Ireland should lead world on phasing out fossil fuels, says climate council chair

Climate rankings ‘disappointing’ but indications of improved national performance in 2024, says Marie Donnelly

Ireland should lead the world by announcing a decision to phase out its fossil fuel use immediately, according to the chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) Maire Donnelly.

Speaking in Dubai at Cop28, she said “we should set targets for ourselves” to end oil and gas use, including targets and timelines for key sectors of the economy.

She said the electricity sector probably had the ability to get off carbon first followed by housing “a little later”, but that would depend on the type of new houses built. Transport should decarbonise by the 2040s. There was an overall need to “definitively have all targets achieved well before midnight on December 31st 2050″.

The “global stocktake” dominating at the UN summit was showing the world was not on track, with much more ambition and better implementation of climate actions needed. The big question for Cop28 was what to do with fossil fuels which are responsible for 80 per cent of global emissions, she added.


The CCAC, an independent body which advises the Government, is of the view that “we should reduce and ultimately eliminate fossil fuels in Ireland”, on the basis that it is imported, expensive with an inability to control the price, while also polluting and giving rise to emissions.

“The most important thing is we have alternatives ... in the form of wind and solar. We have the technology, the know-how and, frankly, the money to make the transition,” Ms Donnelly said. “So our very strong recommendation is that we should lead the world in phase out of fossil fuels.”

This should allow for use of “abated” fossil fuels, where carbon removal technologies are used, but in very limited circumstances, she said – in Ireland’s case that would apply to cement making. This was far more restrictive than the way carbon capture and storage was being considered at Cop28, she believed.

Abated fossil fuels “should not be used as an excuse” and carbon capture and storage (CCS) should not be “a general solution”, but only in impossible to decarbonise activities. While new technologies may emerge, carbon capture technology would be needed in cement making, she accepted.

As it was very expensive, CCS won’t happen spontaneously by companies, she said. It will have to be funded and regulated particularly on transport and storage of carbon, including addressing security issues.

On Ireland’s worsening position in the latest country rankings of the Climate Change Performance Index, she said it was disappointing given significant actions have been put in place, but it was good to have an external view – “otherwise we risk complacency” – and to be compared to others.

She confirmed the country’s emissions curve “is very slightly bending” downwards but expected better progress next year. Provisional indications for 2023 were encouraging overall, with reductions in the building sector continuing due to retrofits, increased efficiency in buildings and use of heat pumps.

Ms Donnelly said she was cautiously optimistic that the electricity sector would reduce emissions for 2023 as more renewables and less fossil fuels were used. Use of solar in homes – with applications for grants averaging 600 a week – was making a difference.

She expected a further decrease in agricultural emissions, primarily due to less use of nitrogen fertilisers. Decreases in 2022 were driven by price, but more recently the trend was due to behavioural change as farmers realised reducing nitrogen use had not reduced productivity.

While using multi-sward pastures was getting traction, there was less success in use of protected urea, an imported fertiliser. The climate action plan commits to a reduction in usage of 80-95 per cent but this was “still in the low teens”.

“The supply chain has not stepped up to the mark here,” she said. That was a matter for co-ops and supply stores. Once Ireland is generating hydrogen from renewables it would be possible to manufacture this product which was cost competitive for farmers, as this allowed for manufacture of ammonia, which could also be used as a shipping fuel of choice and ultimately be used in sustainable aviation fuels.

“We are concerned transport emissions are going up with a rebound post Covid,” Ms Donnelly said, which included passenger and heavy duty transport. This had prompted the CCAC to look at the availability of options for commuters, including identification of areas not well serviced by public transport or where it was too infrequent or unreliable.

Having a strong economy and growing population will be challenging for Ireland in addressing it emissions issues but these had to be addressed collectively to avoid restrictions that might have to be applied, she said.

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Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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