The Irish Times view on climate change: time for the State to show urgency

 

The glaring lack of progress in decarbonising Irish society, through the adoption of renewable energy and implementing measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, has been laid bare. The European Commission has found “existing climate change mitigation efforts will not enable Ireland to achieve its 2020 climate goals domestically”. Shortcomings in transport, agriculture and buildings stand out.

This means Ireland will have to buy renewable energy and emissions credits from other compliant EU member states after 2020. Most EU countries are already achieving emission reductions. Based on current emissions and missed renewable energy targets, this would amount to an estimated €400 million to €600 million payable per year until the country complies with its legally binding commitments, according to independent climate experts.

Minister for Climate Action Denis Naughten has insisted “banked emissions” for the period up to 2015 will be credited to Ireland and result in reduced penalties. Clearly, the Irish public would have little appetite for recurring fines of any significance, especially given obvious other shortcomings in public services, such as housing and healthcare. The new National Mitigation Plan, the Commission notes, “lays out a roadmap towards a low-carbon economy and a framework to tackle persisting challenges in the energy sector”, but it offers few specific new mitigation measures.

In fairness, the National Development Plan sets out clear measures towards decarbonisation. These include almost €22 billion in funding for climate and energy projects, such as the retrofit of 45,000 homes to make them more energy efficient. Closure of Moneypoint power station and the ending of peat use for electricity generation will also have a positive impact. The Government has committed to achieving “carbon neutrality” in agriculture but has yet to spell out how.

Ireland faces uniquely challenging circumstances, compounded by constrained investment capacity in renewable energy due to the economic crisis, and demanding targets it has committed to. But a lack of collective urgency on climate actions now will cause costs to rise sharply later.

We have unique potential in wind energy, which combined with facilitation of solar panel roll-out, biofuel usage and microgeneration could go a long way to realising a low-carbon energy future. The latest EPA projections for Ireland confirms the abject failure to decouple economic growth with rising emissions – in contrast to the UK ,which has achieved a 42 per cent decline on 1990 levels without affecting prosperity. Transition to a decarbonised Ireland is realisable with the carrot of appropriate incentives, greater clarity on State policies and actions to change behaviours. In that mix has to be a stick in the form of a meaningful carbon tax in Budget 2019.