Carbon emissions in Ireland are continuing to rise despite almost 80 per cent of the goals in the State’s 2021 Climate Action Plan having been implemented, according to a final progress report published on Tuesday.
The report shows 760 of the 965 measures included in the 2021 strategy had been implemented by the end of last year, a rate of 79 per cent.
The Government noted progress on what it described as “transformational measures”, but acknowledged data from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) indicating an upward trend in energy-related emissions.
This, it said, is mainly due to increased fossil fuel use in electricity generation arising partly from the war in Ukraine; increased transport and energy emissions following Ireland’s emergence from Covid-19 restrictions; and a persistent coupling of economic activity with greenhouse gas emissions.
In this context, any implementation delays from the 2021 plan “will have significant consequences for our ability to meet legally binding carbon budgets and sectoral emission ceilings”, it warned.
The report was published as Ireland and Europe continue to feel the effects of climate disruption, with unseasonable temperatures and extreme weather events. Last year was Ireland’s hottest on record, while temperatures in Europe increased by more than twice the global average, highlighting the scale of the climate challenge. Rising carbon emissions are the single biggest contributor to global warming.
The main progress noted in the final quarter of last year included the commencement of Ireland’s first offshore renewable energy auction; the launch of the State’s first all-electric bus service in Athlone; restoration measures being carried out on six raised bog sites covering an area of some 300 hectares; and the announcement of a deposit-and-return scheme for plastic bottles and aluminium cans.
The report acknowledges Ireland is making “big progress” in many areas including transport electrification, scaling up renewable energy, embracing a circular economy, and peatland rehabilitation, but says “faster completion of high-impact actions is needed”.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “The climate crisis is unlike other challenges we have faced. It requires a rethink of how we work, travel, use our land and source our energy. In short, system change. Ireland is facing up to that generational challenge.”
While heartened by some progress made under the 2021 plan, he added that “we need to accelerate our work in this area and move much more quickly to implement agreed climate actions across all sectors”.
“This is a moment of real opportunity. We can ensure warmer homes, cleaner air, fewer journeys, less time commuting, more remote and home working, more jobs and regional development. The 2023 Climate Action Plan will help us to achieve this and bring about new income, employment and investment opportunities,” Mr Varadkar added.
Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the climate crisis was changing the world, with its effects hugely evident in Ireland and across the Continent. “We must act faster to address this, not only to achieve our international targets and our national legally binding commitments, but to improve our prospects and quality of life,” he said.
Green Party leader and Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan said the report indicated Ireland was making steady progress, “but the scale of the climate crisis means that we need to continue to respond this year and over following years with even more urgency, more innovation and more collaboration and partnership to ensure that climate action makes people’s lives not just more sustainable, but better and more viable.”
He noted the need to implement changes in a way that is fair and equitable as “every sector, every place and every person matters in this transition”.