Ireland 95% short of emissions reduction target, Bruton admits

State will only achieve 1% reduction by 2020 versus 2005 – the EU-set target is 20%

The Minister for the Environment has admitted that the Government is currently 95 per cent off target with its policies to reduce carbon emissions.

Richard Bruton has set out a “stark” context for the performance of Ireland’s current climate change policies.

He said Ireland would achieve reductions in emissions of only 1 per cent by 2020 compared to 2005 levels, rather than the 20 per cent target that has been set by the European Union. He said the country needed to “step up dramatically” in waste, home, transport agriculture and industry if it were serious about tackling emissions.

“I have received the mandate to produce a whole-of-Government plan,” he said. “I will revert to the Government very quickly in relation to that.”

Some experts predict fines could be as high as €600 million annually, but the department said earlier this year they would not be anywhere near that level.

Mr Bruton was speaking at the announcement of the first seven projects to receive funding under the Government’s new Climate Action Fund. It was also attended by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister of State for sustainable development Seán Canney.

The seven projects will receive a total of €77 million, and the Government yesterday said, when completed, they could lead to an annual reduction in emissions of 200,000 tons of carbon each year.

Mr Bruton said 97 applications had been received for the funding. “We will continue to work with the other 90. The ideas that have been spawned in all of the applications won’t be lost.”

There will be several more rounds of funding under the fund, which will comprise part of Mr Bruton’s climate action plan, expected in the New Year.

Electric vehicles

Mr Varadkar said the Government needed to decouple economic growth from carbon emissions. He said the reason emissions fell during the recession was because economic activity fell, and with the economy now recovering strongly, emissions were rising again.

He said the change to electric vehicles over the next decade would cut dependency on imported fossil fuel and also decouple the transport sector from emissions.

Asked should the Cabinet use hybrid cars – no Ministers do currently – the Taoiseach said he would inquire if it was possible for official cars driven by gardaí to be hybrid. Other members of Cabinet, including Mr Donohoe, use their own cars. Mr Donohoe said that when the current lease was up for his car, he would investigate the use of a hybrid car.

“Our critics will say that any announcement is not enough,” said Mr Varadkar. “You cannot deal with the challenge of climate change in one announcement. It will take lots of policy changes and lots of actions,” he said, saying it would be disingenuous to say otherwise.

Mr Varadkar also said he never gave an undertaking to increase carbon tax in the budget last month. He said he had reviewed all his comments in August and that he had never stated that.

In contemporaneous reports from early August, he is quoted as saying that carbon taxes would have to increase in the next few years.

The seven grants are:

– ESB Ecars was awarded €10 million to develop a network of charging hubs on motorways and in cities. The most powerful hubs will have 150KW power, which is six times faster than the current 22KW chargers;

– Gas Networks Ireland was awarded €8.5 million for Graze Gas project in Mitchelstown, Co Cork, converting slurry into renewable gas. It is part of a €400 million plan to have 20 per cent renewable gas on the network by 2020;

– Iarnród Éireann was awarded €15 million to help convert diesel engines to hybrid Inter City Railcars. The pilot phase of the project will involve testing three units before expanding the change across all 234 vehicles;

– Dublin City Council was awarded €20 million for its Dublin District Heating System, which will capture waste heat from industrial facilities on the Poolbeg peninsula, particularly the Dublin Waste to Energy Plant. The heat will be piped into as many as 50,000 homes in Poolbeg, Ringsend and the Docklands area.

– The District Heating Scheme in Tallaght has been awarded €4.5 million. It will capture excess heat generated from the new Amazon data centre in Tallaght and supply it to nearby buildings.

– Nearly €17.5 million has been awarded to the Road Management Office to replace the lighting sources in all 326,000 public lights outside Dublin from incandescent to high-efficiency and low-energy LED. Some 27 councils will be involved. Public lighting comprises 50 per cent of all energy use by local authorities.

– A Brexit preparation project aimed at the logistics industry has been awarded €1.3 million. It will use new technology and encourage driving behavioural change to help reduce fuel use by 10 per cent.