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Oireachtas Committee urged to recommend approval of Ireland's first carbon budgets

TDs and senators are examining the proposed caps on Ireland’s emissions between now and 2035 over three days of meetings.

LAST UPDATE | 11 Jan 2022

REPRESENTATIVES OF THE Climate Change Advisory Council are before an Oireachtas Committee this afternoon for the first of three consecutive days scrutinising the carbon budgets proposed for Ireland.

The Committee on the Environment and Climate Action, the first Oireachtas committee to return after the Christmas break, is meeting three days in a row this week to hear from scientists, campaigners and trade representatives on Ireland’s plans to cap emissions. 

A representative of the Climate Change Advisory Council has asked the Committee to recommend that the proposed carbon budgets are adopted to enable emissions reductions. 

At today’s meeting, TDs and senators are examining the work of the Climate Change Advisory Council’s Carbon Budgets Committee in preparing the budgets for the Council to consider.

The Council, an independent body tasked with advising the government on Ireland’s transition to becoming a low-carbon economy, sent its proposed carbon budget to Minister Eamon Ryan in October.

Members of its Carbon Budgets Committee are now outlining the processes involved in developing the budgets and answering questions from the politicians.

Presenting the work behind the budgets, UCC Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir said that emissions cuts “will require rapid and sustained economic, social and technological transformation across all sectors of the economy”.

“The carbon budgets were developed and proposed during 2021. That is in year one of the first carbon budget period. We are now in year two,” Ó Gallachóir said.

“I would encourage the Oireachtas Committee to recommend that these carbon budgets be adopted and further to ensure that the necessary urgency is directed at developing and implementing the policy supports and regulations to enable Ireland to remain within these carbon budgets,” he said.

Asked where the main challenges would be to implementing the budgets, O’Gallachóir said: “It’s system-wide. We’re talking about a complete transformation.”

The carbon budgets aim to chart how Ireland can cut greenhouse emissions in half by 2030 (compared to 2018) and ultimately get on course to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The proposal outlines three multi-year cycles that limit the amount of emissions the country can afford to produce during those time brackets.

Speaking to the Oireachtas committee, Dr Hannah Daly, an energy modelling expert, told politicians that “the energy system underpins everything that we do”.

“Right now, around 88% of our energy comes from fossil fuels, with fossil fuels being the overall source of CO2 emissions that need to fall,” Dr Daly said.

We need a relentless, rapid shift away from consuming fossil fuels.

“The focus needs to move away from meeting certain technology targets towards a relentless, immediate focus on reducing fossil fuel consumption because it permeates all aspects of society.”

In a statement to The Journal ahead of the Oireachtas meeting, a spokesperson for the Climate Change Advisory Council said that the Oireachtas Committee is “currently engaged in its role to consider the Carbon Budgets presented to the Oireachtas by the Minister under Section 6.B(2) of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021″.

“The CCAC and members of the Carbon Budgets Committee are happy to support the Joint Oireachtas Committee in this task.”

The first proposed carbon budget cycle, which lasts until 2025, allows for a total of 295 million tonnes (Mt) between now and then.

The limit between 2026 and 2030 is 200 Mt, falling again to 151 Mt between 2031 and 2035.

Ó Gallachóir told the Oireachtas that “if we set a carbon budget in the first five years that isn’t achievable, that can be a very damaging process for the whole trajectory”.

What we’re aiming for is to get net zero by 2050. What we’re aiming for is to significantly reduce our emissions. We have had emissions reduction in the period of 2005 to 2020, but it’s nowhere near what’s required.

“What’s proposed is very ambitious. It could of course be more ambitious, but the committee was conscious of its obligations in terms of taking into account all of the different obligations, some of which would push you in one direction or another. I’m certainly very comfortable that what we’ve arrived at is the optimum.”

A Council report in October said that the budgets “will require transformational changes for society and the economy which are necessary”.

“Failing to act on climate change would have grave consequences,” the report said.

Council Chair Marie Donnelly is among the witness before the Oireachtas Committee meeting today, alone Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir who presented an opening statement on behalf of the Council.

The other representatives appearing today are Patricia King of ICTU, UCD’s Professor Lisa Ryan, Maynooth University’s Professor Peter Thorne, Dr Trevor Donnellan and Dr Kevin Hanrahan of An Teagasc, UCC’s Dr Hannah Daly, and UL’s Dr David Styles.

The committee meets again tomorrow at 1.30pm to hear from more academics.

On Thursday, the committee will listen to analysts, sectoral representatives, and climate campaigners, including the Irish Farmers Association, Friends of the Earth, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

A public consultation on the carbon budget is currently open to allow the public to send submissions to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

The consultation is due to close on 8 February.

After consulting with the public and other government ministers, Minister Eamon Ryan has the power to amend the carbon budget before he presents it to Cabinet.

When accepted, the carbon budget will give rise to sectoral ceilings that allocate limits on emissions to specific areas of society, including transport, energy and agriculture.

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