In its first annual review of the country’s efforts at tackling greenhouse gas emissions, the council says there is now no hope of meeting the 2020 targets for carbon reduction set by the EU.
Longer-term targets for 2030 and 2050 also look unachievable unless there is radical and swift change in the way we get around, manufacture, produce food, generate and use power, and heat buildings.
“We are not going to meet our 2020 targets, no matter what policies we introduce,” said John FitzGerald, chairman of the council, which was set up last year to advise the Government how to tackle climate change.
The country now faces buying its way out of its commitments by purchasing carbon credits from other countries that meet their targets with capacity to spare, or pay fines to Europe.
Either way, the cost will run to hundreds of millions of euro and the problem of getting control of — and ultimately reducing — carbon emissions still remains. Carbon emissions grew by 3.7% here in 2015 and provisional figures show another 3.5% growth last year.
They need to fall by at least 2.4% a year to reach the 2050 target.
The council’s review says the Government’s National Mitigation Plan, unveiled less than five months ago as the blueprint for carbon reduction, is not sufficient to meet any of the looming targets.
“It has a lot of bright ideas, but very few decisions,” said Prof FitzGerald.
Measures the council wants to see in the plan include a “substantial increase in the carbon tax”.
No figure is given, but the tax is currently levied on fuels at €20 per tonne of carbon emitted and environmentalists have warned that that figure needs to at least treble over the next decade, adding at least eight cent to a litre of diesel or petrol.
Also mooted is the phasing out of coal and peat for residential heating and power generation, starting by ending the subsidy for peat-fired electricity generation.
The review notes that the subsidy costs €110m to produce 250 megawatts of power, while 3,334 megawatts of renewable power could be achieved with supports costing €351m, four times cheaper.
It urges greater incentives for electric vehicles and says only public transport vehicles running on sustainable energy should be bought. Better planning is needed to end commuting, while agriculture should be steered away from beef and dairy and towards biomass production.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the review should act as a wake-up call.
“Once again, the Government’s lack of ambition on tackling climate change and emissions is laid bare by this report,” said Mr Ryan.
The Stop Climate Chaos coalition’s policy co-ordinator, Jerry MacEvilly, said Climate Action Minister Denis Naughten “must now revise Ireland’s climate strategy on foot of the council’s recommendations”.
Mr Naughten faces a grilling in the Dáil tomorrow, when climate change is scheduled for discussion.