What exactly is Ireland doing on climate change?
Transport, agriculture and heating are locked into a pattern of rising emissions
Sales of electric vehicles including plug-in hybrids are increasing rapidly but from a low level. Photograph: Getty Images
The most effective way of addressing climate change is reducing carbon emissions and adopting renewable energy sources. On both fronts Ireland is coming up short.
We are out of step with many countries because we are locked into a pattern of rising CO2 emissions; notably in transport, agriculture and heating.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “1.5 degree report” shows it’s not too late to reduce the worst effects of global warming – and confirms prompt actions now will minimise the economic costs.
Renewable energy: The Irish goal is to achieve 16 per cent renewable energy use by 2020. In spite of generating big amounts of onshore wind, this target will be missed while most EU countries will meet their commitments.
Delivery date: Likely by early 2020s – fines will be applied on a yearly basis from 2020 until we meet the target. More demanding targets are being set for 2030.
What does this mean? Best case scenario is next year’s budget will have to make allowance for fines of up to €200 million for missing our targets.
The worst-case scenario is the fines could reach up to €600 million, based on current estimates.
Power generation: The big success story as far as Ireland is concerned. We are close to achieving 40 per cent electricity generation from renewable energy sources by 2020. With a national grid now able to take a large and wide variety of renewables, there is potential for that to be scaled up to at least 70 per cent.
Delivery date: A provisional 2030 target is 60 per cent but 70 per cent is realisable by that date, according to recent analysis.
Diversification of energy sources: Critical to Irish energy security and less reliance on fossil fuels is the generation of a wider variety of energy sources (notably solar and offshore wind) and extending interconnector between Ireland and the UK, and with mainland Europe.
Delivery date: Solar rollout is likely from early 2020s; offshore wind in spite of its immense potential needs an urgent policy overhaul to facilitate quicker delivery. The Celtic Interconnector linking Ireland and France is due by 2025.
Heating homes and buildings and energy efficiency: Buildings using fossil fuel boilers account for more than 30 per cent of Irish emissions. A hugely costly deep retrofit of housing stock is needed over coming decades. Up to 2 million homes in Ireland need to be refurbished to become as close as possible to “zero carbon”.
Delivery date: To be confirmed – 100,000 houses a year are needed to be retrofitted every year for the next 20 years.
National Development Plan: €22 billion is committed to climate measures (mitigation and adaptation measures) in the National Development Plan over the coming decade to 2030.
Delivery date: Key measures are due to kick in from 2020 – finance is guaranteed but implementation and timelines are unclear.
Agriculture: Emissions from agriculture account for a third of Irish emissions and, like transport, are on a rising trajectory. “Smart farming” has been shown to reduce emissions arising from farming. A key policy driver will be a UN land use report coming in August 2019.
Delivery date: To be confirmed – emissions are unlikely to peak before 2025 due to major expansion of the sector.
Transport: The sale of cars using fossil fuels is to be banned by 2030. Sales of electric vehicles including plug-in hybrids are increasing rapidly but from a low level. The Government plans to have 500,000 electric vehicles on Irish roads by 2030.
Delivery date: That target is not realisable based on current uptake and lack of a widespread recharging network.
Carbon tax: The taxing of polluting behaviour in the burning of fossil fuels (petrol, diesel, oil, gas and peat) is currently at a modest €20 per tonne which is insufficient to prompt the widespread adoption of greener fuels and renewable energy needed. There is a likelihood of an increase of up to €10 per tonne in Tuesday’s budget.
Delivery date: The extent of ambition will be revealed in Tuesday’s budget.
Climate innovation: The Government has unveiled a €500 million Climate Action Fund with a view to finding innovative solutions. Initial applications have been received which propose radical projects on electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure and developing district heating.
Delivery date: To be confirmed.
Consumer buy-in: Critical to achieving societal change in moving to a decarbonised world is consumer buy-in, and recognition of that transformation in the way we live is needed today; not tomorrow.
The Citizen’s Assembly has outlined pertinent recommendations which, if implemented, would mean Ireland could become a world leader in addressing climate change. Politicians have yet to fully take on board its charting of a way forward. A National Dialogue on Climate Action has begun with meetings staged around the country.
The impact of a year of extreme weather events has concentrated minds like never before.
Delivery date: As soon as possible.