'Grave consequences' if Ireland fails to reduce emissions

'Grave consequences' if Ireland fails to reduce emissions

Artist Greg Mitchell completing his climate-crisis themed mural on the side of St John's Church on Princes St, Edinburgh, to coincide with the Cop26 in Glasgow. Picture: Jane Barlow/P

Ireland has only a “narrow” pathway to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 51% by 2030 — but failure to meet the very significant challenge will have “grave consequences”.

That is according to the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC), which has submitted Ireland’s first carbon budget programme, broken down into two five-year carbon budgets, to the Government.

The first budget for the period 2021-2025 aims to reduce emissions by 4.8% on average annually for five years, while the second from 2026-2030 will look to up that annual cut to 8.3%.

A third, as yet provisional, carbon budget is aspirational in achieving net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2050, the advisory council said.

'The [carbon] budget is based on the best available science and defines an appropriate and necessary path to addressing the climate challenge,' said CCAC chair Marie Donnelly. She is pictured addressing the Opportunity for Irish Economic Policymakers session on sustainable development in Áras an Uachtaráin. Picture: Maxwells
'The [carbon] budget is based on the best available science and defines an appropriate and necessary path to addressing the climate challenge,' said CCAC chair Marie Donnelly. She is pictured addressing the Opportunity for Irish Economic Policymakers session on sustainable development in Áras an Uachtaráin. Picture: Maxwells

Carbon budgets were announced in October last year. They will include all greenhouse gases in each five-year cycle and allocate emissions ceilings to the likes of motorists, households, farmers, businesses, and industry.

CCAC said the challenge Ireland faces is exacerbated by the housing crisis and Brexit. But it says failure to act now will have longer-term consequences for society that will be even more serious.

In its technical report to accompany the proposed carbon budgets, the advisory council said:

  • Emissions from agriculture will be hard to tackle without cutting animal numbers;
  • Renewable energy infrastructure and forest plantations must not be at the expense of biodiversity, already in a crisis of its own;
  • Lives will not only be saved by acting now, but the upturn in health will, in turn, boost economic activity.

“During the past 20 years, there has been a 53.7% increase in heat-related mortality in people older than 65 years,” said the CCAC. “This high cost in human lives is also associated with an economic cost with 302bn hours of potential labour capacity lost in 2019.

Some of the worst affected countries saw losses of potential labour capacity equivalent to 4%-6% of their GDP. The 2018 heatwave in Europe was estimated to have caused heat-related mortality equivalent to 1.2% of EU gross national income.

Jobs will be at risk as Ireland turns to a low-carbon economy, said the report, but this must be mitigated with a just transition. Just transition is the term used to describe making sure employment opportunities and societal benefits are present for those who may live and work in communities tied to legacy energy industries, such as coal mining or peat extraction.

“Individuals and communities who are vulnerable or at risk of loss of employment or livelihood, or disproportionate costs need to be identified and assisted in the transition.

The importance of providing policy supports aimed at alternative forms of income for small and medium enterprises, farmers, and other impacted households should be considered urgently.

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. 

Marie Donnelly, the chair of the CCAC, said: “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.”

The carbon budgets mark the first step in the overall process of addressing carbon emissions. Once the carbon budget programme proposed by the advisory council has been adopted by the Government and Oireachtas, Environment Minister Eamon Ryan will prepare individual emissions ceilings for each sector of the economy.

The Government will publish Climate Action Plan 2021 “in the coming weeks”.

Mr Ryan said the carbon budget target of 51% reductions by 2030 is “part of the journey towards ‘net zero’” by 2050. He said every sector of the economy will need to play its part under Climate Action Plan 2021.

“There will be different targets for each sector, based on their respective starting points and the relative difficulty, cost, speed and benefits of reducing emissions,” he added.

IFA: Farmers 'won't remain viable'

The IFA last night said farmers “can’t remain viable” if agriculture has to cut emissions by between 21%-30%, as has been reported.

“Some may compare the carbon budget, and the sectoral ceilings that had been proposed, to other sectors and think agriculture has got a fair deal, but the Government has not considered the implications for individual farmers and the sector,” said IFA president Tim Cullinan.

For most people, climate action will impact on their lifestyle. For farmers, it will impact on our livelihoods. 

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