Ireland has less than seven years’ worth of greenhouse gases left to emit before exceeding the ration that represents our fair contribution to global climate action, an expert has warned.
Professor Kevin Anderson said doing our fair share would mean deeper cuts in annual emissions and reaching zero emissions much faster than is currently envisaged.
“This is hugely challenging and we should have started 30 years ago,” he said.
“Our choice to fail has led us to where we are in 2020 and we’re still deluding ourselves about the scale of the challenge that we really face because we’re more interested in political sensibilities than delivering real change.”
Prof Anderson, from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change at Manchester University, specialises in applying international climate targets to individual countries.
The Paris Agreement binds countries to collectively keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees and ideally, no higher than 1.5 degrees.
Prof Anderson said pursuing the Paris goals meant no more than 660 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, chiefly carbon, could be released into the atmosphere over the next 80 years and beyond.
The EU’s share of that was 21-27bn tonnes and, rationed between member states, that left Ireland with at most 300 million tonnes.
Ireland emits around 60m tonnes a year although the amount will be smaller this year due to coronavirus slowing economic activity.
The Government has pledged to cut emissions by 7pc a year on until 2030, and to be at net zero by 2050.
Prof Anderson said the cuts needed to be at least 12pc a year. He also said the entire energy system, “planes, trains, ships, cars, industry, heating, everything”, needed to be completely decarbonised by 2035 or, at the very latest 2040.
He was not allowing reliance on future technologies such as carbon capture and storage or other means of sucking carbon out of the atmosphere as they were speculative, and he criticised Ireland’s climate plans for presuming they would come to our rescue.
Methane emissions from agriculture needed to fall 3pc every year, and if management of forestry and reafforestation didn’t improve, those cuts would need to be higher.
Prof Anderson was addressing the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action (JOCCA) on its last day of hearings on the new Climate Action Bill which commits Ireland to being at net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and sets out a system of ‘carbon budgets’ to impose increasingly restrictive caps on emissions for all sectors of society.
Over the past three weeks JOCCA has heard from a series of scientists, lawyers and environmental experts who have all expressed concern that the Bill is not ambitious enough and is worded too vaguely to drive the necessary changes to wean the country off fossil fuels and high-emission farming.
Prof Anderson said he knew his presentation was “depressing” but he could not see the 1.5 degree target being met. The best he hoped for now was keeping to a two-degree rise.