Cop26: Ireland must spring to immediate action to achieve 2030 goals

Focus should be ‘what are we going to do next year?’ argues prominent climate academic

Cop26 puts the onus on countries to deliver on climate commitments to ensure the world can keep global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees – and avoid dangerous warming.

For Ireland it provides an added impetus to make immediate progress on its pledges, says Prof Brian Ó Gallachóir of University College Cork. Although there has been much talk of 2030 targets, short-term actions are essential, he says. That means asking: "What are we going to do next year?"

In an Irish context, that should mean, for instance, increasing sales of EVs from 15,000 this year to 50,000 next year, and increasing deep retrofits of houses from 4,000 in 2021 to 40,000 in 2022.

Having the Climate Act in place, backed by carbon budgets, enables focus on action, says Ó Gallachóir, who is director of the UCC research centre MaREI. Acknowledging "people's sense of disappointment about the outcome, given the challenge ahead", he says there were some achievements in Glasgow. Factoring in commitments beyond 2030, the International Energy Agency has concluded "we can get to 1.8 degrees" for starters, he says.


The US is back in a leadership role, “which puts it up to all of us to do as much as we can to reduce emissions”, while there is a clear signal in the final text on getting out of fossil fuels, despite a watering down on coal.

Incremental change

DCU climate policy specialist Sadhbh O’Neill points out that the Cop format is an iterative, “pledge and review” process that invariably leads to incremental change. Critically, she warns, “that does not get us to 1.5 degrees”.

There is a danger “we forget to build on what was agreed in Glasgow”, she says. Emphasis on “near-term actions” means countries will have to upgrade their nationally determined contributions – emissions reduction commitments – with more frequent reviews than every five years, which has been the case up to now. This will also apply to cutting methane.

While commitments on coal were weakened, O’Neill says it is clear fossil fuels are about to become toxic assets, so the financial system, including banks, insurers and pension funds, will have to shift away from supporting them.

On implications for people in Ireland, she points out that because Cops are part of an international and legal framework, it can take time for actions to translate into national policies. In the meantime, focus needs to be maintained on domestic policy, but Ireland already has the Climate Act in place, legally binding targets and robust governance, she adds. “Essentially, we have the architecture at national level; we just need to take action.”

Carbon budgets

The new climate action plan has to tally with carbon budgets, which in turn need to be translated into sectoral ceilings, imposing emission limits on key sectors such as transport and agriculture, she says. Measures in the plan must add up to what’s in carbon budgets, and what we have committed to in Glasgow.

All this will not work, she says, unless actions are scaled up well before 2030. This requires wealthy countries doing more because they are most to blame for the climate crisis. It means getting out of fossil fuels entirely by the end of the decade, she notes, otherwise more stringent reductions will be necessary.

Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan said at the weekend Ireland's obligations following Cop26 were "in line with science" and set out in both the programme for government and the Climate Act. This was "a challenge beyond compare", with the key priorities being cutting emissions by 51 per cent by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Cop26 would see decarbonisation of all sectors in Ireland accelerate, he predicted. “If you’re in business and you’re not taking climate change seriously, then you won’t be in business in 10 years’ time.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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