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Weathering the storm: Where does Ireland go from here on climate change?

We’ve spent the last six weeks diving into the climate crisis at The Good Information Project.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, a major UN report warned that the world is on a dangerous climate trajectory, but, crucially, it’s not too late to turn around – if the action is strong enough.

At The Journal, we launched The Good Information Project this year, an initiative where we spend a number of weeks focusing in-depth on a specific topic that matters to Ireland and to Europe.

We’ve looked at the future of work, housing, migration and more, but the latest cycle on climate has been the most ambitious so far, timed to coincide with possibly the most crucial climate summit of our lifetimes (to date, at least). 

Over six weeks, we’ve explored the climate crisis, climate action, and COP26, a global climate summit held in Glasgow for the last fortnight that culminated in a deal last night after tense negotiations.

The deal went through three drafts before countries reached an agreement, and while some elements of it have been welcomed, experts, campaigners and politicians say other parts don’t go far enough – especially a progressive watering-down of a commitment to move away from fossil fuels.

Along the way, there’s been two significant announcements at home that will shape Ireland’s approach to climate in the years to come.

At the end of October, the Climate Change Advisory Council sent a proposed carbon budget to Minister Eamon Ryan after long deliberations over its recommendations.

Three carbon budgets set out limits for the amount of emissions that Ireland can produce that are supposed to put us on track to cut them in half by 2030.

The first proposed carbon budget, lasting from now until 2025, allows for a total of 295 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 emissions. Between 2026 and 2030, the limit is 200 Mt, and that falls again to 151 Mt for 2031 to 2035.

The carbon budgets, though important, are “both challenging and not ambitious enough”, one expert told The Journal.

And one week later, the government published its long-awaited revised Climate Action Plan (a month later than expected), which outlines how far each sector will be asked to reduce its emissions for the country to achieve its overall target.

The 208-page plan details the measures that the government intends to implement or continue, such as retrofitting homes, increasing electric vehicles, and moving to renewable energy sources.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister Eamon Ryan, who launched the plan, have both spent time at the COP26 summit – though Ryan’s trip looked like it could fall through after he tested positive for Covid-19. (He subsequently tested negative).

Reporter Orla Dwyer spent the full two weeks of COP at the summit centre covering important decisions, speaking to politicians, experts, and campaigners, and bringing you all the latest news here on our website, on social media, and through a newsletter each evening.

The first few days of the conference, which saw heads of governments and states meet for the World Leaders Summit, was peppered with pledges like ending new funding for unabated fossil fuel projects and stopping deforestation by 2030. 

Outside the negotiating spaces, activists marched through the city to demand urgent, decisive action, including Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg.

As Orla guided you around Glasgow, the TGIP team travelled to Athlone to host a panel discussing climate action in Ireland and Europe.

Our panelists – climatologist Professor Peter Thorne, MEPs Grace O’Sullivan and Colm Markey, and campaigner Dr Deirdre Duff, led by media and climate expert Dr David Robbins – discussed the EU’s role in setting and achieving climate targets, what they hoped would come out of COP26, and emissions from the agricultural sector.

Professor Thorne pointed out that although more than a third of emissions come from agriculture, that means, of course, that the other two-thirds come from elsewhere, and other sections of society shouldn’t think they can “wash their hands” of climate action.

Likewise, on a global scale, Ireland may not be one of the world’s biggest culprits behind emissions, but that doesn’t mean we can afford to continue to pollute.

Noteworthy reporter Niall Sargent debunked the argument that Ireland is too small or emits too little for climate action to matter, and that we should wait for countries like China to change first.

In fact, Ireland is among the top 75 emitters globally, the seventh-worst in the EU, and has a larger population than more than 100 other countries around the world.

“If all of these countries took the same attitude that they are too small to take action, then we would be in serious trouble as a global collective,” Niall explained.

In collaboration with Ireland Thinks, we polled a representative sample of 1,200 people for their views on climate policies and action and learned that confidence that the Irish government is doing enough to tackle the climate crisis is low, especially among younger age groups.

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Almost half of respondents believe the cattle population should be limited to its current level (23%) or reduced (22%) as part of climate measures, and the country is completely split on whether nuclear power is a good idea – 43% said Ireland should build a nuclear power station, 43% said it shouldn’t, and 15% didn’t know.

On a personal level, 95% of people have made changes in their lives for environmental reasons in recent years, but only 55% feel they are doing enough to tackle the climate crisis.

And that’s only scratching the surface of the topics we’ve investigated over the last six weeks – here’s where you can find more:

Climate is one of the most important global issues of our time. This cycle of The Good Information Project is coming to an end, but our coverage of the climate crisis is not. The Journal will be dedicating our time and attention to bringing you important climate news and investigations, and The Good Information Project will be kicking off its next cycle later this month with the question: How are relationships between Ireland, the UK and the EU now in the post-Brexit world?

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

About the author:

Lauren Boland

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