Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan Sam Boal/

Explainer: Here's how (and why) sectors are being told to cut their emissions

There’s been push and pull within government over the limits, especially in relation to agriculture.

SOON, INDIVIDUAL SECTORS will be handed specific targets detailing how much they must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by as part of Ireland’s efforts to protect the climate.

It’s been a long road to develop the targets and it’ll be an even longer one to achieve them.

As the government prepares to approve the sector-by-sector limits – after plenty of internal push and pull – here’s everything you need to know about what they are, which sectors are included, and the consequences if they’re not adhered to.

What are sectors being asked to do?

Electricity, transport, buildings, industry, agriculture and land use & forestry are each being asked to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they produce by a certain amount.

While the precise figures aren’t out yet, the concept was outlined last November in the government’s Climate Action Plan, which set out ranges for what level of reduction each sector would be expected to make by 2030 compared to 2018:

  • Electricity – 62% to 81%
  • Transport – 42% to 50%
  • Buildings – 44% to 56%
  • Industry – 29% to 41%
  • Agriculture – 22% to 30%
  • Land use, land use change and forestry – 37% to 58%

Why does Ireland need to reduce emissions?

The climate crisis is threatening the entire planet – its nature, its animals, and its people.

The major cause is the overproduction of greenhouse gas emissions by humans, pushing global temperatures upwards.

Humans have created the problem – an important report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land… Human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years.”

But we can also solve it; the world has the tools and knowledge to combat the crisis.

Substantially and quickly cutting down emissions will prevent temperatures spiralling completely out of control.

Where have these limits come from?

The sectoral targets come as part of Ireland’s first-ever carbon budgets, which relate to the country as a whole.

The carbon budgets chart a path to reducing greenhouse gas emissions up to 2035 in three cycles.

The first cycle, which lasts until 2025, allows for a total of 295 million tonnes (Mt) of emissions to be produced. For the second cycle, that falls to 200Mt between 2026 and 2030 and drops again to 151 Mt between 2031 and 2035 for the third and final one.

The Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC), a panel of experts responsible for advising the government on climate policy, proposed the carbon budgets (but was not responsible for the sectoral breakdowns).

The Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action scrutinsed the budgets and sectoral targets at the start of this year, going through an intense series of meetings where representatives of the CCAC came before the committee as well as scientists who felt the budgets weren’t going far enough.

Industry representatives for relevant sectors addressed the committee too, where IFA Deputy President Brian Rushe, for instance, said that the lower 22% target for agriculture would be “extremely challenging” but “achievable”.

The Dáil gave its sign-off on the carbon budgets in April, leaving Cabinet to approve the sectoral limits.

When will they be implemented?

When the Dáil approved the carbon budgets, junior Green Party minister Ossian Smyth said that the sectoral limits should be presented to Government for approval by the end of June.

An official at the Department of the Environment said in June that the limits would be agreed on before the Dáil commenced its summer recess.  

However, the recess arrived last Thursday but the sign-off did not.

At the weekend, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said he would put forward the plan for Cabinet’s approval in the coming weeks – “hopefully” by the end of July. 

Is all of Government in agreement?

Simply put, no.

A key sticking point has been the role that agriculture, the largest emitter, will be expected to play.

Some Cabinet ministers, including the Taoiseach and Eamon Ryan, have continually reiterated the idea that every sector will need to ‘play its part’ and that no one can skirt their fair share.

However, it’s understood there has been some pushback from several members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s parliamentary parties, particularly against a 30% reduction target.

And yesterday, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue (Fianna Fáil) said “you’d be forgiven for thinking that agriculture is a bogeyman in Ireland”.

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen said he would argue within his party that the emissions target for agriculture be set at the lower end of the proposed range at 22%.

A meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture today is due to hear from climate and agriculture experts about where they believe the target should be set.

What happens if they aren’t met?

Government ministers will be responsible for the emissions of the sector that falls under their remit – the minister for agriculture is responsible for the agriculture sector, the minister of transport for the transport sector, and so on.

Ministers will be required to appear before an Oireachtas Committee if their sector fails to stay within its allocated emissions.

If Ireland’s wider targets are not met, it could result in fines from the European Union.

Those would then be paid from the budget of the minister whose sector breached its limit.

If one or more sectors overemits, it will spell trouble for Ireland’s ability to meet its legal, international climate responsibilities under the Paris Agreement struck in 2015.

Most importantly, it will stymie Ireland’s contribution to global efforts to reverse the climate crisis and prevent widespread catastrophe.

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