Sectoral emissions ceilings published by Government for carbon budgets up to 2030

Climate Change Advisory Council raises concerns about lack of land use targets and ‘unallocated savings’

The Government has published a detailed breakdown of demanding carbon emissions ceilings legally required to be applied across the economy under two carbon budgets up to 2030.

However, significant gaps in limits for some sectors are contained in the new figures published on the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications website.

There are no targets for land use and forestry which accounted for five million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2018 – an issue highlighted by the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC).

Separately, 5.25Mt are classified as “unallocated savings” that must be achieved to stay within an overall limit of 495Mt to be secured by 2030 to ensure Ireland’s emissions are cut by 51 per cent from a 2018 baseline.


As anticipated, reductions are heavily back-loaded until the second half of the decade.

Ceilings are the total amount of permitted greenhouse gas that can be produced during a specific time period. They will be challenging as emissions are rising or only flatlining in most sectors.

Climate Change Advisory Council chairwoman Marie Donnelly welcomed their publication but added “there remains considerable uncertainty around the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector and its contribution to these overall targets”.

She accepted this was something the department itself had acknowledged.

“It is therefore imperative the Government act to remove the uncertainty regarding LULUCF within the stated 18-month period and use the time to close the gap in respect of the unallocated savings for the second carbon budget period,” Ms Donnelly added.

The Government must also ensure its next Climate Action Plan “includes a policy-specific, time-bound and quantifiable explanation of how the sectoral emissions ceilings for the first carbon budget period [up to 2025] will be delivered”, she added.

“There is a significant amount of unallocated savings in the second carbon budget period, 2026-2030, which need, ultimately, to be subtracted from the sectoral emissions ceilings already agreed,” she said.

Black box

Ms Donnelly described this as “a black box” needing to be closed urgently.

“The carbon budgets require significant and immediate effort, the payback for which, in terms of emissions, will take time to realise. This is something that was acknowledged within the council’s carbon budget proposals,” she said

The first carbon budget allowed space for these actions to be taken, and the results of this first budget will be felt into the second and third carbon budgets, she confirmed.

Overall sectoral cuts for 2021-2025 total 295Mt CO2 eq – an average reduction of 4.8 per cent annually. For 2026-2030, it is 200 MtCO2 eq – an average reduction of 8.3 per cent annually.

The breakdown is based on overall limits approved by Government in July after difficult negotiations on limits for agriculture, which were set at a 25 per cent reduction; considerably less than other sectors.

Wind Energy Ireland (WEI) expressed concern about the achievability of limits in the power sector.

The Government’s 2021-2030 target for the power sector is 60Mt. In 2021, about 10Mt of that “was spent”, with a similar figure likely this year because of a rising emissions scenario due to increased fossil fuel usage prompted by the energy crisis, according to WEI chief executive Noel Cunniffe.

That leaves just 40Mt from 2023 to 2030, he added, which would be challenging. “WEI analysis shows without fundamental change in the power sector the absolute best we can do is 66Mt,” he confirmed.

Grid level

“The electricity sector can only meet the Government’s carbon emissions targets by end of the decade if there is complete transformation at planning system level, at grid level and on routes to market,” Mr Cunniffe said.

Their analysis had shown how power sector emissions could only be kept to 66Mt, unless extensive new grid infrastructure was completed by 2030, coal and peat electricity production ceased much sooner, and large volumes of offshore wind were connected before 2028, which experts say is now the earliest date for delivery.

Mr Cunniffe added: “The key question is what are we going to do in the meantime.” The sector was relying on getting sufficient onshore wind through the planning system, he believed.

Transport is set for a 20 per cent cut in emissions in the first carbon budget, and a further 50 per cent cut in 2026-2030. The “built environment – residential” faces a 20 per cut for 2021-2025, and by 40 per cent up for the second budget up to 2030.

The “built environment - commercial” sector has cuts of 20 per cent and 45 per cent respectively, while agriculture faces cuts of 17.5 per cent and approximately 25 per cent. Industry must cut emissions by 20 per cent and 35 per cent.

The document says important additional information in relation to LULUCF emerged recently; “as a result, the finalisation of this ceiling has been temporarily deferred”.

It stresses the Government “continues to take active steps” within this sector and is committed to peatland rehabilitation and enhanced delivery of afforestation. It accepts “further work will need to be done on assigning the 5.25 MtCO2 eq in annual unallocated savings for the period 2026 to 2030″.

The document confirms what sectors are the responsibility of particular ministers. Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan “intends to undertake a review of the Ministerial accountability framework for the sectoral emissions ceilings within six months to ensure an optimal enduring approach to this vital aspect of climate governance”, it adds.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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