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Monday 25 September 2023 Dublin: 16°C
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# looking ahead
Ireland has finally released its 30-year climate plan - here's what it says
The long-term climate strategy has been published today three years after an EU deadline.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS finally published an EU-mandated long-term climate strategy, laying out sector-by-sector plans for how to drive down greenhouse gas emissions.

Cabinet approved the draft long-term strategy this week for submission to the European Commission, three years after a deadline of 1 January 2020. The government also intends to prepare an additional, updated version of the strategy that will not reach the EU until at least the end of the year.

The EU Commission has outlined that “stable long-term strategies are crucial to help achieve the economic transformation needed and broader sustainable development goals”.

The first version of Ireland’s long-term strategy, published today, outlines steps for how the electricity, industry, built environment, transport and agriculture, forestry & land use sectors can cut their emissions over the next several decades to help the country play its part in thwarting the climate crisis, which has already caused “substantial damages” and “irreversible losses” to the planet

Ireland’s overarching climate targets are to reduce emissions by 51% compared to 2018 by 2030 and to reach net-zero by 2050. 

“Reaching climate neutrality will mean that Ireland will have no further negative impacts on the climate system by mid-century,” the strategy details.

This represents an extremely ambitious target for Ireland to meet over the next three decades, but one which is in line with the scale and severity of climate breakdown facing the international community and which underscores Ireland’s commitment to showing leadership on climate action.”

The strategy maintains that it is “important that climate policy and investment, throughout this transition, is managed in a manner which supports Ireland’s international competitiveness and protects economic growth” – a potentially contentious statement given that many experts are divided on whether economic growth is compatible with the changes necessary to prevent catastrophic impacts of climate change.

LTS 3.3

LTS 3.2

LTS 3.1 Department of Environment, Climate and Communications Extracts from the long-term strategy Department of Environment, Climate and Communications

In the electricity sector, current focuses are phasing out coal and peat-fired electricity generation and making sure 80% of electricity comes from renewable sources by 2030. Managing electricity demand “will be a central part of our approach to achieving emissions reductions”, while “unlocking the flexibility of large electricity demand users [such as data centres] will be a key challenge”.

“Energy demand, including data centres, will be expected to operate within sectoral emissions ceilings and further signals will be required to locate demand where existing or future electricity grid is available and close to renewable energy generation. Research and development in energy storage and flexibility (such as a science challenge to industry)will be required to put Ireland on a pathway to net-zero-carbon data centres,” the strategy outlines.

Meeting Ireland’s 2050 climate neutrality target will require full decarbonisation of the power sector. In order to achieve this, Ireland will need to achieve near zero emissions from 2035.”

A major factor will be the expansion of offshore wind generation as a source of renewable energy for Ireland, but also to allow Ireland to sell renewable energy to other European countries. Installation rates of wind and solar power will need to “significantly accelerate”, along with the “timely modernisation and expansion of the power grid in a cost-effective way”.

Other measures the government may employ in the long-term include the use of gases like hydrogen, new interconnectors with other European countries, and energy storage.

In industry – which relates mainly to activities in manufacturing and the production of certain materials, such as cement – the strategy argues that full decarbonisation “poses significant challenges”.

“There is no known way to deliver complete decarbonisation in some industry sub-sectors, such as cement. This means that the sector will need to reduce emissions as much as possible and use negative emissions to offset these remaining emissions,” the strategy says.

Core measures for industry will include substituting certain fuels with alternatives, electrifying low-temperature industrial processes, and increasing the use of solid biomass. Additional, less-researched measures may involve the use of bio-gas, carbon capture and storage, or the injection of carbon dioxide into concrete in a process that reduces its climate impact.

The built environment – that is, Ireland’s residential, commercial and public sector buildings – will need to see significant retrofitting and electrification of heat systems.

“All buildings will need to switch to technologies such as heat pumps or district heating by 2050, meaning that the gas grid will no longer supply existing homes and commercial premises,” the strategy says.

Key measures will be diligent urban planning, zero-emission new buildings, retrofitting of existing buildings, and zero-emissions heating through electrification and the use of district heating.

The transport sector will need to undergo an “unprecedented transition” focused on demand reduction, switching from cars to sustainable modes of transport, and electric vehicles.

“Achieving climate neutrality will require continued and significant electrification of passenger cars and commercial vehicles, including for heavy duty vehicles by 2050. It will also require deployment of alternative fuels, particularly for heavy duty and long-haul vehicles, acknowledging that the precise mix of technologies and fuels for this sector is uncertain at this point,” the strategy outlines.

“Many of these measures are expected to be cost-beneficial before 2030 but will require adequate infrastructure to be in place for businesses and private individuals to fully take advantage of zero-emission technologies.”

There will be “radical shifts in the organisation of different modes of our transport system, driven by digitalisation, automation data sharing and interoperable standards, will take place over the next three decades”.

“Effective regulation will be needed to ensure that technological developments maximise decarbonisation within the sector, by facilitating smart traffic management, shared mobility options, modal shift and demand management, which in turn will reduce congestion and increase occupancy rates in transport fleets, both public and private.”

Finally, agriculture, forestry and land use will need to be transformed through scaling up efficient food production, diversifying farming activities, increasing the sequestration of carbon in forests, peatlands and wetlands, and improved management of grasslands.

Driving down emissions in agriculture – currently a primary contributor to Ireland’s emissions – is “challenging, but achievable”, the strategy says.

“We will need to build on the developments in GHG efficient practices, technology and farm income diversity committed to under the Climate Action Plan, and pursue deep decarbonization, for example, through incorporating feed additives, driving demand shift, adopting new technological solutions.

“In addition, we will continue work to enhance sink potential of various land uses in Ireland, including meeting our objective to achieve 18% forest cover in Ireland by 2050, while minimising emissions from other land under agricultural production and from non-agricultural wetlands.” 

Costs and benefits

Modelling of the cost of actions in the Climate Action Plan 2021 – which set out a broad range of measures to be taken in the subsequent years – found that it could require €125 billion to complete, or an average of €14 billion per year between 2021 and 2030, according to the strategy.

The total figure represents an additional €45 billion compared to if no climate action was taken and €80 billion of reallocated public and private funds.

The strategy details that it is “not possible to predict exactly how the next decade will unfold” because the pace of changes “will not be precisely in line with our assumptions today”, and as such, the estimate of the amount of investment needed will be updated over time.

Transitioning to a fully climate-neutral economy and driving down emissions is estimated to require a cumulative investment of between €200 to €250 billion from 2030 to 2050, according to the strategy.

However, the transition is expected to have an “overall net positive effect on the economy through incremental investment, additional consumer spending, and reduced imports of fossil fuels”. 

In addition to the direct benefits of reducing emissions for the sake of thwarting climate change, the strategy outlines the co-benefits of climate action for Irish society and the economy.

Ireland could “reap economic benefits” from developing and exporting offshore wind and from being a leader in innovative business models in areas like retrofitting. Meanwhile, spending on importing fossil fuels will be reduced.

There will be a “direct positive impact” on human health through facilitating active transport modes like cycling and walking and by cutting down harmful air emissions, especially from sectors like transport and agriculture, the strategy says.

And fully decarbonising houses will “see more significant improvements in terms of housing comfort: not only will zero carbon homes reduce the risk of temperature-related deaths, but it can also contribute to improved health outcomes through improved indoor air quality and reductions in moisture-related issues”.

The alternative not taking sufficient action carries numerous risks, the strategy outlines, in the areas of finance, technology, market expectations and international reputation – on top of the direct impacts of climate change on humans and the environment.

Late submission

In 2018, a European Union Regulation set out that member states should develop 30-year strategies laying down how they plan to tackle the climate crisis to help fulfil EU requirements under the crucial Paris Agreement.

Member states were given 13 months to compile their strategies and submit them to the European Commission by 1 January 2020.

By the start of 2023, Ireland was one of the only countries to have not yet submitted the strategy, even after the EU opened infringement proceedings in September 2022 over the delay.

The delay came despite the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) warning in 2021 that it was concerned, in the absence of the strategy, about the potential for “higher cost implications of delay in long-term action”.

Addressing the delay, the strategy says: “While Ireland had prepared a draft of the Long-term Strategy on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction in 2019, its submission to the European Commission was paused to ensure it aligned with new domestic climate ambition, including that which was set in Irish law in 2021and that which is presented in Ireland’s updated Climate Action Plan 2023.”

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.

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