Ireland improves climate performance in latest global index but ‘rebounding emissions’ an issue

Government delivery remains weak with many measures delayed or ignored, CCPI finds

Ireland’s ranking in addressing the climate crisis has recorded its most significant improvement by rising nine spots to 37th, although it is still among “low-performing countries”, the 2023 Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) states.

The low ranking is mainly due to Ireland’s rising greenhouse gas emissions and a high level of per capita emissions.

Ireland receives a medium rating in renewable energy and energy use categories, with a low rating in climate policy and a low rating in emissions.

The report acknowledges significant progress with Ireland committed to reducing emissions by 51 per cent by 2030 (compared to 2018 levels) and achieving net-zero emissions by no later than 2050. “Despite these goals, Ireland’s emissions are rising and have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels,” it states.


The CCPI welcomes the introduction by the Government of legally-binding carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings this year. “However, Government implementation remains weak with necessary actions and measures delayed or ignored in many areas,” it concludes.

The index analyses and compares climate actions and policies across 60 countries including the EU as a whole, which accounts for 90 per cent of global emissions. It is regarded as the most reliable indicator of countries’ response to the climate emergency, and has been published yearly since 2005. It has also played a leading role in setting out progress on implementing the Paris Agreement. It is compiled by Germanwatch, NewClimate Institute and Climate Action Network.

The CCPI say policy improvements “urgently need to be translated into substantive actions across all relevant sectors to actually reduce Ireland’s emissions”.

It notes use of coal in power generation has increased, while the country’s agricultural policies “continue to support intensification of livestock farming, which increases GHG emissions, harms water and air quality, and is a primary contributor to biodiversity loss in Ireland”.

It highlights the need to reduce use of reactive (chemical) nitrogen in fertiliser and to pay for ecosystem services.

Government plans for offshore wind are substantial, and new schemes have been introduced in transport, microgeneration and energy efficiency, it adds.

“Energy retrofits and solar photovoltaics are not being delivered at the necessary scale and not reaching those most at risk of energy poverty,” it says. “Fossil gas infrastructure and gas connections are also still being promoted. The Government has accelerated the phase-out of peat in power generation and committed to supporting peatland restoration and rehabilitation.”

The CCPI, however, criticises continuing peat extraction from wetlands for horticultural use and export.

National experts who contributed to the policy evaluation of this year’s CCPI chose to remain anonymous.

Speaking at Cop27 after the launch of the 2023 CCPI in Sharm El-Sheik, Clare O’Connor of Friends of the Earth said: “The slight improvement in Ireland’s ranking is an acknowledgment of the adoption of binding national and sectoral limits on pollution.

“But our overall low rating reflects the fact that our emissions are still rising and the Government’s adoption and implementation of policies and measures to cut pollution is still far too slow.

“Ireland’s first action plan under the new Climate Act is due to be adopted by Government before the changeover of Taoiseach in December. [It] is now the litmus test of our determination to shed the ‘laggard’ label that has dogged us for good, and do our fair share to contain climate breakdown,” she said.

Denmark, Sweden, Chile, Morocco and India lead the ranking this year while Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan come last. The US and China, the world’s biggest emitters, perform “ low” – though the US rises three ranks compared with last year, whilst China drops 13 places.

The top three places again remain vacant because no country’s measures, thus far, have been sufficient to achieve an overall “ high” rating with none following a path necessary to keep global warming within the 1.5 degree limit.

“The current energy crisis clearly demonstrates how the world remains dependent on fossil fuels. However, there is a number of countries that have a better standing than others. They took ambitious steps in climate mitigation and rapidly developed energy efficiency and renewable energies,” it says.

The good news is that in the last years, countries such as Chile, Morocco and India (ranked six to eight) have consistently performed well in the CCPI and are closing in on leading countries such as Denmark and Sweden (ranked four and five).

CCPI co-author Prof Niklas Höhne of the NCI said: “The energy crisis shows that ambitious climate mitigation is the most reasonable way to move forward economically: all countries should make themselves independent of coal, oil and gas. Renewable energy is globally less expensive than any newly built fossil power plant, and investments in energy efficiency are an essential part on the way to carbon neutrality. Denmark, Sweden and Norway demonstrate what a rapid and sustainable expansion of renewables can look like.”

Jan Burck (Germanwatch), another CCPI author, added: “It’s a moment of truth: how serious are countries about their climate commitments? Today, it becomes evident that the fossil fuel system is still strong and present – and that not only climate, but energy security urges us to transition.

“Countries now should use this external shock to focus on expanding renewables and increasing energy efficiency to rapidly reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.”

Denmark is the only country with a “high” national and even “high” rated international climate policy. However, despite adopting policies such as a CO2 tax, Denmark is not yet on track to meet its 50 per cent emission reduction target by 2025 (compared with 1990 levels).

Thea Uhlich (Germanwatch), a co-author of the CCPI, commented: “In the long term the EU will only rise further in the CCPI if it supports all member states to lower their emissions quickly – for example, by introducing a CO2 price for transport and heat together with a meaningful social climate fund.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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