Ireland won’t come close to meeting its greenhouse gas reduction targets even if the measures set out in the National Development Plan are fully implemented, the Environmental Protection Agency warns. It means the new climate action plan due to be unveiled by the Government in the coming weeks will have to contain radical policies to slash emissions.
It is already too late to meet the 2020 targets. Emissions were meant to have been cut by 20% compared to 2005 levels, but the reduction will be less than 1% when that milestone comes around next year. By 2030, if all planned reduction measures are carried out, total emissions can be expected to fall by 10% — far short of the 30% target.
Part of the problem is the plan to continue growing the national dairy herd. Agriculture is the single biggest contributor to the country’s emissions and boosting the number of cows means the sector increasing its greenhouse gas production by 3%.
Transport is the second biggest contributor and its emissions will barely fall, dropping by 1%. Even that small reduction will only be achieved if 500,000 petrol and diesel vehicles are replaced by electric models and a large proportion of other motorists switch to biofuels.
Laura Burke, director general of the EPA, acknowledged that existing emission reduction plans will have an impact.
However, to meet its EU targets for 2030 and achieve national policy ambitions, Ireland will need full implementation of those measures, plus additional measures in future plans.
As things stand, the modest reduction expected by 2030 will plateau out until 2040 which is as far as the EPA projections go. That leaves a mountain to climb for Ireland to hit the 2050 targets of a minimum reduction of 80% with pressure mounting internationally for countries to be more ambitious and aim to have net zero emissions by then.
The immediate issue is that EU targets for agriculture, transport, residential heating and electricity, waste and general commercial activity that excludes energy-intensive industry, are binding, so Ireland either has to pay fines or buy its way out of those sanctions through emission allowance trading schemes.
Already the Government has spent up to €150m in preparation for breaching next year’s target. Other schemes can be used to offset emissions, such as investment in forestry and other changes in land use. Making use of all available options, Ireland may be able to limit its exceedance of the 2030 EU target to between 7m and 22m tonnes of greenhouse gas from 2021 to that date.
Without them, the exceedance will be 52m-67m tonnes. Ireland currently emits 60m tonnes per year.