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Proposed carbon budgets need to go further to reach climate targets, Oireachtas Committee told

Experts say the carbon budgets need to be stronger to achieve Ireland’s climate goals by 2030.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE PROPOSED CARBON budgets for Ireland should be revised to implement stricter limits on greenhouse gas emissions, an Oireachtas Committee has heard.

The Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action and the Environment is meeting for the second of three consecutive days to consider its response to draft carbon budgets that the government must decide whether to adopt or revise.

Experts appearing before the Committee this afternoon said the budgets need to be stronger and more transparent to achieve Ireland’s goal of cutting emissions in half by 2030.

The Climate Change Advisory Council published its proposed carbon budgets in October.

Under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, the Dáil referred the carbon budget to the Oireachtas Committee for its consideration.

Members of the Council’s Carbon Budgets Committee came before the Oireachtas hearing yesterday to present the processes and rationale behind the budgets.

This afternoon, climate experts Professor Barry McMullin, Professor John Sweeney, Professor Kevin Anderson and Paul Price raised their concerns with some elements of the budgets – in particular, that they do not go far enough.

“My view is the candidate budgets proposed by the Council should be regarded as absolute maximum and the Committee should give serious consideration to revising them downwards significant – that is to say, more stringent budgets,” Professor McMullin said.

“The current Programme for Government committed explicitly to an average reduction in total emissions of 7% per year over the period 2021 to 2030,” he said.

“Using the baseline of 2018 emissions specified in the Act, that would allow a cumulative ten-year totals to 2030 of 468Mt of CO2eq, whereas the Council proposal is for 495Mt of CO2eq, cumulatively equivalent to an annual reduction rate of just under 6% per year.”

“I urge the Committee to consider this need for much stronger, transparent and societally-inclusive national carbon budget governance at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Professor McMullin recommended that to reach Ireland’s overall climate goals, the first two budgets should be revised down by at least a combined 27Mt.

The current proposed budgets give three multi-year cycles that set limits on the total emissions Ireland can afford to produce during those time brackets.

The first cycle, which lasts until 2025, allows for a total of 295 million tonnes (Mt). The limit between 2026 and 2030 is 200 Mt, falling again to 151 Mt between 2031 and 2035.

The Carbon Budgets Committee was questioned yesterday on its decision to place tighter limits in the future and a less restrictive one for the next few years.

Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir, representing the team behind the carbon budgets, 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”.

Overall, Ó Gallachóir said that the budgets are “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.”

However, this afternoon, Professor John Sweeney said that it would be “very risky” to “backload” the budgets.

If the first budget up to 2025 is not achieved, it would put an “intolerable burden on 2026 to 2030”.

Professor Sweeney said that by 2030, the reduction in Ireland’s emissions “is likely to be 44% based on the current carbon budgets being allocated”.

My main concerns would be the question of slippage and the question of timing. We’ve seen slippage and timing being the death bed of many climate policies over the years.

Professor Kevin Anderson warned that “Ireland’s failure to produce any net reduction in emissions since 1990, despite its favourable financial position and geography, suggests thus far that climate change has received no serious political attention.

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“The unprecedented carbon budget challenges Ireland faces today stems in part from its own choice to essentially ignore three decades of clear scientific analysis and advice,” he said.

“Each year this failure to heed the science continues, so the mitigation challenges will increase.”

Tomorrow, the Oireachtas Committee will hear from analysts, sectoral representatives, and climate campaigners, including the Irish Farmers Association, Friends of the Earth, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Minister for Climate and the Environment Eamon Ryan has the power to amend the carbon budget before he presents it to Cabinet.

The carbon budget that is adopted will give rise to sectoral ceilings that set limits on emissions to specific areas of society, such as transport, energy and agriculture.

About the author:

Lauren Boland

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