Ireland needs to follow clear pathway to reach low-carbon goals

Report on Europe’s environment shows that Ireland performs poorly on emissions

Any thoughts of securing special concessions under agriculture – Ireland is  unique in exporting 90 per cent of produce, and has relatively good carbon efficiency in beef and dairying – depend on upping our overall game, reinforced by the credible plans of Irish governments, EEA executive director Hans Bruyninckx said. File photograph: Getty

Any thoughts of securing special concessions under agriculture – Ireland is unique in exporting 90 per cent of produce, and has relatively good carbon efficiency in beef and dairying – depend on upping our overall game, reinforced by the credible plans of Irish governments, EEA executive director Hans Bruyninckx said. File photograph: Getty

 

An initial reading of the latest 500-page report on the state of the Europe’s environment adds to feelings of despondency about the fate of Planet Earth.

This is especially the case when the European Environment Agency’s findings are added to indications of an overheating world; where commitments to decarbonise economies are falling short of what’s required.

What’s more, achieving a global commitment to reach 17 critical UN sustainable development goals by 2030 is in grave doubt when one sees how wealthy countries are failing to deliver.

Predictably, Ireland performs well on many environmental indicators, such as water and air pollution, when compared to other European countries.

It stands out, however, in its poor performance in reducing greenhouse gases: CO2, and methane and ammonia (associated with farming). Along with most European countries, it has witnessed severe loss of biodiversity – grassland butterfly (a key pollinator) populations have declined by 39 per cent in 15 members states since 1990.

‘Gap analysis’

Ireland performs poorly on emissions, with “gap analysis” indicating it will be 20 per cent short on achieving 2030 commitments, EEA executive director Hans Bruyninckx indicated at a briefing.

“It’s one of the most car-dependent countries in Europe” and “it has to do something about agricultural emissions,” he said.

While national targets will vary as the EU commits to even more demanding 2030 targets, with a headline reduction of 55 per cent likely, “Ireland will have to contribute its fair share and really step up ambition,” he added.

Any thoughts of securing special concessions under agriculture – we are unique in exporting 90 per cent of produce, and have relatively good carbon efficiency in beef and dairying – depend on upping our overall game, reinforced by the credible plans of Irish governments, he said.

Remarkably, and especially in light of latest indications on emissions, the EEA concludes a sustainable, low-carbon future is realisable. But it can only be achieved by bold action to get Europe back on track to achieve 2030 and 2050 environmental and climate goals.

In short, we not only have to do more but also do things differently. The hard question has to be asked: is Ireland sufficiently geared up for such a response?

Critical actions

The EEA sets out seven critical actions that enable a sustainable future to be secured over the coming decade and put the continent on track to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. They are worth highlighting as a way forward – besides alleviating eco-anxiety.

While national targets will vary as the EU commits to even more demanding 2030 targets, with a headline reduction of 55 per cent likely, Ireland will have to contribute its fair share and really step up ambition,’ said EEA executive director Hans Bruyninckx. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire
While national targets will vary as the EU commits to even more demanding 2030 targets, with a headline reduction of 55 per cent likely, Ireland will have to contribute its fair share and really step up ambition,’ said EEA executive director Hans Bruyninckx. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

Realise the unfulfilled potential of existing environmental policies. Full implementation of existing policies would take Europe a long way to achieving environmental goals up to 2030.

Embrace sustainability in policy-making. Developing long-term policy frameworks with binding targets – starting with the food system, chemicals and land use – will stimulate and guide coherent actions across society.

Lead international action towards sustainability. The EU should use its diplomatic/economic might to promote adoption of ambitious international agreements on climate action, biodiversity and resource use.

Foster innovation throughout society. Changing current trajectories will closely depend on the emergence and spread of diverse forms of innovation that trigger new ways of thinking and living.

Scale up investments and reorient finance sector to support sustainable projects and businesses. This involves using public funds to support innovation and nature-based solutions; procuring sustainably and supporting impacted sectors and regions. It also entails engaging the financial sector in sustainable investment by implementing and building on the EU’s Sustainable Finance Action Plan.

Manage risks and ensure a socially fair transition. A successful transition to sustainability will require societies to acknowledge potential risks, opportunities and trade-offs, and devise ways to manage them. EU and national policies have an essential role in achieving “just transitions”, making sure no one is left behind.

Build know-how. Focus on understanding systems driving environmental pressures; pathways to sustainability, promising initiatives and barriers to change. Further capacity-building is needed to navigate a rapidly-changing world by investing in education and skills.

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