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'Critical gaps' between government's climate plans and what it's actually doing - report

The Climate Change Advisory Council is concerned about missed targets and delayed measures inhibiting efforts to fight the climate crisis.

A climate protest in Milan ahead of Youth COP26 hosted in Italy in October
A climate protest in Milan ahead of Youth COP26 hosted in Italy in October

Updated Dec 8th 2021, 4:38 PM

THERE ARE MULTIPLE “critical gaps” between the climate policies that the government has endorsed and the actions that it is taking in practice, according to an independent panel of climate experts.

The Climate Change Advisory Council, which is tasked with advising the government on climate action and assessing Ireland’s progress, is concerned about missed targets and delayed measures inhibiting efforts to fight the climate crisis.

In its new annual review, published today, the council says that “despite positive steps, there are a number of critical gaps in implementation where our policy and ambition is not yet translating into the necessary action”.

It points to Ireland’s failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% under an EU target for 2020 and projections that Ireland will also fail to stay within a 2030 EU limit.

Even with the targets that were set out in the 2021 Climate Action Plan published last month, there is still a gap of 4 metric tonnes in emissions between how far they need to fall and how much they are expected to, the review says.

There needs to be “urgent action” to identify a solution to the shortfall and incorporate it into the next plan in 2022.

Additionally, Ireland has not yet published a long-term strategy and the Council is concerned about “potential higher cost implications of delay in long-term action”.

It warned that delays in reducing emissions now could require deeper and more expensive cuts further down the line.

The most recent Climate Action Plan that was published last month must be implemented fully and on time, it said.

Marie Donnelly, the council’s chair, said that “Ireland’s failure to meet its targets is due to not matching the ambition of plans with timely and complete delivery of actions”.

“For example, many of the measures in the original 2019 Climate Action Plan have been delayed,” Donnelly said.

The time-lag between policy development, implementation and actual emissions reduction means that unless Government takes action now, we will be unable to meet our targets in future years.

“The implementation of the carbon budgets published by the Council in October will be unachievable if this pattern within Irish climate policy is not overcome,” she said.

The Council says that implementing the Climate Action Plan is made more difficult because the detailed Annex of Actions coming out of the plan has not yet been published; the Annual Transition Statement for 2020 is overdue; and there is no long-term emissions reduction strategy.

Many measures that were in the 2019 Climate Action Plan have been delayed, especially in transport and heat, according to the review.

Adaptation

As part of its review, the council has released a scorecard that looks at progress, or lack thereof, that specific sectors have made on climate adaptation — that is, identifying the consequences of the climate crisis that are already happening or cannot be stopped and protecting people from them. 

It found that some sectors are more prepared than others but said it was unable to give any area the highest score for adaptation progress under its ranking framework.

Flood risk management and water quality and water services infrastructure have put the most substantial adaptation plans in place and were ranked as having made “good progress”.

The local government, heritage, transport, and agriculture sectors were deemed to have made moderate progress.

However, the council found no progress in the health and communications networks sectors, as well as limited progress in the electricity and gas networks sector despite projected increases in demand for electricity.

There has also been limited progress in the biodiversity sector.

Donnelly said that climate change adaptation “will be vital in order to protect our environment and society against changes in extreme temperatures, droughts and intense rainfall events”.

“The council has found that some sectors are more prepared than others, but overall there remains a real need for more meaningful leadership and coordination regarding adaptation across Government,” she said.

“The council has been unable to give the highest score for adaptation progress to any sector.”

Energy

Ireland must work towards fully decarbonising energy industries to meet long-term emissions targets, the review says.

Using renewable resources like wind, solar, hydro and marine underpins efforts to reduce emissions both in the energy sector and in transport, buildings and industry.

Individuals, communities, farmers and businesses should receive support to become “renewable self-consumers” and to store and sell excess electricity at a level that matches its market value.

Security of supply is critical. Electricity demand is expected to increase, driven by large energy users and the electrification of heat and transport.

To ensure the transmission grid on and offshore can manage increasing amounts of renewable power, and that the grid can respond to growth in transport and heating demand, there needs to be “capital investment now in order to deliver the high level of renewable electricity foreseen by 2030, including investment in the grid itself and storage solutions”.

Speaking to The Journal, Dr Hannah Daly, a lecturer in energy systems at UCC, said that delays in legislation that would help turn the government’s policies into action is a problem.

“I think that there’s a lot of ambition but there is definitely inertia in getting a lot of the conditions that are needed for decarbonisation,” Dr Daly said.

“For example, the Marine Area Planning Bill has been under development for a very long time and it’s essential that bill is in place to attract off-shore wind investment and to streamline planning and licensing for offshore wind,” she said.

Offshore wind is an absolute cornerstone of our energy system’s decarbonisation strategy, but right now, it’s the delay in these key pieces of legislation which is a really big problem.

As well as decarbonising the energy system, “we’ll have to focus on alternatives, zero-carbon fuels, and also demand reduction – for example, making our towns and cities far less focused on private car use”.

“We’re only beginning to grapple with those skills of change and innovation and the societal change that’s needed there.”

Agriculture

As demand for dairy and beef stays strong internationally, market forces alone will not incentivise farmers to implement climate mitigation actions, the Council believes.

“Projections suggest that international market demand for dairy and beef will remain strong over the current decade and beyond,” the review outlines.

“Therefore, market forces alone are unlikely to provide the incentives to farmers to adopt mitigation actions, especially where those actions come at a cost to the farmer.”

“The low level of incomes in some sectors of Irish agriculture, limited access to capital, high age profile, an aversion to risk-taking, and a range of societal factors, all represent barriers to change that have to be overcome.

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Instead, Ireland needs “strong policy incentives” that “recognise the diversity in the sector”.

In the long-term, other land uses like forestry, recreation, and peatland rewetting that can support biodiversity, flood protection and carbon sequestration should be considered.

The Climate Change Advisory Council has sent its review to Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan.

A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications told The Journal that the council’s annual review “allows Government to adjust policy to address issues highlighted by the CCAC”.

“The Government agrees that we now need to build on recent positive steps, such as the implementation of the Climate Act and the publication of Climate Action Plan 2021 with a national focus on implementation,” the spokesperson said.

“The scale of the transition required affects every aspect of Government and we are working to build capacity across all departments to deliver on climate action.

They pointed to measures such as funding for public transport and retrofitting in the National Development Plan, offshore renewable energy projects, and the Dart+ programme that was approved yesterday.

“The government recognises the need for a renewed focus on adaptation, to deal with an increase in extreme weather events. Four Government-funded Climate Action Regional Offices are supporting all local authorities on adaptation at local level.”

“The report emphasises that it is important to acknowledge that the transition will have a cost and preparations will be required to reduce the impact on the most vulnerable. A Just Transition Commission will be established to support Government policy development in this area.”

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Lauren Boland

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