The Irish Times view on Ireland’s emissions cuts

Nowhere near what is needed

Ireland risks falling behind other developed countries which are pushing on with the transition. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

Ireland risks falling behind other developed countries which are pushing on with the transition. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

 

There are welcome signs that parts of the Irish economy are finally on a course of sustained decarbonisation in the latest emissions report published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Total emissions in the power generating sector and major industrial companies, which are part of the EU emissions trading system, fell by 6.4 per cent in 2020 to their lowest level since it was introduced in 2005, resulting in a reduction of 0.9 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. The electricity sector was the star performer. Its emissions dropped by 8.4 per cent as a result of the strong presence of renewable energy – mainly wind – and less use of fossil fuels such as peat, in Ireland’s energy mix. The outlier was Moneypoint, although the ESB has announced an ambitious plan to convert the coal-burning power plant into a renewables hub, tied into scaling up offshore wind energy and going into hydrogen production.

The figures coincide with confirmation from Eirgrid that 43 per cent of Ireland’s electricity came from renewable sources last year – a world-leading feat confirming one key Paris Agreement target Ireland has achieved.

Those positives aside, however, the pace of decarbonisation is nowhere near the level needed. Ireland’s performance in reducing emissions associated with power, heavy industry and aviation did not match a decrease of 11 to 12 per cent across Europe, while there were increases in the dairy processing industry (up 4 per cent) and pharma-chemical industries (up 10.9 per cent). The figures do not include emissions in transport, agriculture and heat, which are rising under many headings, and declines due to Covid-19 lockdowns show every sign of being temporary.

Ireland risks falling behind other developed countries which are pushing on with the transition, precisely at the time that the EU and the United States are seeking more demanding global targets to be adopted in the build-up to the COP26 global summit in November. That intent can be in no doubt given efforts by US climate envoy John Kerry to get big emitters, including India and China, on board in advance of a global summit hosted by US president Joe Biden.

What is required to get Ireland on the correct trajectory is clear. Unacceptable delays in putting in place robust guidelines on wind and solar development and obvious blockages in building critical infrastructure stand out. The climate Bill must be adopted promptly to enable Ireland’s first carbon budget later this year. The Maritime Area Planning Bill is equally important in providing greater certainty for those set to develop offshore wind projects where Ireland has a competitive advantage.

The policies to facilitate rapid decarbonisation are within touching distance; demanding timelines on delivery need to be added in urgently.

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