If we could turn back time, the latest forecasts for the country’s greenhouse gas emissions would not look so grim. In fact, if we ploughed on with our sluggish roll-out of climate action measures, we might even manage to almost comply with our mandatory EU target.
Adopted in 2018, the EU edict told us we had to cut our emissions by 30pc by 2030.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if we do everything in the 2021 Climate Action Plan, we could achieve a 28pc cut by then.
A little creative accounting (it is allowed) and some buying of credits from more compliant EU countries (also allowed) and we’d hit 30pc.
But also in 2018, while the ink was still drying on the signatures to the EU pact, the IPCC, the United Nations body that brings together the world’s climate scientists, released a shocking report.
It shook up all expectations of how much time was left to bring emissions, and by consequence, global warming, under control.
“Thirty by thirty”, that neat little target we had only just got our heads around, would not cut it any more.
The Green Party, entering government 18 months later, negotiated a more ambitious target, settling on what would become the 51pc reduction now enshrined in the Climate Act passed last year.
The EU, meanwhile, is going further, seeking a 55pc reduction under its “Fit for 55” proposals currently working their way through parliament – so the 2018 requirements are all but redundant.
But whether the target reduction is 30pc, 51pc or 55pc hardly matters when emissions are rising instead of falling.
Provisional results for 2021 show Ireland’s emissions rose by 6pc. This was the first year in the first five-year carbon budget, which requires a 4.8pc average reduction in emissions annually.
Think back – there were still periods of Covid restrictions last year when economic and social activity and transport were all constrained, and still emissions went up.
Now look forward – the economy is back in full swing, massive amounts of construction are planned, traffic levels are well and truly back to pre-pandemic times and the queues at Dublin Airport in recent days speak volumes about the return to unbridled consumerism.
The chances of emissions falling at all this year look very slim indeed. In fact, the EPA is expressing only cautious confidence that a reduction might be achievable in 2023.
That would leave just three years of the first carbon budget to achieve the full five years’ worth of cuts.
We then enter another five-year budget requiring average annual reductions of 8.3pc – or more if we fail to deliver sufficient cuts before then.
Climate Action Minister Eamon Ryan received the EPA report with a typically optimistic outlook. “This may seem daunting, but too often people overestimate what we can do in a year but underestimate what we can do in a decade,” he said.
The problem is, we no longer have a decade to 2030.
We’ve treated targets and timelines like moveable feasts when the reality is the deadline for meaningful action is only moving ever closer and we can’t turn back time to start our efforts afresh.