Prof John Sweeney of Maynooth University said if any sector misses its targets, others will be forced to reduce their emissions further
Climate targets have been a hot topic in recent weeks, not least because of the upcoming decision on the final limits for each sector.
In November 2021, the Government published its Climate Action Plan, which outlined emissions ceilings for each sector.
The Government was supposed to sign off on the final targets before the Dáil recess, but now the decision is expected this week.
The Climate Action Plan followed the Climate Act 2021, which commits Ireland to a legally binding target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050, and an emissions reduction of 51pc by 2030.
Meanwhile, Ireland has set a five-year carbon budget of 295 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) emissions until 2025. However, the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC), which advises the Government on climate policy, has warned that last year, in the first year of the plan, emissions totalled 69.3 Mt CO2 eq, or 23pc of the five-year total.
Chair of the CCAC, Marie Donnelly, said fossil fuels used in transport, buildings and electricity represent just under 50pc of emissions which “must be reduced” and this, combined with the increasing cost of fossil fuels and potential shortages, “reinforces the need for a sea change in communities throughout Ireland”.
“There is concern that the current timelines for delivery of core measures within the Climate Action Plan are too long and the procedures to facilitate the delivery of these measures are not progressing quickly enough. The most impactful measures must urgently be prioritised and accelerated at a rate not previously foreseen,” she added.
But what changes are being proposed for each sector in order to meet the Climate Action Plan targets?
Core measures included in the Government plan include the rapid build-out of renewable generation capacity, particularly in the areas of offshore wind, solar power and micro-generation.
Further measures will see increased electricity storage, the deployment of zero-emissions gas – such as biogas, biomethane and hydrogen – and the production of hydrogen for use in other industries.
“By 2030, up to 80pc of electricity will be generated using renewable energy, with a mix of 5 gigawatts (GW) from offshore wind, 8 GW from onshore wind and 1.5-2.5 GW from solar PV,” the plan says.
The focus for Government is to accelerate the electrification of road transport, the use of biofuels and a shift to transport modes with lower energy consumption, including walking, cycling, active and public transport. A 10pc reduction in the number of kilometres travelled by fossil fuel cars is also being sought.
From 2023, all new vehicles being purchased by the State will be battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
By 2030, the Government wants 845,000 passenger electric vehicles (EVs), “with a focus on BEVs”, 95,000 zero-emissions vans and 3,500 zero-emissions heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). It also wants replacements for bus and rail services to be “green”, including 1,500 EV buses and expanded electrified rail services.
The reduction in emissions from buildings will be driven by the delivery of the national retrofit programme, the roll-out of district heating in cities, zero-emissions heating in commercial buildings and the blending of zero-emission gas for use in the gas grid.
By 2030, the Government aims to retrofit 500,000 homes to B2 BER or the cost optimal equivalent or carbon equivalent, install 400,000 heat pumps in existing homes and up to 280,000 in new-builds. It also aims to reach its target of 50,000-55,000 commercial buildings with zero-emission heating and an emissions reduction of 50pc in public sector buildings.
It’s planned that targets in this sector will be reached by expediting the uptake of carbon-neutral heating in industry, enabling electrification of high-temperature heating and the phasing out of high global warming potential (high GWP) fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gases).
Further measures include the blending of zero-emission gas and reducing embodied carbon in construction materials, as well as a role for carbon capture and storage (CCS) in hard-to-transition industry sectors.
By 2030, 80pc of energy needs for cement production must come from alternative fuels and waste recovery, 50-60pc of the total fuel demand will be met by carbon-neutral heating and emissions of high GWP F-gases must be reduced by 80pc.
Meanwhile, CCS in two cement/lime plants will be used to achieve approximately 1.5 MtCO2 eq in savings.
In addition to the Government’s existing re-afforestation targets, core measures for the sector include a significant rewetting of native peatlands and more efficient grassland management to reduce emissions.
By 2030, a forestry planting rate target of 8,000 hectares per year (ha/year) has been set, with deforestation rates to be less than 900 ha/year. 65,000 peatlands must be rehabilitated and 450,000 hectares of mineral grassland will be managed to increase carbon sequestration.
The most hotly-debated sector of all. The Government said agriculture targets can be reached by increasing the use of greenhouse gas-efficient farming practice.
These include reducing fertiliser use and increasing the use of clover and multi-species swards, improving animal breeding and reducing the crude protein in the diet, as well as earlier finishing of animals and increased use of organic practices.
The Government said these measures will be backed by a research programme to bring new technologies and feed additives on stream.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently published its ‘Roadmap for Local Deliberative Engagements on Transitions to Net Zero Carbon and Climate Resilience’.
The report has issued a stark warning for the type of society people will live in if emissions targets are not reached.
“The farmer citizen was portrayed as struggling to cope with harsher weather conditions, unfavourable supply chain dynamics and stricter environmental regulations,” the report states. “Growing isolation and a lack of mobility choices were considered key issues for the future farmer.
Professor John Sweeney, a climate change scientist from Maynooth University, said if any sector misses its targets, others will be forced to reduce their emissions further.
“I don’t want to paint a picture of doom and gloom for people in terms of societal changes, but there’s no doubt that there will be fairly radical changes required,” he said.
“In terms of how we heat our houses, in terms of how we travel to work and to school, in terms of what food we grow and how it’s organised. So, there’s quite a lot of implications coming down the line from this and there’s quite a lot of crucial decisions that have to be made.”
However, he said many Irish companies are already making changes to reduce their emissions and he believes there will be greater buy-in from the general public, especially as the impact of climate change on the planet becomes more obvious.
He added: “There is a great deal of push-back from agriculture. There’s 135,000 farms in Ireland, there’s 1.17 million households and I think the 1.17 million households have not yet woken up to the implications of sectoral budgeting on the scale that it is going to be.
“But I think that the Irish public have also become very conscious, especially as a result of the events of the summer, that they are not going to be immune from the impacts of climate changes, and therefore I think most of the Irish population accept that there’s going to be a need to tackle the problem in a radical way.”