Ireland ‘ambitious’ on climate despite rising emissions – Naughten

Event marks 30th anniversary of UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The process of revisiting Ireland's climate change strategy – as flagged by Minister for Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten – will be taking place against a backdrop of rising carbon emissions in key sectors of the Irish economy and recent extreme weather events.

These events have come in form of storms, flooding and a heatwave this summer affecting much of the Northern Hemisphere, which scientists have already concluded was a result of climate change. They have also resulted in widespread fodder and water shortages and a reduction in agri-food output.

That said, Naughten insists Ireland now has in place "one of the most ambitious plans in the EU" for combating climate change, though the benefits of actions today would not have an impact until after this Government's term has ceased.

He was speaking in advance of an event in Dublin marking the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Ireland's leadership was indicated by becoming one of the first countries in the world to adopt fossil fuel divestment legislation

This was established to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge on climate change, along with its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.

Scientific expertise

Ireland has provided strong backing for the IPCC in recent years, he said, in providing scientific expertise and financial support, and helping to lead international climate efforts such as the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Programme and the Great Green Wall Project in sub-Saharan Africa. Ireland's leadership was indicated by becoming one of the first countries in the world to adopt fossil fuel divestment legislation and to ban smoky coal – and this was increasingly being recognised.

Some 150 of the IPCC’s leading experts are in Dublin for a five-day meeting on their global Report on Climate Change and Land document, due to be published next year.

The report would be of critical importance to Ireland, he said, as agriculture would figure so prominently – the sector is responsible for more than 30 per cent of Irish emissions. It will cover the impacts of agriculture and land use on carbon emissions, and look at how best to mitigate this, including using forestry, bogs and other eco-systems to capture carbon.

The Minister accepted there was no roadmap yet in place to reduce Irish emissions from agriculture, but work over coming months, including discussions in the context of CAP reform, combined with ongoing research input from Teagasc and the IPCC report, would help to address the issue.

He reiterated his view there was “not much point in shutting down Ireland’s dairy production, which was the most carbon-efficient system in the world, and shipping it offshore of the EU where emissions are a lot higher”.

In spite of constrained investment opportunities due to the recession, more could have been done by Irish governments on climate mitigation and adaptation, Naughten admits.

‘Failures of predecessors’

“I think it’s unfair that I’m getting kicked for the failures of my predecessors... [though] there were legitimate reasons why that investment did not take place,” he added.

As evidence of major moves to decarbonise Ireland, he cited plans to “deep retrofit” 45,000 houses a year to reduce heat loss; remove 170,000 oil-fired central heating systems, and end sale of fossil-fuel cars by 2030. In addition, a €500 million Climate Action Fund would stimulate innovative projects.

He was 'hugely frustrated' that new planning guidelines for wind projects had not yet been sent out for consultation

District heating systems would also be rolled out to suitable towns, while the State's largest power generation plant, Moneypoint, would end coal use by 2025, while peat burning in three Midlands power stations would cease by 2030.

Setting the price of carbon on a long-term trajectory was critical to changing behaviour rather than raising tax revenues, he believes. Such a move was proposed in his submission on the 2019 Budget to the Department of Finance.

He said he was favouring “shovel-ready” renewable energy projects in an attempt to get as close as possible to the 2020 targets, and putting in measures to ensure 2030 targets would be achieved.

He said he was “hugely frustrated” that new planning guidelines for wind projects had not yet been sent out for consultation by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

Similar delays are being experienced with “planning criteria” for solar projects. Offshore projects had thrown up complex legal issues which were discussed by the Cabinet before its summer break, but changes to the “authorisation and consent process” would address these.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times