Richer countries need to ‘get serious’ about move to low-carbon economy - OECD

Most governments have not taken action to contain climate risks , report says

The overwhelming majority of governments including Ireland have not taken necessary action to contain growing risks to the global climate, according to a report to be issued by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD)

Nor have most governments outlined how they intend to decarbonise their economies, the report says.

With emissions on the rise again, richer countries “need to get serious about shifting their economies to a low-carbon model and stop investing in carbon-intensive infrastructure”, the report warns. Ireland is among countries where carbon emissions which cause global warming are rising in key sectors such as transport and agriculture.

Preliminary findings of the joint OECD-UN Environment-World Bank Group report have been presented in New York, which show only nine countries out of the 180 signatories to the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change have submitted long-term low-carbon strategies for 2050 to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – as legally required.


Budgetary dependence

Meanwhile, governments "continue to spend half a trillion dollars a year subsidising oil, coal or gas, and most have not broken their budgetary dependence on revenues from fossil fuels," the Financing Climate Futures: Rethinking Infrastructure report concludes.

Governments are also failing to make enough use of public spending as a lever to decarbonise economies by investing in low-emissions infrastructure and innovation, the report adds.

“After all the promises made in Paris and despite having all the tools we need at hand to move forward, this inertia risks us losing the war on climate change,” said OECD secretary general Angel Gurría.

“Governments need to implement their pledges in full and then scale up action if we are to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees. We would like to see OECD countries taking the lead and setting an example for others,” he added.

To achieve the Paris temperature goal, global carbon emissions need to peak as soon as possible and then rapidly decline to nett zero or lower in the second half of the century. While there has been some progress on “green financing” and transparency around climate risk is improving, much more needs to be done, the report says.

It suggests ways to bring more public and private financial flows into line with the Paris goals with infrastructure finance. This should be done “through better planning and foresight, by integrating climate concerns into all budgetary decisions and leveraging public procurement into low-emission infrastructure”.

Power generation plants currently under construction or in planning will lead to a near doubling of emissions from power generation, it predicts.

Targets and trajectories

Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment secretary general Mark Griffin told the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change on Wednesday that a national climate and energy plan required by the EU to be in place next year would set targets and trajectories on reducing carbon, achieving energy efficiency and adopting renewable energy – and, critically, set out how those targets would be achieved.

The extent to which targets were being achieved, especially out to 2030, would be tested regularly and there would consequences for non compliance, he said. The new National Development Plan was very ambitious in adopting renewable energy and there was a “step change” in investment on climate action, totalling €22 billion, he said.

He accepted, however, Ireland had not yet decoupled rising emissions linked to growth in the transport and agriculture sectors, and the EPA had projected emissions would continue to rise out to 2030 “without further measures”

ESB head of strategy Peter O'Shea told the committee that by 2050 Ireland will need to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from energy sectors (heat, transport and power generation) by up to 95 per cent "to play its part in the global action against climate change".

To underpin the scale of electrification required to achieve this, there was a need to decarbonise the electricity system itself, he said. “Undoubtedly, renewable technologies like onshore wind, offshore wind and solar PV will play a massive role as will storage and interconnection with other markets. However, even with significant renewables, Ireland will still need a backbone of dispatchable [electricity] generation to meet the demands of society when its neither windy nor sunny.”

Unlike many other electricity systems around the world, "Ireland does not have significant hydro-power potential, biomass is a limited resource for many reasons and we have an outright ban on nuclear generation...carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology will be required in Ireland given the lack of alternatives", he said – The feasibility of storing vast quantities of CO2 in the soon to be exhausted Kinsale natural gas field is being examined by Gas Networks Ireland.

Speaking after the hearing, Oisín Coghlan of Friends of the Earth said Department of Environment officials appeared to be in denial about Ireland’s climate policy. “It was a performance of staggering evasions and stonewalling.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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