Ireland secures ‘fair deal’ on carbon emissions under EU pact

Government accused by campaigners of playing ‘very negative role’ in negotiations

Minister for Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten insisted: ‘This is a fair deal for Ireland and a good day for climate.’ File image: Reuters/Yves Herman

Minister for Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten insisted: ‘This is a fair deal for Ireland and a good day for climate.’ File image: Reuters/Yves Herman


EU environment ministers have agreed national emissions-reduction targets in a push to show how the bloc is delivering on its climate goals ahead of UN talks in Bonn next month.

As Europe moves to implement the Paris accord on climate change, they have committed to an overall 40 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

The deal, which relates to the “Effort Sharing Regulation” sets targets for member states to reduce emissions from transport, agriculture, buildings and small industry at 30 per cent.

It includes, however, a high degree of flexibility on how targets are achieved, particularly for Ireland – the only EU country unlikely to meet its 2020 targets and where emissions are currently rising.

Environment organisations said the agreement, which still needs to be negotiated with the European Parliament, did not go far enough to curb the worst effects of rising temperatures caused by human activity. They criticised measures aimed at helping lower-income EU countries meet their obligations, and in particular the deal extracted by Ireland.

However Minister for Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten insisted: “This is a fair deal for Ireland and a good day for climate.”

The overall agreement meant a 40 per cent committed reduction across the EU in real terms, he said. “But importantly, the agreement also takes into account the practical ability for countries, like Ireland, to contribute to this overall objective.”

Mr Naughten added:”It is a balanced proposal which is achievable in the context of our respective situations and resources, and recognises the variety of measures we will need to take to achieve our targets.”

Ireland’s target, combined with the other elements of the compromise, represents an upper limit of what is likely to be achievable for us between now and 2030, he said. “I reiterate that it is essential that the key elements of the Commission’s proposal, in particular on the starting point and on flexibility options.”

Ireland was committed to investing to drive down emissions between now and 2030, he said. “But we will not be able to do this if, rather than funding productive mitigation investment in Ireland, we are forced to divert scarce resources to purchasing compliance, because of an unsuitable starting point. In fact, such an approach will retard Ireland’s capacity to decarbonise.”

A senior official from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment said Ireland was not availing of loopholes. Rather, some flexibilities had been agreed but these were under mitigation, and would not be without financial cost to Ireland.

‘Tailor-made for Ireland’

Carlos Calvo Ambel, climate manager at the NGO Transport & Environment, said: “The Irish Government is happy because the Commission’s original proposal was tailor-made for them.” The ministers had agreed a deal which was “even worse for the climate” and Mr Naughten had achieved all the flexibilities he wanted.

Speaking from Brussels, Jennifer Higgins of Christian Aid Ireland said Ireland played a very negative role in the negotiations, obstructing any proposals to strengthen the outcome. “The Minister supported a new loophole, creating a slush fund of pollution permits worth 115 million tonnes of CO2. Coupled with Ireland’s fierce opposition to Germany’s proposal to change the starting point, this would reward our laggard behaviour.”

Oisín Coghlan of Friends of the Earth said: “Mr Naughten has been Minister for Climate Action for 18 months now. That’s time enough to get his feet under the table, his head around the problem and to take decisions to shape Irish climate policy in his own image.” He needed to explain why he was “looking for loopholes in our 2030 EU targets that directly contradict the Government’s own ambition for 2050”.

Meanwhile Canada’s Minister of Environment Catherine McKenna has warned the Paris Agreement is “irreversible” and “non-negotiable” in spite of the US president Donald Trump’s intention to withdraw from the deal.

“We are all moving forward, and we hope the US administration will decide to join the world in moving ahead on climate action,” she said.

Ms McKenna, who also holds the climate change brief, was speaking at the Marine Institute in Galway during a visit to Ireland. The US cannot formally notify its intention to withdraw from the Paris accord before 2019 and cannot actually withdraw until November 2020, she noted.

“So we are hopeful that they will figure out a way forward, and we are working at the state level, the city level and with businesses in the US who have really stepped up on climate action,”she added. “Once the US announced its intent to withdraw, you saw an even greater commitment by states and businesses,”she said.

Ms McKenna said she was feeling “heartened” as a result. “We really need to show the Paris Agreement was a signal to the markets, and everyone is moving forward, and no one nation can stop that.”