The Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) has admitted it will be a “very significant challenge’ for Ireland to meet the required 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
It says the two carbon budgets it is proposing for the rest of the decade will require “transformational changes’ for society and the economy.
“Strong, rapid and sustained reductions in emissions in all covered sectors and all gases are required to meet this challenge,” it says, adding that the pathways to achieving the 51% reduction are “narrow”.
The council says failing to act will have “grave consequences”.
First two 'carbon budgets' aim to reduce greenhouse emissions by 51%
Proposals for the so-called ‘five-year carbon budgets’ were submitted to the Government by climate advisors earlier this afternoon. The budgets outline plans for a 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
The CCAC's programme will be broken down into two five-year carbon budgets,
A provisional budget has also been set out for 2031 to 2035.
The carbon budgets were announced in October last year, and will include all greenhouse gases in each five-year cycle and will allocate emissions ceilings to the likes of motorists, households, farmers, businesses, and industry.
Ireland's newly enacted Climate Act requires all carbon budgets to be in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.
The carbon budget for the period 2021-2025 aims to reduce emissions by 4.8% on average annually for five years, while the second budget from 2026-2030 will look to up that annual reduction to 8.3%.
The third - as yet provisional - carbon budget is consistent with the Government’s commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2050, the CCAC said.
This marks the first step in the overall process.
Once the carbon budget programme proposed by the CCAC has been adopted by the Government and the Oireachtas, Mr Ryan will prepare individual emissions ceilings for each sector of the economy in consultation with other relevant ministers, the CCAC said.
Because most of 2021 has already passed, time is of the essence to begin plans to reduce emissions in each sector, the council said.
There is an "urgent and immediate action by all of Government" to enable infrastructure and policies supporting the plan, it added.
Speaking in the wake of the publication of the proposals, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan said the Government planned to publish its Climate Action Plan 2021 "in the coming weeks."
"This plan will set out indicative ranges of emissions reductions for all sectors," he said.
“When we passed the Climate Act in July we embedded the process of carbon budgeting into law. The Act also strengthened the role of the Climate Change Advisory Council, to empower this independent body to do this important work, based on the most up-to-date climate science."
Mr Ryan said the initial carbon budgets were "a significant milestone" in the country's efforts to tackle climate change.
The minister said the first two 5-year carbon budgets would be "part of the journey towards ‘net zero’."
"This commits us to the transition to a ‘climate-resilient, biodiversity-rich, environmentally sustainable and climate-neutral economy’ no later than 2050.
There will be different targets for each sector, with each based on their respective starting points, and the relative difficulty, cost, speed and benefits of reducing emissions, Mr Ryan said.
“This will be challenging and will require fundamental changes in many parts of Irish life, but it is also an opportunity to create a cleaner, greener economy and society that cuts emissions, creates jobs and protects our people and the planet.”
The publication of the budget sets the stage for a number of tough political decisions, as rural TDs in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil warn that a reduction in the national herd could harm the rural economy.
The plan will be brought to Cabinet in the coming weeks, with pressure for a cut in emissions expected to be particularly keen on transport, agriculture and energy.
However, that pressure on agriculture may cause problems in the coalition, where the Green Party is understood to favour a cut in the national herd.
“The proposed carbon budgets will have an impact on society and the economy but allow us to act on climate change in a planned and organised way," said the Chair of the CCAC, Marie Donnelly.
“The budget is based on the best available science and defines an appropriate and necessary path to addressing the climate challenge. Many of the changes required now will only have a real impact on emissions in the second period.
Ms Donnelly said the carbon budgets alone are not the solution.
“The carbon budgets provide a framework, but it will ultimately fall to each sector of our economy to create their own pathways and solutions to reduce their emissions within that framework.”
Environmental group Friends of the Earth said the carbon budgets signal the “start of the most rapid and radical change in the Irish economy and society in our lifetimes”.
Friends of the Earth director, Oisín Coghlan, said: “If you think of Whitaker and Lemass, free second-level education, joining the EU, or the referendums of the last decade, the transformation we are now embarking on is all of those things rolled into one, and more.
Pitting sectors like agriculture, transport, and home heating against each other will distract from the real target of a cleaner, healthier, safer future, he said.
“If we fail we will all be losers, facing accelerating climate breakdown with all the costs and destruction that will bring.
“It will not be a perfectly smooth reduction pathway from 2018 to 51% carbon savings by 2030. The average year-on-year savings in the first five-year Budget to 2025 is just under 5%, while the average year-on-year savings in the second five year Budget will be 8.3%.
“This represents a just about acceptable degree of “backloading” as it has been called. This is not the same thing as delaying action, it’s simply a reflection of the fact that new policies take time to have an impact.”