A total of €524 million out of an initial €915 million in funding from the European Union for Ireland’s national pandemic recovery and resilience plan is to go to climate action and biodiversity projects.
Among the items to receive funding are a loan guarantee system for the low-cost retrofitting of homes, a plan to expand Cork commuter rail, which will receive €184 million, and supports for SMEs and exporters to address emissions. This last category will include investment in carbon measurement and abatement technologies for manufacturers.
There will be €20 million for a river-basin management plan, which will include upgrading 10 wastewater treatment plants, and the upgrading of public office accommodation through retrofitting.
In seeking to go beyond pre-pandemic employment levels, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the Government would ensure decarbonisation and digital transitions provide opportunities for all people.
“Our policies to encourage economic growth must complement those to improve living standards for all,” he added.
Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan said balancing regional development, reducing disparities and ensuring a just transition would be a central consideration as Ireland moves towards "a new green economy".
“In investing in our economic recovery we are simultaneously investing in the renewal of our economy, progressing to a decarbonised, more digitalised future with opportunities for all our people across sectors and regions,” he said.
The Cork rail project was the first major funding of "transport-led development", Mr Ryan said. Housing would be located close to the stations along the expanded Midleton to Mallow line – a similar approach would follow in Galway, Limerick and Waterford.
Some €181 million is to be spent on return-to-work schemes and training that has a focus on the green economy. The Solas green skills action programme will provide training to address climate and low-carbon economy issues, backed by a work-placement programme and expansion of technological universities.
Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan said the €500 million to “advance the green transition” was a significant down payment, but much larger investment was needed for retrofitting and public transport.
“Otherwise the plans feel more like ‘build back quick’ than ‘build back better’. We will need to see much more detail in the forthcoming climate action plan on how the Government is going to cut Irish emissions in half in less than 10 years,” he added.
Head of advocacy at BirdWatch Ireland Oonagh Duggan welcomed the wastewater plant upgrades: "This should improve water quality and aquatic biodiversity." It was unclear if the proposal to restore 33,000 hectares of Bord na Móna bog was a new ambition or not, she noted.
On retrofits, she said: “It is imperative that building retrofits enhance the biodiversity that use buildings, like birds and bats, and not cause harm.”
Overall, however, lack of transparency and poor public consultation with civil society associated with the recovery and resilience plan was regrettable, Ms Duggan said.
Construction Industry Federation director general Tom Parlon said implementation must see more focus on supporting construction companies to upskill, develop and invest to meet the demands of the recovery plan, the climate action plan and the soon to be announced revised national development plan.
“The reality is that construction companies will lead Ireland’s recovery and transition to a green economy. The impact of helping Ireland’s 55,000 construction enterprises on Ireland’s transition will be twofold when all of these construction companies are sustainably building sustainable buildings,” he added.
EY Ireland head of sustainability Stephen Prendiville said availability of trained, skilled and specialist resources was "a top risk to achieving our collective climate ambitions".
“To meet our targets . . . and to leverage the opportunities presented by the EU green deal, we need the right people, with the right skills, doing the right things. Investing in our labour pool, to nurture the skills and expertise we need, is a win-win that will pay back significantly in our sustainability journey to 2030 and beyond,” he added.
He said the new measures were a move in the right direction and he looked forward to “the updated national development plan and climate action plan 2021 this summer, which should build even more positive momentum”.