Last year, the Government committed to an action plan to reduce our emissions to zero by 2050 — promising “a cleaner, greener economy and society” to protect us from climate change. To get there, the Government committed to reduce carbon emissions by 51pc by 2030. Last week’s targets are to get us to the 2030 cut.
It shouldn’t be. The Climate Act that was introduced last year means the 2030 and 2050 targets are legally binding. It means the Government must adopt carbon budgets that outline the amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions permitted by different sectors of Irish life.
It means the Government can be challenged if targets aren’t met. There are also EU regulations obliging member states to submit and commit to long-term strategies — so this shouldn’t go away, but then neither is climate change.
Electricity and transport are the sectors expected to reduce emissions most. Emissions from electricity generation need to reduce by 75pc for 2030. Transport emissions need to be halved. As a sector, emissions from commercial and public buildings must reduce by 45pc. Emissions from homes will have to be cut by 40pc, and from industrial sectors by 35pc. Agricultural emissions will be cut by a quarter under the plans.
Ceilings, or maximum limits, were outlined for each sector when the Government confirmed the reduction targets last week. These set out the greenhouse gas emissions permitted for each sector. Commercial buildings will have the lowest limit — one million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2eq). Figures for 2018 show this sector released about 2MtCO2eq in 2018. Agriculture will have the highest 2030 target at 17.25MtCO2eq — in 2018 it was responsible for 23MtCO2eq.
Not many people, really. Green Party leader Eamon Ryan believes there were “no winners or losers” in the talks, and even though agriculture got a target below the 30pc cut he had sought, farm groups accused the Government of putting its own survival over that of rural Ireland. They say small farmers in particular will struggle.
The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) president Pat McCormack was angered at the focus on farmers, even before the emissions targets were confirmed. It said there was “a brazen double-standard at play in Ireland’s emissions debate” after Ryanair last week reported a year-on-year 45.5 million increase in passenger numbers during the second quarter of this year.
He was annoyed at the fixation on farmers, and said the Government “might usefully reflect on which activity was more essential to our future: producing food or air travel for leisure”.
Well, the argument that we all need to look at how we travel is fair, and this will have to change going forward.
There is no denying the importance of farming to food production and the economy, but part of the fixation on agriculture recently could also be attributed to the fact it causes about 38pc of Ireland’s emissions.
It was also the most contested sector during government talks on emissions targets, with farm groups and rural TDs lobbying hard for special treatment.
This is going to be challenging. Trinity College professor Brian Caulfield believes transport will struggle to meet its target without radical change. He believes a proposed 2030 ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars needs to come forward by two or three years.
“We need to invest very quickly and heavily in places like Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford and forget about short term light rail and put in really great bus services. Belfast is a really great example of this. Put in great bus services and get people to make the switch quicker.” He said a disproportionate number of public transport journeys are in the capital, and public transport needs to improve around the country to reduce reliance on cars.
Retrofitting and upgrading of homes and buildings will play a key role, and while the Government says the changes for agriculture will be voluntary, it seems inevitable livestock numbers will be reduced. The Irish Farmers Journal has reported beef and dairy herds would need 6pc and 5pc cuts respectively to fall into line with just a 21pc carbon reduction.
Dr Cara Augustenborg, a UCD assistant professor in landscape studies and environmental policy, believes an enormous change is needed to our energy systems so we become more dependent on renewable energy. A key here, she said, is making sure plans to develop large-scale wind farms can proceed without delay. Many have previously been the subject of planning complaints and appeals, something she hopes will not hamper future delivery of renewables.
No, not according to the Climate Change Advisory Council, an independent body set up to advise the Government. It warns that the plans amount to a 43pc cut, not the 51pc required, and that the agriculture target is too low. It says this target for farming places a burden on other sectors to make up ground.