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Ireland will face its own challenges as part of the EU's mammoth 'carbon neutral by 2050' plan

The ‘Fit for 55′ plan first aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030.

Land use will be key to the plans.
Land use will be key to the plans.
Image: Shutterstock

A MAJOR EU plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 poses significant challenges for Ireland, particularly in the areas of transport and agriculture. 

The so-called ‘Fit for 55′ plan seeks to speed up decarbonisation by committing to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. 

This mammoth plan unveiled by the European Commission yesterday is intended to transform the EU economy from fossil fuel dependency to a world of net-zero emissions.

Brussels also hopes to establish Europe as the leader on meeting the goals of the Paris climate accord.

“Europe is now the very first continent that presents a comprehensive architecture to meet our climate ambitions,” EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels.

We have the goal, but now we present the roadmap to how we are going to get there,” she added. 

The myriad proposals include an effective ban on the sale of new petrol-driven cars from 2035, one of the boldest moves that has already been attacked as “not rational” by some elements of the car industry. 

The dozen draft laws were announced by the European Commission’s environment supremo Vice President Frans Timmermans, who said the political challenge was immense.

“Nothing we have presented today is going to be easy. It’s going to be bloody hard. I know that,” he said.

At the heart of the legislative package is the ambition to breathe new life into the EU’s flawed Emissions Trading System (ETS), the world’s biggest carbon market, where industry pays for the right to pollute.

The new laws will make their way through the EU’s legislative system where it is expected to face pressure from both industry lobbyists and green activists.

“Each state will have to defend its interests because their situations are very different in terms of industry, geography, energy supply and investment capacity,” said a senior EU diplomat.

Home grown

In Ireland, this country has already set a legally binding target of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 as part of the Climate Action Bill.

Ireland is also aiming to ban the sale of new fossil fuel cars by 2030, five years ahead of the EU-wide plan. 

When it comes to ‘Fit for 55′,  some of the major challenges for Ireland will come in the area of land use. 

The EU plan sets an overall EU target for removing carbon from the atmosphere in natural sinks, such as forests, with an aim to plant three billion trees across Europe by 2030.

This carbon sink target is equivalent to removing 310 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, with specific targets set out for member states to help achieve this goal.

As part of this effort, the plan says that:

By 2035, the EU should aim to reach climate neutrality in the land use, forestry and agriculture sectors, including also agricultural non-CO2 emissions, such as those from fertiliser use and livestock. 

The plan to reach carbon neutrality in agriculture is particularly challenging and Fine Gael MEP for Midlands-North-West Colm Markey has said the target is “more ambitious” than what is contained in Ireland’s own agricultural climate strategy.

“We need to ensure that there is accurate accounting for non-C02 agricultural emissions, in particular methane as well as recognising the major part ‘effectively managed commercial forestry’ can play as a carbon sink,” he said. 

Markey also said that specific details of the forest strategy with the overall plan need to be set out.

He argues that commercial forestry where timber is harvested and used “in a sustainable way” can also contribute to the removal of carbon from the atmosphere. 

Other Irish interests have also been giving reaction to the plans, with Ibec’s Danny McCoy describing the scope of the reforms as “unprecedented”. 

“Nearly every sector of society impacted in some way,” he said. 

While time is needed to work through the detail and full implications of the 13 proposals, the principle of reform is welcome. In a changing world, where investment, consumers, and talent follow environmental integrity, climate action makes both economic and environmental sense.

“Through the European Green Deal and the Climate Bill, Ireland now has a real opportunity to become a global leader in sustainability.”

Airline industry

Another of the areas where Ireland could be hugely impacted by the proposals are in the aviation sector, which is currently reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

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One of the measures within the EU plan seeks to tax aviation fuel for intra-European flights. 

Former airline chief Willie Walsh, who previously led Aer Lingus and then British Airways, is now head of the International Air Transport Association. 

The Dubliner has responded to the EU plans by saying that they do nothing to incentivise the production of sustainable fuel alternatives.  

“Aviation is committed to decarbonization as a global industry. We don’t need persuading, or punitive measures like taxes to motivate change,” he said. 

“In fact, taxes siphon money from the industry that could support emissions’ reducing investments in fleet renewal and clean technologies. To reduce emissions, we need governments to implement a constructive policy framework that, most immediately, focuses on production incentives for sustainable aviation fuels.”

- With reporting by © – AFP 2021

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Rónán Duffy

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