Forthcoming carbon budgets for every sector of the economy will "require fundamental changes" affecting how people live and work, Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan has said.
He was speaking after the publication of new proposed overall carbon budgets from the Climate Change Advisory Council as the country puts a statutory limit on greenhouse gas emissions for the first time.
The council’s budgets outline a national ceiling for the total amount of emissions that can be released.
The first carbon budget, which will run from 2021 to 2025, will see emissions reduce by 4.8 per cent on average each year for five years.
The second budget, which will run from 2026 to 2030, will see emissions reduce by 8.3 per cent on average each year for five years.
“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,” the council said.
Its chair Marie Donnelly said "significant investment across the economy" would be required.
Individuals and communities “at risk of loss of employment or disproportionate costs need to be identified and assisted”, the council stressed.
Mr Ryan said the Government would shortly outline the carbon limit for each sector individually, which he said would be “challenging”.
Government sources have said that the most crucial phase lies ahead as it next week plans to unveil the landmark climate plan that will set out how each sector needs to respond including agriculture, transport, heating and power generation.
Rural TDs in both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have privately expressed fears about backlash on new carbon ceilings for the agricultural sector. It is understood the Green Party favours a reduction in the national herd but there is strong pushback from members of the other Coalition parties.
In its report, the council said there was a need “for a strong, rapid and sustained reduction in methane emissions”.
Minister of State in the Department of Agriculture Martin Heydon said it was clear from the council’s modelling what the consequences were for rural economies if climate action “is not handled responsibly”.
“The potential job losses and damage to rural Ireland of crude measures like herd reduction are stark. That’s why it’s vitally important that we get the sectoral targets right for an area like agriculture. Policy decisions must be backed up by robust science – if farmers cannot see the sense in what they are being asked to do then it will be difficult to achieve anything,” he said.
Irish Farmers' Association president Tim Cullinan said the emissions ceiling for agriculture in the budgets would have "serious repercussions for farming".
"Our most productive farmers simply cannot remain viable if agriculture has to reduce emissions by between 21 per cent and 30 per cent as has been reported," he said in a reference to estimates a Government source gave to The Irish Times last week.
“This will have profound implications for the rural economy,” he said.
But Oisín Coghlan, director of Friends of the Earth, said: “The truth is, if we stick to budget this we will all be winners, with a cleaner, healthier, safer future.”
Welcoming the budget targets, Mr Coghlan said the narrative around the plans had begun to pit sectors against each other. However, “if we fail we will all be losers, facing accelerating climate breakdown with all the costs and destruction that will bring”.
It is expected that the Government’s climate plan will be released on November 3rd and that Mr Ryan will bring the details of that to the COP26 conference in Glasgow.