Ireland’s road to a carbon-free future has hit rocky terrain. The latest EPA projections indicate a strong likelihood that the headline national target of a 51 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030 is more likely to be 29 per cent. Most sectors will come up short, while agriculture, industry, transport and energy will exceed by large margins sectoral ceilings adopted by the Government last year and set in law after a lot of hard negotiation.
The enforcing role of two carbon budgets is being undermined by poor implementation and slow delivery of actions. In too many cases, the detail of how to reach critical targets is missing. The limits on carbon for 2025 and 2030 “will not be met, and by a significant margin”.
Its projections, combined with CSO figures, indicate little progress in decoupling a strong economy and rising emissions. There was little comfort in data suggesting the rate of emission increases did not match growth. As the EPA warns, strong economic activity, surging energy demand and population growth “are eroding the increased ambition in the 2023 climate action plan”.
Census 2022 data published this week, showing increased car use and reduced public transport by commuters, highlight how deep-rooted the problem is. The Government is having little success in keeping the lid on emissions associated with strong growth.
“This underlines the urgency of moving to an economy and society powered by renewable energy sources. The longer we wait, the longer it will be before we realise the benefits as the time horizon for achievement of national and EU commitments is getting ever shorter,” noted EPA senior manager Stephen Treacy.
The Government – and future administrations – will need to close those emissions gaps as quickly as possible by shifting the emphasis from setting targets to meeting them. Ireland needs to fully implement the 2023 climate plan. Much of the heavy lifting can be achieved by full implementation of what is already planned, while applying additional interventions to keep ahead of growth – currently outstripping decarbonisation efforts. That could get Ireland near the 51 per cent target.
There are painful consequences for failure that go beyond damage to national reputation. It will mean demanding new EU targets will not be met and having to buy costly allowances from countries successfully decarbonising. Ireland will no longer be able to market itself as a green tourist destination. But as Friends of the Earth has underlined, these actions represent the very least that Ireland has to do “to fulfil our commitment to the Paris Agreement temperature goals, bearing in mind that it is the vulnerable developing countries that are bearing the brunt of climate breakdown”. The moral obligation could not be clearer.