Ryan says sense of doom around climate action projections is understandable

EPA conference told that Irish peatlands should be considered as important as a rainforest in storing carbon

Projections suggesting that Ireland will miss its climate action targets have understandably brought a sense of doom for some, Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan has said, but it will not be impossible to turn the situation around.

He said the Government has put in place six “acceleration taskforces” to ensure that action to reduce carbon emissions across every sector of the economy is scaled up over the next three years.

Each of these has taken on board lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, and they are going outside of “government silos” and bringing in experts to ensure a transformation can be achieved at the scale and pace necessary, he told an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conference at Croke Park on Wednesday.

The EPA on Wednesday indicated that Ireland is unlikely to meet its target of halving emissions by 2030, and that carbon budgets are likely to be exceeded – particularly up to 2025 – with agriculture and transport cited as areas of concern.


Mr Ryan said recommendations on sectoral emissions ceilings, due to be brought before Cabinet soon, would be challenging. “However, we must all strive to ensure the final agreed targets align with the carbon budgets, already approved by the Dáil, and ultimately with the Climate Act 2021.”

In meeting the agreed, science-based targets to address the climate crisis, every sector, including agriculture, would have to adopt a figure at the upper end of ranges agreed earlier this year. If one sector did less there was risk it would become impossible for others to make up the shortfall.

Mr Ryan said the taskforce for the electricity sector had the most demanding target in exploiting renewables, particularly offshore wind energy. The Ukraine war and high fossil fuel prices had added to the sense of urgency in this area.

The taskforce would accelerate deployment of projects off the east coast and quickly move to the south and west coast, he said. It would not be a Klondyke, he underlined, but a State-led process working with developers to see how best renewable power is generated, stored, transported and converted to ammonia and green hydrogen.

A second taskforce was directing transformation in heating homes, including introducing district heating in urban areas, and roll out of sustainable transport. A third was overseeing land-use change by drawing up plans to optimise rural development, restore biodiversity, reduce water pollution and maximise carbon storage in soils. While this was most challenging it presented an opportunity to transform agriculture to the benefit of farmers.

A fifth taskforce has a mandate to ensure a just transition as Ireland decarbonises. “It won’t happen fast if it’s not just,” Mr Ryan said. A taskforce on climate communications has been put in place to ensure the story was right and to build on people’s wish for meaningful action.

EPA director general Laura Burke called for collective action to implement climate action plans at the scale and pace necessary “to secure a sustainable and liveable Ireland for everyone by 2050″. There was a need to be “decisive, courageous and ultimately meticulous” in implementing plans and policies supporting a transformation of the country, she said.

Chair of the National Water Forum and Project Woodland Matt Crowe said Ireland had to urgently ensure its peatlands, organic soils and forests become a major store of carbon, rather than releasing 4-5 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year – the equivalent of the carbon footprint of 700,000 people.

Irish peatlands should be considered as important as a rainforest in storing carbon, yet it looked as if emissions from land would worsen over the coming decade because of current forests maturing and low levels of reforestation. “That is not a place we want to be … We have to make it easier to grow trees.”

ESB chief executive Paddy Hayes said delivering “zero-carbon” electricity was one to the primary ways to deliver urgent climate action and societal decarbonisation. Clean power using renewables could eliminate 20 per cent of emissions associated with generation, and contribute to cutting 50 per cent of Ireland’s overall emissions, he noted.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times