The Government is under pressure to introduce “emergency” correction measures to reduce carbon emissions across the economy following publication of analysis showing Ireland’s carbon budgets are further off track than indicated by recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) projections.
The environmental group An Taisce has released analysis by climate experts Prof John Sweeney of Maynooth University and Prof Barry McMullin of DCU highlighting “a rapidly widening gap between Irish climate ambition and Irish climate action” because of an overshoot in the legally binding 2021-2025 carbon budget adopted by the Oireachtas.
“Damning as the [latest projections] are, there is, however, an even more serious issue that was not part of the EPA’s remit in reporting. This arises from the very clear statement in the Climate Act that a requirement exists for carrying forward excess emissions by reducing the subsequent carbon budget,” Prof Sweeney said.
This required a correction of the second carbon budget for 2026-2030, reducing it between 37 and 45 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, in the form of more stringent emission limits across all sectors, he said.
Their analysis indicated “Ireland’s carbon budgeting situation is far more pressing than the EPA projections report”, he said. “This has profound legal and political implications.” The EPA did not respond to the An Taisce findings.
Prof Sweeney added: “The reality of the current emissions trajectory toward the end of 2025 means a carbon budget overshoot to be removed from the 2026-2030 budget will likely be so serious that it will be much more difficult for the next government to stay within the legal requirement. This means highly effective emergency course-correction measures must be immediately enacted by the present Government to limit the overshoot.”
Under climate legislation, carbon budgets for 2021-2025 and 2026-2030 are designed to impose limits on carbon – with average annual emission reductions of 7 per cent up to 2030.
The EPA concluded, however, carbon budgets for 2021-2030 are projected to be exceeded by a significant margin of between 24 per cent and 34 per cent.
Budget gaps must be measured cumulatively and adjusted accordingly, An Taisce said. “This critical analysis, which is essential for decision-makers, is missing from the EPA report.”
“An Taisce’s revised analysis shows there is a basic budget maths issue in that the EPA report omits to show the carry-forward of the prior period’s overshoot that under the Act must result in a corresponding reduction in the subsequent carbon budget,” Prof Sweeney explained.
An Taisce has asked the EPA to clarify their projections to take account of the Climate Act’s requirement to reduce the next carbon budget in line with the current budget overshoot. “Such reanalysis clearly implies a need for dramatically increased climate action urgency by the current Government,” it said.
Prof McMullin said: “In the light of the rapidly widening gap between Irish climate ambition and Irish climate action ... the forthcoming annual revision of the climate action plan [for 2024] must surely incorporate very substantial new measures, in addition to much more robust and accelerated delivery of all of the measures presented in the current  plan across every sector to meet the proportionately reduced sectoral emission ceilings projected for 2025-2030.”
“Nothing less can plausibly be regarded as good faith engagement by all relevant Ministers with the requirement imposed by the Climate Act; that they shall each “ ... in so far as practicable, perform his or her functions in a manner consistent with” the carbon budgets applying to any given budget period,” he said.
“Political accountability for climate targets and timely climate action course corrections are essential to meeting Ireland’s declared carbon budget obligations. It is crucial that the EPA and Government departments accurately portray projections and progress relative to carbon budgets, correctly reflecting the Climate Act,” Prof McMullin added.
Even if meeting legally-adopted national carbon budget is not achieved in a particular period, Ireland’s commitment to the Paris Agreement means that radical policies and measures to reduce the use of fossil fuels and nitrogen fertiliser, and to limit timber harvest rates and peat extraction, “must still spell out the deepest possible emission reduction pathways for each sector”, An Taisce said.
Correcting the budget overshoot currently projected by the EPA may now require limiting emissions-intensive activity (directly or indirectly) in sectors such as private transport, data centres, intensive agriculture and aviation. “Robust, effective, interventions will continue to be required at least until our economy and society can be properly redirected onto a genuinely sustainable trajectory,” it said.
Economic growth or hopes for technical solutions cannot continue to be used as an excuse for failure by Government departments or agencies, An Taisce insisted. “Ireland’s commitment to meeting carbon budgets aligned with fair share action and climate reality means that cutting high emissions activities has to happen now, not later. Otherwise we will continue on the current unsustainable path.”
“It is essential that our carbon budget situation is communicated transparently to ensure that this Government and future ones are accountable for meeting the carbon budgets as set out under the Climate Act. Otherwise, Ireland’s part in the current global slide toward climate catastrophe will continue.”
A Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications spokesman said the Government had set out a roadmap to halve emissions by 2030. “The EPA’s report on projected emissions and the follow-up analysis by An Taisce, as reported, leave us in no doubt but that Ireland faces a significant challenge if we are to meet our climate targets.
“We need to act much faster and with greater ambition and scale to implement the actions set out the  climate action plan” the spokesman added.
If sectoral emissions targets and carbon budgets were not achieved on time, the Climate Act “provides that corrective or additional measures shall be introduced to ensure targets are met”, he said. “At the end of a five-year budget period, any excess emissions will be carried forward to the next budget period, which will be reduced accordingly.”