regulatory approach was being considered but the Minister said he wanted to give businesses and householders time to plan rather than introducing sudden changes.