The Government and other State agencies must accelerate climate actions if national ambitions on reducing emissions are to be achieved, according to the chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) Marie Donnelly.
Responding to the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Ms Donnelly accepted Irish ambition matches what was being demanded by UN secretary general António Guterres in addressing the climate crisis, “but the difficulty is speed of implementation”.
She did not favour holding off on carbon tax increases due later this month, because they fund climate actions by helping those experiencing fuel poverty and retrofitting of homes – a position backed former president Mary Robinson.
The CCAC had highlighted implementation gaps, she confirmed. "There are questions about the speed at which we are implementing actions. We have delays. We have hesistancies. We have longer-term plans that are necessary. All of these need to be accelerated to achieve our national goals," Ms Donnelly said on RTÉ's Morning Ireland.
Once the Oireachtas passed the national Carbon budget in coming days, it would have legal standing, she said, then the Government would have to make the political decision of setting ceilings for individual sectors. The application of sectoral limits was urgently needed as it meant "they will have a clearly defined numerical objective in which they have to operate within the carbon budget cycle".
There was a need to move faster to provide the required legislation, planning mechanisms and consultation options for the public to enable them to make the right decisions on decarbonisation to reduce their emissions.
All this had to happen precisely because of the energy crisis and the current geopolitical situation which was hitting peoples’ pockets, she said, and should not be held off because of that scenario. Ending reliance on fossil fuel imports with no control of prices was required to get people off that hook, Ms Donnelly believed.
Such measures were exactly in line with what was required to decarbonise Ireland; switching to renewables and increasing energy efficiency. “We need to switch as quickly as possible,” she added.
Asked whether the carbon tax was changing consumer behaviour, Ms Donnelly said: "Mr Putin is probably influencing human behaviour more than the carbon tax in that he put up prices to a much greater degree."
Chair of the Elders Mary Robinson said the carbon tax had to be maintained because it was ringfenced for climate actions. On implementation of climate actions, the Government was moving in the right direction “but like other governments it’s not going fast enough”, she told Newstalk Breakfast.
‘Now or never’
The penny had finally dropped in society on a “now or never” scenario in responding to climate change. “We do have to peak emissions by 2025 in three years’ time and shrink emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 ... Now we know we have to be aligned. Now we know we have to be aligned very very quickly. It’s getting more urgent by the minute.”
Mrs Robinson said she was concerned the Ukraine war could cause the climate issue to slip down the agenda and potentially put pressure on people to accelerate their use of fossil fuels. She backed increased investment in clean energy by a factor of six to help reduce emissions and keep global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees.
The IPCC report made clear “any further delay in climate action would be fatal and foolish”, said Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan. “It tells us we have to radically reduce our use of fossil fuels immediately, but thankfully that renewables are getting cheaper and more reliable all the time ... The scientists have said we have the technology to halve our emissions by 2030, what we need now is the political will to accelerate action.”
Stop Climate Chaos (SCC) coalition of environmental NGOs said Government action to reduce emissions and phase out fossil fuels “must begin now – not in 10 years’ time”.
It noted pathways in the report “overshoot the crucial 1.5 degrees guardrail” in spite of previous reports unequivocally stating that breaching that threshold would put humanity in grave danger.
Models used in the report also relied on unproven carbon removal technologies which opens up a major “moral hazard”, it added, and would distract from the need to cut emissions at source by phasing out fossil fuels and considering alternative economic systems compatible with reducing emissions in a faster, safer way.
SCC underlined the significance of the findings that renewables are cheap, fast, resilient, and offer greater price stability, which underlined the need to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and existing fossil fuel infrastructure – as well as building no new fossil fuel infrastructure.
It expressed concern that emissions have continued to rise at an alarming pace, that “financial flows” are up to six times lower than levels needed by 2030 to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees. The report’s modelling scenarios “include some degree of reliance on carbon dioxide removal, even though such technologies remain unproven at scale, and would be deeply harmful if implemented at the scale needed,” it added.
Trócaire chief executive Caoimhe de Barra, a member organisation of SCC, said: “The Report comes at a time when the world is sliding backwards on its climate commitments, when richer countries must urgently reconsider their ill-advised reliance on fossil fuels, particularly in light of the Ukraine war. It makes clear that the richest nations have not taken adequate climate mitigation actions in time. The world’s richest 10 per cent are responsible for nearly half of all emissions, while the world’s poorest account for just 12 per cent.”
SCC policy coordinator Dr Bríd Walsh said any increase in fossil fuels meant “borrowing” emissions from the future. “Frontline communities in the Global South already bear the brunt of the impacts caused by current temperature rises, suffering more than 90 per cent of the costs of climate change, and 98 per cent of the deaths associated with climate breakdown.”
Climate policy specialist Prof Diarmuid Torney of DCU said without strengthening climate policies globally, emissions would rise beyond 2025, leading to projected warming of 3.2 degrees. “This is more than double the Paris Agreement threshold of 1.5 degrees, and would lead to catastrophic climate change,” he noted.
“We’ve had several decades now of very limited climate action. We have left it very late to make the transformational changes required. The longer we leave it, the steeper the mountain becomes. But the report also charts pathways forward across different sectors, and notes for example the significant reduction in the cost of key low carbon technologies such as solar energy and batteries,” he added.
The report also raised the issue of equity, “highlighting that those at the top end of the income spectrum contribute disproportionately to climate change. It is important that our transition away from fossil fuels is fair and inclusive”.
“In recent months, the IPCC has published a number of reports with scientific evidence that climate change is already having detrimental impacts on people and on the planet. [This week’s] report goes one step further, and provides UN member countries with a guide, a handbook, on how to stop climate change,” said Hans Zomer, chief executive of the NGO Global Action Plan.
“What we need now is radical change at all levels: individuals, communities, companies and countries. We need to change the rules, change our habits and change our mindsets.
As an organisation focused on behaviour change, it highlighted the IPCC’s conclusions on reducing the “demand side” of our climate pollution.
“It calls for urgent and deep cuts in use of fossil fuels, and for ‘coordinated action throughout value chains to promote all mitigation options, including demand management, energy and materials efficiency, circular material flows, as well as abatement technologies and transformational changes in production processes’.”
In other words, the scientists call on everyone of us to take responsibility for the crisis, Mr Zomer said.
Ireland was, per capita, one of the worst climate polluters, “and a large part of our national greenhouse gas emissions is related to how we have chosen to live our lives. The decisions we make at home contribute directly to our poor climate track record as a country: how we heat our homes, how we cook, what we eat, how we travel, and the products we buy”.
At Global Action Plan they helped people understand the extent of their own personal contribution to unsustainable lifestyles, “and – more importantly – we support people in devising strategies to reduce their own impact. These actions are important in themselves, and they also inspire others to make the changes that we so urgently need”, he pointed out.