Following publication of the Climate Bill by the Government, a series of actions have been triggered to enable the country’s first five-year carbon budget come into force later this year – including agreed sectoral cuts in emissions up to 2025.
This includes rollout of a public consultation process; strengthening the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC), which will propose the carbon budget to the Government, and the drawing up of a new climate action plan (CAP) that matches a legally-binding halving of carbon emissions by 2030, that is also in line with the Paris Climate agreement.
Climate scientists, experts and industry have been asked to share their data-based technical proposals to support development of the plan. “We also want to hear from households and communities about what Government can do to further support them as part of Ireland’s journey to net zero,” the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications said.
A carbon budget represents the total amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) that may be emitted in the State over five years, measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. It must include all GHGs while the Minister for the Environment and Climate, in consultation with other relevant ministers, must develop “sectoral emissions ceilings” for each sector; once the overall budget is adopted.
Actions for each sector will be detailed in the CAP which must be updated annually. Government Ministers will be responsible for achieving legally-binding targets for their own sectoral area, and must account for their performance towards sectoral targets and actions before the Oireachtas Climate Committee each year.
In the past two years, Irish emissions have fallen by 4 and 6 per cent, but the Bill commits to a doubling of efforts to reduce emissions by at least 7 per cent per year – to enable a 51 per cent reduction by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050.
To ensure there is no fall-off in efforts, the Cabinet has agreed to “Interim Climate Actions 2021” to maintain what is known as a whole-of-Government focus on implementation, and continue to progress new climate actions while the plan to reach 7 per cent per annum reductions is developed. “It will ensure planning and implementation go hand in hand,” the department confirmed.
The full plan is due to be launched with the renewed National Development Plan this Summer.
The Government has approved the appointment of three new members to the CCAC. They are Ictu general secretary Patricia King, Julie Sinnamon, outgoing chief executive of Enterprise Ireland, and Andrew Murphy, director at the Brussels-based NGO Transport and Environment. Three further positions will be added when the Bill is enacted, which will include people with expertise in biodiversity, climate communications, sustainable agriculture and business.
The CCAC chair Marie Donnelly has indicated that once the legislation is adopted, budget details which set a limit on emissions from 2021-2025 will be announced. There will be an overall limit set for the whole of the economy and these will then be broken down by sector, which are weighted according to their emissions.
The transport sector, for example, emits about 15 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year. So, if that sector is to reach its target it means it has to reduce by 50 per cent between now and 2030. This would also apply to heat, electricity, building, power systems and agriculture.
Ms Donnelly told the RTÉ News all sectors will all have their roadmaps itemised against a timeline to deliver the emission reductions. Ireland’s emission profile is quite different to the other EU member states, because agriculture accounts for 33 per cent of our emissions, much of which comes from methane arising from livestock.
She said the fact that methane is a different GHG and has a different profile to CO2 will be taken into account when setting carbon budgets and putting roadmaps in place.
Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan called on the public to participate in the consultation process. “Now the real work starts. The climate dialogues are the chance for a national conversation about exactly how we cut our polluting emissions in half in a decade and grasp the opportunities for cleaner air, warmer homes, more liveable cities, and green electricity.”
“The climate law is the starting gun for the race of a lifetime. The race to zero pollution fast enough to prevent complete climate breakdown and fairly enough to leave no one behind,” he added.
Prof Áine Ryall of UCC Centre for Law & the Environment welcomed the “elaborate public consultation process”.
She added: "In Climate Case Ireland the Supreme Court placed strong emphasis on public participation and transparency in the development of climate policy. The new consultation process provides an important opportunity for the public to influence the content of the Plan. In a new departure for consultations of this kind, there is also a separate call for expert evidence. This is a welcome and sharply focused initiative. It should help to ensure that the policy development process is particularly well-informed on this occasion."