Climate Action Plan

WILL WE BE LEADERS OR LAGGARDS IN IMPLEMENTING IT?

Ireland has been described in recent years as a ‘climate laggard’ because of our country’s failure to meet commitments on EU greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. Recently the Irish Government launched its new Climate Action Plan. It sets out how all of us in this country will play our part in the global effort to keep global warming to less than 1.5°C.Scientists say that warming above this level will increase the risk of climate chaos and significant suffering for humanity. Liam Murtagh sets out the key elements of Ireland’s Climate Action Plan and considers what is needed to ensure that the plan is implemented successfully.

CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT AND JUST TRANSITION

The nature of the overall approach to the implementation of the Climate Action Plan is critical to its success. ‘We must ensure we bring people with us and that the transition is fair’ is how the government describes its commitment. In order to engage people on climate action, The National Dialogue on Climate Action (NDCA) unit will establish a National Climate Stakeholder Forum and also a Youth Climate Assembly. At a local level, local authorities and voluntary sector organisations will be supported by the NDCA  in organising climate awareness and climate conversation events.

Some sections of Irish society will be more impacted than others as we decarbonise the economy.  The ‘Just Transition’ principle is intended to ensure that fairness is evident in the transition. According to the plan, people need to be equipped with the skills to benefit from changes and that costs need to be shared. Increased carbon taxes will be earmarked for social protection measures and there will be funding for energy retrofitting for social and low-income homes and agri-environment projects.

For citizen engagement and the ‘Just Transition’ to happen, it is vital that that the ‘climate conversations’ extend widely into all sectors and communities. In relation to ‘Just Transition’ it would be important that there is independent verification that those adversely effected by the move to decarbonise are being supported in the transition. Communicating to the wider public the extent and rate of  progress on just transition is vital.

RENEWABLE ENERGY

Greenhouse gas emissions from generating electricity will, according to the Climate Action Plan, need to reduce by a massive 62%-81% by 2030 (the bands for this and other sectors will soon be amended to a specific percentage and become legally binding). In the first instance there is a need to reduce, where possible, our use of fossil fuel energy in every sector – and by us as individuals. In the plan there is a commitment to an unprecedented shift to renewable sources, mainly offshore wind energy. Micro generation using solar or other sources will provide an opportunity for householders, farmers and businesses to supply energy for their own use and to supply surplus to the grid.

The challenges in implementing the shift to renewable electricity generation include significant upgrading of the grid infrastructure and also having standby capacity when wind speeds are low while at the same time incrementally reducing the use of fossil fuels. The successful deployment of more battery storage and the increased use of hydrogen are important in meeting this aspect of the overall challenge.

AGRICULTURE, FORESTRY & LAND USE

Agriculture in Ireland generates over one third of Ireland’s emissions. These gases consist mainly of methane and nitrous oxide. In the plan there is a target reduction in emissions from agriculture of between 22% and 30% by 2030.

It is expected that this will be achieved through efficiency, the use of technology, an increase in organic farming, a switch to the use of protected urea (from regular nitrogen fertilizer) and reduced use of other chemical fertilizers.

It is also envisaged that there will be a significant increase in energy crops, forestry/woodlands, agroforestry and also in biomethane production from anaerobic digestors. In addition, the plan commits to further bog rehabilitation, improved management of grasslands on mineral soils, the rewetting of organic soils and a number of measures to support biodiversity. 

Reducing emissions in agriculture is challenging and so those involved in the industry need support to meet the challenge. Payments to farmers under new CAP (Common Agriculture Policy) will need to be aligned with climate and biodiversity objectives. Agencies and organisations associated with the agri industry need to support the primary producer in moving to low emission farming. Perhaps it’s time for a regional anaerobic digestor in the North East that will produce biomethane and also help deal with the problem of agri waste. Although much of Irish food is exported, consumers in Ireland can be urged to buy more Irish organic produce and food that is sustainably produced in Ireland. In doing so, consumers will generally reduce their carbon footprint and at the same farmers will be more likely to have a reasonable income.

INVESTMENT, BUSINESS AND THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY

Considerable investment by government and the private sector will be required to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The National Development Plan commits to a total public investment of €165 billion over the period 2021 to 2030, which the governments claims will support Ireland’s climate action ambitions. The strategy on energy use by data centres will be reviewed while the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and the SEAI will work to help decarbonise wider industry. A Climate Toolkit will be among the resources that will be available to support businesses to decarbonise. Among the measures to cut emissions are increasing the uptake of carbon-neutral heating and decreasing the embodied carbon in building materials through using more wood in construction. The overall emissions reduction target for businesses is 44%-56%.

Today’s linear ‘take-make-waste’ model of production needs to be replaced with the Circular Economy and the Bioeconomic models. The Government commits to enabling this transition including a commitment that by 2030  food waste will be reduced by 50% and all plastic packaging will be reusable or recyclable.

Clear linking of investment and supports by government to measurable reduction emissions is essential. Public bodies and businesses need to be required to demonstrate what their current emissions are, and business supports should be linked to a business’s strategy and success in reducing emissions. At EU level there is a need for trade tariffs to reflect a product’s carbon footprint. Carbon labelling on products needs to be introduced so that the consumer knows the carbon footprint of their purchase. The quantity of unrecyclable waste is increasing significantly in Ireland and so a major drive is now needed to reverse this trend.

HOMES AND TRANSPORT

There is a commitment by Government to support the retrofitting of 500,000 homes by 2030 and to have low-cost loans in place to ensure affordability. There will also be free upgrades for low-income households. Supporting the installation of 680,000 renewable energy heat sources, e.g. heat pump (pictured) in both new and existing residential buildings is a major commitment. Building standards will be strengthened, and to ensure that there are skilled workers to undertake the energy retrofitting work a further three specialist training centres will be established. Overall, the emissions reduction target for the residential sector is 44%-56%. The plan commits to a significant cut in transport emissions. This will be achieved by an extra half a million walking, cycling and public transport journeys per day by 2030. The proportion of kilometres driven by passenger electric cars will increase to between 40% and 45% while there is a target of a 10% reduction in kilometres driven by the remaining internal combustion engine cars. All replacements for bus and commuter rail vehicles and carriages will be low or zero carbon by 2030 and there will be an increased rollout of rural public transport through ‘Connecting Ireland’. Overall, the emissions reduction for transport will be 42%-50%.

Given the poor building standards in previous decades and the dispersed nature of settlements in Ireland the challenges in decarbonising energy in homes and transport are significant. In retrofitting homes, the focus needs to be on social housing and low and middle-income private home owners. The process of undertaking energy retrofits needs to be administratively straightforward for homeowners. Walking and cycling options need to made more attractive by more traffic calming measures in urban areas. In relation to electric vehicles (EVs) there is a specific need currently to increase the number of fast charging points especially on motorways (as pictured) and national primary routes in order to encourage consumers to switch to EVs.

OVERSIGHT AND LINKAGE TO GLOBAL SUSTAINABILITY

The Climate Action Delivery Board will hold each Department and public body accountable for the delivery of actions set out in the Climate Action Plan, and will present a delivery report to Government each quarter. The Government will update the Climate Action Plan annually. As well as the many mitigation actions in the plan the Government will also oversee climate adaptation measures. Climate Action Regional Offices (CAROs) will support local authorities in climate mitigation and adaptation.

The government points outs that the Climate Action Plan reflects Ireland’s commitment to UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (Climate action is Goal 13 of the 17 SDGs). It also is committed to supporting countries in the developing world who are suffering the worst effects of climate change. . At EU level, the Irish Government is required to report on our country’s emissions reduction and if we are meeting targets. Failing to meet targets will result in penalties. 

The challenge to implement the Climate Action Plan successfully is one that everyone needs to feel ownership of. Given the COVID crisis, the effort to focus on climate action is a difficult one. However, the implications of inaction on climate are likely to be catastrophic and so it is essential for Ireland and all its people to engage in climate action. Perhaps in 2022 it is time for a new partnership of all sectors of our community at national and local level to work out how we can all play our part.

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