In its first report, the Climate Change Advisory Council said it was concerned that Ireland may not meet its target to cut greenhouse gases by a fifth over the next three years.
It also said the country may not be on the right path to meeting targets of 80% to 95% by 2050, and to make land use and farming carbon neutral by the same time. The council called for new welfare and tax breaks for poorer families to get them off coal and peat for heating their homes.
It urged the Government to look at further changes to motor tax to encourage people out of cars or into cleaner models, and for 8,000 hectares of trees to be planted each year.
It noted figures from the Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland that 75,000 homes will need new or better insulation and other energy saving work each year between now and 2020 — three times the rate achieved in 2014.
In one of the areas causing greater controversy, the council said another 1,600MW of wind farms are needed if Ireland was to meet the target of having 40% of power needs coming from renewables by 2020.
“This requires an increased pace of installation. Policies enabling enhanced community engagement and more efficient planning and regulation may aid timely deployment, and these should be advanced,” it said.
The council said Ireland should be ambitious in its targets to cut greenhouse gases but it was only “planning for the minimum”.
It called for the subsidy for peat-fired power stations — due to end in 2019 or 2020 — to be accelerated, while communities hit hardest by an end to peat harvesting are supported.
It said the direct and indirect subsidies for other fossil fuels should also be identified so they can be stopped.
“The council recommends that price supports for electricity generation from peat be removed as soon as possible, while also providing support for communities that may be adversely affected,” it said.
The council warned that despite more wind farms being linked to the grid they were displacing power from gas-fired plants rather than coal and peat. The council called for an effective price for the polluter-pays principle with taxes and levies for producing carbon set at a level which encourages energy efficiency and pushes away from fossil fuels.
The report also suggested a timeline could be written with a target for zero-emission urban public transport. The Climate Change Advisory Council, set up last year, advises the Government on how Ireland can move to a low carbon, climate-resilient economy and society by 2050.
Chairman John FitzGerald said Ireland should aim to have no further negative influence on the earth’s climate system by the middle of this century.
“An adequate price signal for carbon emissions at EU and national level is needed for this to happen,” he said.
“However, price signals alone are not enough and other measures including regulation, education and information are also needed.”
Meanwhile, minister for climate action Denis Naughten said in Budget 2017 that a significant start has been made and more than €100m will be invested on energy projects which will save over 116,000 tonnes in carbon emissions every year.