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Thursday 28 September 2023 Dublin: 13°C
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The Government's long-awaited Climate Action Plan is out - here's what's in it
The agriculture sector, which is responsible for the most greenhouse gases, has been targeted with the lowest emissions reduction.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS published its long-awaited revised Climate Action Plan, setting out how it intends to meet tight climate targets over the next nine years.

The plan, which has come a month later than expected, proposes how far each sector of society must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to cut them in half overall by the end of the decade.

The new plan raises the target for renewable-sourced electricity from 70% to 80%, which will involve increased solar, onshore wind, and offshore wind power.

The amount of emissions generated from electricity must fall between 62% and 81% by 2030 compared to 2018 – the largest of any sector.

The agriculture sector, which is responsible for the most greenhouse gases, has been targeted with the lowest change – a drop of 22% to 30%.

Transport must cut its emissions between 42% to 50% and industry between 29% and 41%.

The emissions that come from buildings should come down by 44% to 56%, which is to happen through measures like retrofitting homes, while land and forestry emissions should drop by 37% to 58%.

The sectoral ceilings pave the way for the introduction of Ireland’s first carbon budgets – a cap on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that can be produced over a certain period of time while remaining on track to reach long-term climate goals.

Speaking at a press briefing on the release of the plan, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said there is “no time left for any delay”

“We need every person and every place involved in the actions that are needed to stop the pollution of our atmosphere,” Ryan said.

“To those who question why we should act while other countries hold back, the answer is, why should we miss out on this opportunity to change our country for the better?”

Many of the targets are the same as the ones that were set out in the original Climate Action Plan two years ago in 2019 – to retrofit 500,000 homes by 2030 and recycle 70% of packaging waste, for example.

But others have set the bar higher – instead of having 70% of electricity generated from renewable sources by 2030, the new plan aims to increase the share of renewable-sourced electricity to up to 80%.

It includes some measures that have already been announced, like increasing the use of electric vehicles, creating a circular economy, and mandating public sector bodies to move to 20% home and remote working.

Sector by sector

Over the lifetime of the plan, the government intends to complete the phase-out of coal and peat-fired electricity generation and to identify a route to deliver one to three TWh of zero-emissions gas, including green hydrogen.

“Among the most important measures in the plan is to increase the proportion of renewable electricity to up to 80% by 2030, including an increased target of up to 5 Gigawatts of offshore wind energy,” the plan outlines.

“This will not just reduce our emissions from electricity, it will allow us to electrify other sectors such as transport and heat and reduce our emissions in these sectors too.”

If the plan is successful, 845,000 electric passenger cars would be on the road by 2030, as well as 95,000 electric vehicles, 3,500 low-emitting trucks, and 1,500 electric buses.

The plan also wants to see an additional 500,000 journeys made by public transport, walking and cycling every day.

In agriculture, there should be a “significant reduction” in nitrous oxide emissions by changing farm management practices.

It lays out improved animal breeding, improved animal feeding, and increasing organic farming as measures for the sector to take to reduce negative impacts on the climate.

“Farm practices that enable farmers to produce world-class food with a lower carbon footprint are key. The plan commits to using less chemical nitrogen and more targeted use of fertiliser, while maintaining the same level of grass growth through multi-species swards,” the plan says.

“Other measures include improving the genetics of our herds to reduce emissions and improve productivity. We will also incentivise increased organic farming and diversification into forestry, biomethane and energy production.”

The plan outlines aims for increasing the annual rate of afforestation and rehabilitating 65,000 hectares of peatlands.

“Ireland’s land use, land use change and forestry sector is currently a carbon source rather than a carbon sink,” the plan says – that is, it emits more carbon than it absorbs.

“To reduce emissions and move to being an overall store of carbon, will involve further bog rehabilitation, increased afforestation, improved management of grasslands on mineral soils, increasing the use of cover crops in tillage, and the rewetting of organic soils.”

A new forestry programme is due to launch in 2023.

Food waste should be reduced by 50% by 2030 and recyling of packaging and plastic packaging waste should increase to 70% and 55% respectively, which is unchanged since the 2019 plan.

However, a report by the Environmental Protection Agency in September found that Ireland’s recyling rate is on a downwards trend, and that stricter EU targets due to take effect – 65% from 2025 and 70% from 2030 – will be challenging to reach.

Political reaction

The Rural Independent Group released a cutting statement in response to the Climate Action Plan, accusing Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael of “signing their political death warrant as they ram lofty rhetoric and greenwashing down our throats”.

The group of rural independent TDs said that the Climate Action Plan was “pie-in-the-sky fanatical”, and will cost “three times more than the bank bailout, funded primarily by borrowings, ramps up living costs for every Irish citizen, while doing absolutely nothing to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions”.

“Cumulatively, the sectoral emissions reduction targets for agriculture, for instance, will extensively eradicate farms and carry a significant risk of damaging the economy outside of Dublin,” the group leader and Tipperary TD Mattie Mc Grath said.

The Social Democrats’ spokesperson for climate Jennifer Whitmore said that “all of our lives and livelihoods” depend on the success of the plan.

“The government, if it wants this plan to be a success, will have to bring people, from every sector and segment of society, with them,” Whitmore said.

She said it can do that through “communicating the urgent need for climate action measures” and ensuring the measures “appropriately targeted and putting adequate supports in place for those sectors, and people, who are most exposed to climate change and least able to afford the measures that are necessary to climate-proof their futures”.

“Climate action is not just the job of government. It is something each of us much embrace in our own lives. However, the government must provide the sectoral, regulatory and overarching financial framework to enable us to do so.”

Dublin TD Bríd Smith, the climate spokesperson for People Before Profit, has described the announced Climate Action Plan as “regurgitated PR spin from previous announcements and the National Development Plan”.

On the key area of transport, the plan envisages only 1,500 electric-powered buses by 2030, while at the same time repeats the aspiration of the former minister Richard Bruton to have 1 million electric cars on Irish roads by 2030.

Smith said: “This is shameful and says it all about the lack of vision for what needs to be done to mitigate our transport emissions. The idea that the production of 1 million EV cars to service this country is what is required instead of free, frequent and green public transport as a priority is outrageous.

“We need clear timelines and target dates. Currently they are vague and confusing.”

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