The Government’s long-awaited plan to address the threat of climate breakdown “is the biggest innovation in Irish climate policy in 20 years”, according to Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan.
“The key is not simply the measures themselves, but the new mechanisms to ensure we actually deliver them.”
He highlighted critical features including "the legally-binding five-year limits on total pollution; the delivery board chaired by the Taoiseach's department, the external Climate Action Council to advise and monitor government, the powerful Oireachtas committee to call Ministers and top officials to account, and the promise to put our 2050 target into law". If these governance reforms had been adopted 12 years ago, Ireland would not now be missing our 2020 targets by a large margin.
“If the Dáil puts them put into law this year they can give us a fighting chance of meeting our 2030 targets,” Mr Coughlan said.
Renewable Energy Ireland, a group of sustainable energy associations working to support the energy transition, welcomed the plan, describing it as “a road map for turning Ireland into a climate-change leader”.
Its chairwoman, Marie Donnelly, said: "This plan recognises that action needs to be taken across all of society to deliver the radical changes we need to decarbonise Ireland's energy system.
“The scale of the challenge ahead of us means that every community, every business and every family has a part to play. Government’s role is to remove the obstacles to active participation, and to facilitate ambition at local, regional and national level.”
Jim Gannon, chief executive of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, said fundamental to the ultimate success of the plan would be the level of engagement and commitment of all parts of Irish society to act.
“It will require individuals to make responsible choices, communities to work together, and businesses, large and small, to embrace the opportunities and advantages that sustainable energy offers.”
The scale envisaged presented obvious challenges, in many cases calling for radically different approaches than have been used before. Upgrading 500,000 homes to B2 Ber level “is unlikely to be achieved through one-off grants to homeowners alone”.
“It will require new types of financial support [public and private], perhaps new forms of regulation, new levels of market engagement, new business models and significant building of the supply chain across all related trades and professions. This may not happen overnight – but it must happen nonetheless,” said Mr Gannon.
Trócaire welcomed the Government’s move to significantly strengthen climate policy planning, but warned urgent implementation and further ambition were critical if Ireland was to successfully play its part in averting the climate crisis.
The development agency called on the Government to urgently bring forward legislation to give effect to the critical new climate policy changes promised.
Chief executive Caoimhe de Barra said: "Every year of delay to date in taking essential measures has cost lives. Already at today's level of warming the number of climate-related disasters such as heat, drought, floods and storms has doubled between 1990 and 2016, with impacts on global food and nutrition."
Short on detail
Dr Ciara Murphy, environmental policy officer with the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, criticised the plan for being short on detail and ambition, and consistently failing to meet the scale of the problems already afflicting Irish society.
“It is a one-dimensional, cost-based response to the crisis, and it fundamentally underestimates the challenges we face and the opportunities now open to us.”
She cited the proposed plan to offer a scrappage scheme to incentivise the transition to electric cars. “This amounts to a subsidy to the car industry when what we need is a reduction in our reliance on private car ownership. Considering that Ireland’s current energy provision is drawn 80 per cent from fossil fuels, the benefit to shifting to electric vehicles is marginal.”
IFA president Joe Healy said the targets for agriculture were very demanding.
“The critical issue for farm families is that our low-carbon agri-food sector, which is Ireland’s largest indigenous sector, is fully recognised and not jeopardised by this climate plan.
"On dairy farming, the removal of quotas in 2015 has released pent-up demand for expansion. While this has had an effect on emissions, it has also had a very positive impact for farm families and rural Ireland. We must not forget that we are the most-carbon efficient country in Europe for dairy production. Any restrictions here would lead to an increase in production in less carbon efficient regions."
On beef farming, he said suckler farming “is our largest enterprise and it contributes hugely to the rural economy”. Reducing the suckler herd would have huge consequences for the economic and social sustainability of rural Ireland.
“The national cattle herd in Ireland is below where it was in the mid-90s and we have an extensive grass-based production system which is the envy of the world.”
Irish Wind Energy Association chief executive Dr David Connolly said: "For the first time we have an all-of-government vision for how we can decarbonise Ireland's energy system.
“Wind energy, already providing 29 per cent of Ireland’s electricity, which is the second highest share worldwide, is at the heart of today’s plan, with targets set for 3.5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy and to more than double our onshore wind-generation capacity to more than 8 gigawatts.”
He said the Government’s clear commitment to supporting Irish families to switch from gas boilers to heat pumps and from diesel cars to electric vehicles showed it understood electrification was central to cutting CO2 emissions.
“If we can work together, increasing our capacity to produce renewable electricity while finding new ways to use electricity to heat our homes and fuel our cars, then we can achieve the Government’s target to provide 70 per cent of our electricity through renewables by 2030.”
This could cut CO2 emissions in the electricity sector from the current 12 million tonnes per annum to 4 million tonnes, which would be a significant contribution to cutting our emissions and restoring Ireland’s credibility as a leader in the fight against climate change.