State ‘unlikely’ to meet its first carbon budget and faces potential multibillion-euro compliance costs

‘The sooner we become independent from fossil fuels, the better it will be for our health and the environment,’ says climate council

Ireland is unlikely to meet the targets of its first carbon budget for the period from 2021 to 2025 despite legally-binding sectoral ceilings on emissions applied across the economy, according to the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC).

Some progress has been achieved, it acknowledged, but its analysis indicates Ireland faces the prospect of multibillion-euro fines under “compliance costs” applied by the European Union from 2030 onwards, while carbon budgets after 2025 will be much more onerous to adhere to.

With only two years left in the first carbon budget period, the council said on Monday it is “concerned that despite progress in some sectors, it is unlikely that the first carbon budget will be met”. Cumulative emissions are likely to significantly exceed 295 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, “even in the [Environmental Protection Agency’s] more optimistic ‘with additional measures’ scenario”.

“This means very significant reductions in emissions for the remainder of the period would be required to avoid a carry-over impact into the second carbon budget period,” it warned.


Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe told the Oireachtas climate committee last week that in the worst-case scenario Ireland faced compliance costs of €8 billion.

Friends of the Earth’s senior climate adviser Sadhbh O’Neill said having to fork out such funds would be “an egregious waste of [public] money”, especially as climate legislation was not being currently adhered to and politicians were not ensuring the scale of emission reductions required by law.

CCAC chairwoman Marie Donnelly said: “The impact and disruption of recent extreme weather in Ireland and globally continue to cause distress, uncertainty and economic challenge. Yet, the evidence shows the pace of emissions reductions in Ireland and globally is insufficient.

“While reductions in Ireland are welcome, they must be accelerated and delivered across all sectors and on a sustained basis. A crucial aspect of that delivery is cutting, and ultimately, eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels. The sooner we become independent from fossil fuels, the better it will be for our health, our security, the environment and our pockets.”

Households and communities must be supported and enabled to make changes now, however incremental, and be empowered through targeted information to plan for future purchases, Ms Donnelly said. “To build on progress that has been made, the council urges Government, and all of society, to redouble its efforts to reduce emissions and grasp the opportunity now, to create a climate neutral and sustainable society.”

Transport emissions are a big concern, growing by 6 per cent in 2022. Although there was an increase in public transport journeys and EV sales, “motor petrol and road diesel sales continue to increase, and large conventional petrol and diesel vehicles continue to take up a large percentage of overall sales”.

The council called for resources and commitment to ensure promised improvements to public transport “are delivered in full and on time”. It said the revised national planning framework “must fully reflect Ireland’s climate ambition given the fundamental link between our land use planning and transport systems and the need for appropriate planning decisions to support sustainable transport modes”.

Emissions from agriculture fell by 1.2 per cent in 2022 and a target of selling fewer than 300,000 tonnes of chemical nitrogen fertilisers annually was achieved, it found, thereby reducing nitrous oxide emissions. In 2023, protected urea fertilisers, which have significantly reduced emissions, represented less than 22 per cent of straight nitrogen fertiliser sold against a target of up to 90 per cent by 2025.

Current levels of methane emissions, however, “continue at an elevated level, therefore jeopardising the sectoral ceiling”.

Emissions from electricity decreased by 2 per cent in 2022 and are likely to have fallen further last year due to record low-carbon intensity in electricity generation and high levels of imports. Renewables accounted for 43 per cent of electricity last year – against a 2025 target of 50 per cent.

“Reducing and ultimately eliminating our reliance on expensive, imported fossil fuels will reduce prices to consumers and enhance our security of supply, which is also good for our national climate objectives. However, delays in planning and rollout of onshore wind and solar farms while strengthening the grid are very real challenges ... comprehensive preparations are necessary for the achievement of the offshore wind targets later this decade,” the CCAC said.

Built environment emissions fell in 2022 by 11 per cent. Although rates of retrofitting of buildings are rising, heating systems are being decarbonised at too slow a rate, it said. The Government should actively communicate the financial and technical opportunities for heat pumps and solar PV and urgently roll out district heating schemes, it said.

Emissions from industry decreased by 7 per cent in 2022. “It is vitally important that our manufacturing sector continues to demonstrate progress in decoupling emissions growth from economic growth,” it said. The level of emissions from cement manufacturing (4.7 per cent of national emissions) “is a concern”, the council said.

Recent analysis by An Taisce also points to the impact of overshoot on the second and third carbon budgets running up to 2035, if there is a failure to meet the first carbon budget.

Their analysis suggests the carbon budget overshoot of the 2026-30 budget is so significant it will be much more difficult for the next Government to stay within the legal requirement “without highly effective emergency course-correction measures in the 2024 climate action plan to limit the overshoot”.

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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