Drop in delivery of climate plan only partly due to Covid, committee told

Reductions in methane challenging and not possible until latter half of the decade, official says

Several committee members pointed out that SUVs were still outselling EVs by a considerable distance.  Photograph: iStock

Several committee members pointed out that SUVs were still outselling EVs by a considerable distance. Photograph: iStock

 

There was a sharp drop in delivery of the Government’s Climate Action Plan in 2021 compared to the previous year which can only be partly attributed to Covid-19, a senior official at the Department of an Taoiseach has disclosed.

Conor Ó Raghallaigh, head of climate action in the Department, told the all-party Committee on the Environment on Tuesday there was a 12 per cent reduction in implementation of the plan in 2021 compared to 2020.

“By the end of 2020, there had been successful implementation of 78 per cent of the 500 measures contained in the Climate Action Plan 2019.

“At the end of quarter three of 2021, the overall implementation rate of measures due under the interim climate actions stood at 66 per cent.

“While Covid has posed a clear challenge, we are concerned about this rate of delivery and, working with colleagues from other Departments, are seeking to address any impediments to the successful delivery of the agreed measures.”

Mr Ó Raghallaigh said the focus on implementation was now critical.

He was one of a large number of officials from Government departments and local authorities who outlined their response to the Climate Change Advisory Council’s (CCAC) recommendation that greenhouse emissions be almost halved by 2030 by means of two five-year carbon budgets.

Responding to questions from Jennifer Whitmore of the Social Democrats, Mr Ó Raghallaigh accepted there were difficulties in delivery rates.

“They have been sporadic in terms of results and they dropped a little in 2021.”

Nitrous oxide

He said part of the issue was Covid but it was partly due to officials being engaged with the new Climate Action legislation and also the new Climate Action Plan which was published late last year.

“There has been a bandwidth issue in that the same officials are doing planning and implementation. That is one of the capacity issues we face.”

Bill Callahan of the Department of Agriculture intimated that the main agricultural contribution in the first carbon budget would come from reductions in nitrous oxide emissions (mainly through a reduction in fertiliser use).

Mr Callahan said reductions in methane would be very challenging and would not be possible until the latter half of the decade. Responding to questions from Pauline O’Reilly and committee chair Brian Leddin (both of the Green Party) Mr Callahan said that half of fertiliser use was on by dairy farms. He said that all 135,000 farms (irrespective of whether they were involved in CAP) schemes were subject to the Nitrates Action Programme. He also said the department was now actively encouraging farms to move towards clover and multi-species swards and away from monoculture grass or ryegrass (the latter requires the use of a large amount of fertiliser).

Mr Callahan said the national herd figures had stabilised since about 2018 but that was challenged by Bríd Smith of People Before Profit who said it seemed to contradict Environmental Protection Agency figures which showed the herd increasing every year since the middle of the last decade.

’Unproven’ technology

Several committee members questioned if the Department’s reliance on “unproven” technology to achieve agricultural methane emissions reductions in the second carbon budget (from 2026 to 2030) would come to pass.

Paul Lemass of the Department of Housing said that it plans to retrofit 36,500 local authority houses to a B2 energy standard by 2030. He said that about 1,700 council houses were retrofitted last year out of a target of 2,400 despite Covid restrictions.

Most of the discussion around transport obligations centred around electric vehicles (EVs) and the plan to have almost a million on the road by 2030. Caoimhín Ó Ciaruain and Aoife O’Grady from the Department of Transport said there were barriers at present: primarily concern over the range of EVsd and the adequacy of the State’s charging infrastructure.

Ms O’Grady said a new Office for Low Emitting Vehicles is being established which will be a one-step shop for information on range, cost and charging points.

Mr Ó Ciaruain said the climate strategy for his Department was much wider than moving to an electric or low-emission fleet. It was also about modal shift to get 500,000 additional sustainable journeys each day by 2030 (by using public transport, cycling and walking). He said it would also require it to get big projects such as Bus Connects right.

Several committee members, including Lynn Boylan of Sinn Fein, pointed out that SUVs were still outselling EVs by a considerable distance.

Ms O’Grady said the availability of EVs with a range of 500-600km would encourage more drivers who are buying SUVs at present to make the switch to electric.

Paddy Mahon, chief executive of Longford County Council (representing local authorities) said there was a significant gap between the grant councils receive for installing charging points (€5,000) and the actual cost of installing them (typically €15,000 to €16,000).

Ms O’Grady, in reply to Alan Farrell (Fine Gael) said there was a pilot project to put charging points in lampposts. However she pointed out the situation was more complex than the easy fix it seemed. Many public lighting posts were unmetered, she said, and some did not have adequate power to become charging points.

Senator Alice Mary Higgins said that the two carbon budgets as recommended by the CCAC did not align with the Government’s own target of a 7 per cent reduction per annum. She said there would have to be an additional reduction of 27 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent over the decade for that to happen.