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Tuesday 7 February 2023 Dublin: 7°C
Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie
# CLIMATE CRISIS
'Substantial concern' over gap in emissions reductions as new Climate Action Plan released
The plan outlines measures for electricity, transport, agriculture and other sectors to try to meet legally-binding targets.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS published its 2023 Climate Action Plan, charting how Ireland will try to cut greenhouse gas emissions in line with legally-binding targets.

Cabinet signed off on the plan today at its final meeting before Christmas, well after a November timeline indicated by Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan earlier this year.

The plan outlines measures for electricity, transport, agriculture and other sectors and the co-benefits of climate action such as improved air quality, public health, resilience against extreme weather events, and new jobs.

However, the Climate Change Advisory Council, tasked with advising the government on climate issues, has said still has “substantial concern” over the gap that remains in the government’s plans for emissions reductions, which fall short of the total level that emissions must fall by.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the plan is a “blueprint for radical change in our country”, stating that it will enhance the wellbeing and health of our people. 

Minister Ryan said the “scale of change is beyond compare”. 

Earlier this year, the government signed off on specific carbon budgets that set down limits on the amount of greenhouse gases that Ireland must not surpass over three five-year cycles and a further breakdown of emissions ceilings between sectors.

The sectoral ceilings did not add up to the total reductions that must be made, with 26 megatonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent (MtCO2eq) left unallocated.

The 2023 plan said it is “not yet possible to identify all the emerging technologies or policies required to meet our full ambition”.

“The unallocated emissions abatement of 26 MtCO2eq., which must be addressed ahead of the second carbon period (2026-2030) and equates to 5.25 MtCO2eq per annum, will require further allocation across the sectoral emissions ceilings in the coming decade.”

It said further evaluation of possible technologies and measures will be completed before the start of the second carbon budget cycle to identify “additional abatement potential”.

Potential options include increasing the targets for existing measures, such as the number of homes retrofitted; implementing targeted demand-management measures to reduce emissions-intensive activities or find alternatives; and relying “more on emerging technologies” such as hydrogen or carbon capture and storage, the plan said.

Carbon capture and storage is a contentious and expensive technique that stores carbon in the ground instead of allowing it to be released into the atmosphere.

Reacting to the report, Council member Professor Peter Thorne of Maynooth University said that “despite the progress evident in the new Climate Action Plan, the remaining gap of unallocated emissions reductions is a substantial concern”.

“It is imperative that a roadmap to close this gap be completed expeditiously to bring certainty to sectors, industry and society as to how we will achieve our ambitions,” Professor Thorne said.

Currently, the world is around 1.1 degrees warmer than pre-industrial times and is already experiencing impacts of the climate crisis such as heatwaves, droughts and melting ice sheets.

The scale of recent changes to the climate are “unprecedented” over hundreds and thousands of years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and it is “unequivocal” that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.

In 2015, the Paris Agreement called for countries to try to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees and not to allow it to surpass 2 degrees.

Global surface temperatures are expected to exceed 1.5 and 2 degrees unless “deep reductions” are made to emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Electricity

In the electricity sector, measures in the new Climate Action plan focus on ramping up production of renewable energy such as offshore wind, improving flexibility on the grid, and managing electricity demand.

“Transformational policies, measures and actions, and societal change are now required to meet the electricity sector’s carbon budget programme and sectoral emissions ceilings,” the plan states.

“During the second carbon budget, Ireland’s enormous potential for offshore wind will start to be realised, setting the country on a long-term trajectory for a net zero electricity system and allowing Ireland to supply renewable energy to, and offset emissions in, other European countries,” it says.

“In the meantime, a major acceleration and increase in onshore wind turbines across the country, transformation of land use from other activities such as agriculture to solar PV, and a hitherto unseen level of electricity network upgrades and construction will be required, as a minimum.

“As importantly, rapid delivery of flexible gas generation is needed at scale and in a timeframe to replace emissions from coal and oil generation before the second carbon budget period.”

Industry

The industry sector, which predominantly concerns manufacturing and construction, accounted for 10.2% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 and must reduce its emissions by 35%.

The key targets are to decrease embodied carbon in construction materials by 10% and 30% by 2025 and 2030 respectively; reduce fossil fuel demand through energy efficiency measured by 7% and 10%; and to increase carbon-neutral heating to 50-55% and 70-75%.

Transport

The transport sector caused 10.9 MtCO2eq in 2021.

By 2030, the Climate Action Plan wants to see a 20% reduction in total vehicle kilometres, car kilometres, and ‘commuting’ car kilometres as well as a 50% reduction in fuel usage.

There should be a 50% increase in daily active travel (walking and cycling) journeys, 130% increase in daily public transport journeys, and 25% reduction in daily car journeys.

Actions planned for 2023 include local authorities identifying roads suitable for reallocating how space is divided between different road users; advancing 1,000km of walking and cycling infrastructure; and rolling out eMobility hubs in cities with shared electric transport options.

Public transport plans include progressing the BusConnects, Dart+ and Cork Commuter Rail programmes and the Metrolink subject to approval from An Bord Pleanála.

The new plan also commits to the publication of a draft National Policy Framework on Alternative Fuels and developing incentives to promote electric bikes and electric cargo bikes instead of private cars.

Agriculture

The largest proportion of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, which in 2021 was responsible for a third of all emissions.

Key measures in the new plan consider the use of fertilisers, such as the introduction of a national fertiliser database and the adoption of protected urea; improving the efficiency of animals through certain breeding and feeding techniques; and expanding the organic sector by providing financial support to farmers who convert to organic farming.

It also looks at “providing options to livestock farmers” to to change their land use to anaerobic digestion, forestry or tillage.

Circular economy

On circular economy, the plan provides for the publication of a whole-of-government strategy and the establishment of a Circular Economy Innovation Scheme to fund projects to raise awareness or improve consumption patterns for certain products or sectors.

A Food Waste Prevention Roadmap to halve food waste by 2030 is to be developed as well as enhancements made to food waste segregation, collection and treatment.

The government will “develop new and expanded environmental levies to encourage reduced resource consumption and incentivise higher levels of re-use and recycling”.

Further measures in the plan relate to a just transition, the public sector, carbon pricing, built environment, land use, the marine environment, international climate action and adaptation.

Speaking to reporters, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said farmers will be asked to play their part, stating that they’re up for the challenge. However, Varadkar was quick to point out that there will be no coercion or compulsion, but farmers will be asked to help.

“The Government isn’t going to be culling any cows nor is the Government going to confiscate anyone’s car or curtail car ownership,” he said.

“This is going to be about incentives to use the bus or a train or to walk or to cycle [and] incentives to use an electric vehicle.”

With reporting by Christina Finn

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