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Thursday 28 September 2023 Dublin: 15°C
Sam Boal/ Ministers, including Climate Minister Eamon Ryan, outlining the sectoral emissions targets in July
# Take it by storm
Top climate panel tells government how to weather energy crisis
The Climate Change Advisory Council says crucial actions to combat the climate crisis are not happening quickly enough.

IRELAND’S TOP EXPERT group on climate change has told the government the steps it should take to protect the public from the energy crisis while cutting down our dependency on harmful fossil fuels.

A new annual report by the Climate Change Advisory Council, a panel of experts tasked with advising the government on climate change, states strongly that vulnerable households and businesses must be protected from the energy crisis and that fossil fuel use needs to be reduced.

The Council also says that crucial actions to combat the climate crisis are not happening quickly enough at either a government or societal level.

Current plans must be accelerated and further measures will be necessary for Ireland to comply with legally-binding carbon budgets, the report outlines.

It has been nearly a year since the Council published its proposed carbon budgets, the first of their kind, to guide Ireland’s emissions reductions up to 2035, providing a cap on how much Ireland could afford to emit while still meeting national targets.

At that time, the Council warned the government that “failing to act on climate change would have grave consequences”.

Now, it is again telling political leaders that they must act without delay.

Most pressing is the response to the looming energy crisis as households and businesses’ energy bills rise while Europe’s supplies tighten in the face of Russia’s war on Ukraine. 

In a statement, Council Chair Marie Donnelly said that we “must maintain our focus on reducing our use of fossil fuels”.

“By expediting the delivery of crucially important indigenous renewable resources, Ireland’s long term energy future can be secured, households and businesses can be protected against cost volatility while also supporting climate change objectives,” Donnelly said.

As we approach what will be one of the most challenging winters in a generation, it is imperative that we support communities by protecting the most vulnerable in society, particularly those in receipt of the winter fuel allowance and those living in the worst performing buildings.”

Donnelly said that recent extreme weather events internationally such as droughts and floods “show that the impacts of climate change are immediate and require urgent action in respect of mitigation and adaptation”.

“While government investment must increase with unambiguous and targeted plans in place, business, civic and community organisations can and must play a pivotal role in supporting people to overcome the current energy crisis and in helping Ireland to deliver on its climate obligations.”

The Council has sent its review to Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan, including proposals for measures that could be introduced to ameliorate the energy crisis.

It is asking for an accelerated rollout of home energy upgrades such as attic insulation, draught-proofing, regular boiler servicing, and heating controls, as well as a simplification of the paperwork required to access relevant grants.

The reductions in public transport fares the government introduced last year should be extended, the Council believes.

A strategy on electricity demand is “urgently required” and the government’s review of the role of data centres should be published before the end of this year.

Accelerated installation of smart meters – which is in progress and at its current pace is due to be complete in 2024 – along with providing customers more data about their energy use and incentivising tariffs to move demand from peak time is “crucial” to saving customers’ money. It is also important for changing patterns of electricity usage that will support a lower-carbon system, the report said.  

On the supply side, developing renewable energy “must be considered as being in the overriding public interest”, the Council said, calling on the government to increase targets for onshore wind and solar energy. 

Sectoral emissions

In July, the government announced how the greenhouse gas emissions allowed under the carbon budgets would be shared among sectors and how far each would be required to reduce its emissions.

Globally, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are necessary to try to reverse the damaging effects that rising temperatures are already having on the planet and prevent the loss of lives and ecosystems.

The decision followed heated speculation about how the reductions would be divided up between sectors, especially for agriculture, where representatives pushed back against any cut above 22%.

In its report, the Council said that the announcement of the sectoral targets was a “welcome milestone” but detailed how it fell short of important markers.

“The targets announced do not provide all of the necessary clarity in terms of how the carbon budgets are allocated at a sectoral level, how the overall target of 51% reduction by 2030 will be met, or how the Land Use Sector will be included in meeting the targets,” the report said.

“As presently expressed the quantified emissions reductions only amount to a reduction of 42% excluding the Land Use Sector and are therefore not consistent with the objective in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act.

“Whilst these targets are a useful starting point, they will need to be revised upwards and monitored closely in the light of experience.”

The Climate Action Plan 2023 due to be published later this year will need to set out precise actions and steps to stay within the carbon budgets, according to the report.

The current Climate Action Plan, which came out last November, detailed hundreds of actions – but many that were meant to be completed so far this year were either done late or not at all yet.

Government departments have pointed to various reasons for the delays, including logistical issues and inadequate resources.

In its report today, the Council said that “resourcing issues that are delaying action will need to be addressed”.

“Many of the measures in the 2021 Climate Action Plan have been delayed,” it said.

“Quarterly reporting of delivery by Government departments and agencies of the actions in National Climate Action Plans needs to be maintained and become more accessible and focused on those measures that make the most significant impact.

“These measures must then be afforded the highest possible priority by Government.”

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