Sustainability energy chief’s warning ahead of nation’s first statutory carbon budget
Householders may have to get used to switching on the washing machine less often or rationing the immersion when carbon budgets take effect, the head of the Sustainable Energy Authority has said.
William Walsh issued the warning ahead of the announcement of the country’s first statutory carbon budget which will set the limits on greenhouse gas emissions Ireland must live within over the next decade.
Mr Walsh said carbon budgets would be a game-changer in how the country goes about reducing fossil fuel usage because of the strict limits they would impose.
While much emphasis was rightly placed on retrofitting homes and buildings for energy efficiency and on expanding renewable energy, these measures on their own would not be enough.
Changing travel habits to cut car emissions was also vital.
He added: “In a carbon budget constrained economy, a range of further considerations are necessary.
“We must talk too of energy sufficiency. Where efficiency is doing the same activity with less energy, sufficiency is simply about doing less.
“This is a more difficult discussion. But when carbon budgets bite, we may have to consider everyday changes such as how often to use the washing machine, or where we can use less hot water.”
The Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) is preparing the budget which will cover two five-year periods – 2021-2025 and 2025-2030.
It will also sketch out one for 2031-2035 although that is likely to need much revision as the end of the decade nears.
The first two periods must set limits that combine to achieve a 51pc emissions drop by the country as a whole.
The CCAC met yesterday to put the finishing touches to the document which will go to the Climate Action Minister.
It must also be brought before the Oireachtas and approved by Government. The minister will then divide up the budget between the Government departments.
Oisín Coghlan, director of Friends of the Earth Ireland, said every effort should be made to help familiarise the public with the mechanism.
“I would say think of it as like the fiscal budget we had on Tuesday,” he said.
“The fiscal budget tells us how much we can spend over the next year. The carbon budget tells how much we can pollute by way of greenhouse gas emissions.”
While the concept is simple, calculating limits is complex, involving counting emissions from many sources and accounting for removals – how carbon dioxide is captured from the atmosphere and locked away by trees or other natural ‘carbon sinks’.
The 51pc reduction Ireland must achieve by 2030 under the Climate Act uses 2018 as the base year.
Emissions in 2018 were 60.9m tonnes but if carbon sinks are included, the figure rises because Ireland’s vast peatlands are so depleted, they emit more carbon than the sparse forestry captures.
The calculations become more complicated because the agriculture sector has won concessions from the Government so that farmers are credited with carbon capture in soils, grasses, hedgerows and trees.
Different accounting mechanisms are in use worldwide for agricultural emissions.
Under some methods, farmers who have cleared forestry or drained a bog for pasture or crops, and then replant the forest or rewet the bog, get credit for all the carbon removals the growing trees and newly functioning bog achieve.
Other methods state that the emissions from the original clear-felling and drainage must be deducted before any new removals are credited.
Government has signalled that farmers here will get greater leeway than other sectors, at least in the early years of the carbon budgets.
Mr Coghlan said the share-out must be realistic. “However the budget is divided, what it has to mean is that there is no more time for delay. We have to act. And it has to mean that for every sector. There can be no more ‘not us, not now, not yet’,” he said.
“Every sector is not the same but every sector must play a part.”