Success in climate policy is measured in delivered reductions rather than rhetoric.
Ireland has scored high in the latter and the worst in Europe in the former.
In 2008, Ireland committed to the most ambitious climate targets in Europe and by 2020 missed that target by the largest amount of any member state.
Ireland is again looking to an increased level of ambition for 2030 with government formation discussions centred around a 7% reduction in greenhouse gases per year to 2030. The task is without parallel.
Ireland has only ever delivered significant emissions reduction during the recession or by closing industrial plant.
The current Government Climate Action Plan (CAP) aims to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions by 3% per year from 2020 delivering 90 million tonnes in cumulative emissions reduction to 2030.
This will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 61 million tonnes today to 45 million tonnes for the year 2030. The proposed target of 7% will require a doubling of this ambition delivering in five years what the CAP said it would deliver in 10 years and requires an additional 100 million tonnes in cumulative emissions reduction.
The narratives on climate action are compelling; most people want action, however the numbers are stark and convincing the public to act is something that must be achieved.
The proposed ambition of a 7% reduction per annum will require at least a doubling of the committed 30 billion euro investment in climate action in the period to 2030.
This is approximately an additional investment of €600 per annum per Irish citizen. If the task is to be successful, political representatives must learn from the lessons of the past and plan for the future where difficult decisions and trade-offs must be made.
In the period to 2020, a lack of policy focus on transport, heat and agriculture which account for 80% of Ireland’s national emissions and 100% of our European emissions obligations was key to us missing our targets.
The leadership shown in the successful policy area of renewable electricity must now be replicated across all sectors and this will require a new approach with a particular focus on demand side emissions.
Within the pan European emissions trading sector in Ireland, 130 installations account for one quarter of total emissions while the remaining 75% of emissions are produced by a heterogeneous mix, comprising of more than one million households, thousands of small businesses and over 130,000 farms.
Demand side emissions reduction are more challenging and expensive than supply side measures because the number of actors is greater, the emissions reductions are incremental and they take longer to achieve.
From a policy perspective, fragmented political support, piecemeal programmes and myopic policies must be avoided as they amplify uncertainty, increase costs and decrease the probability of success.
Research shows that a significant impact on achieving targets is cost of finance rather than technologies choices. This must be reduced as much as possible.
Investment in emissions reduction, be they supply or demand side, are capital intensive with high upfront costs.
This requires long term policy support that must go well beyond the political cycle.
Within each individual sector a number of options can be considered to deliver emissions reduction over and above what is already planned for in the CAP Electricity:
An estimate one million tonnes of projected emissions could be avoided if all data centres were mandated for 24/7 renewable energy supply rather than synthetic offsetting.
In transport, the introduction of biofuels as done at scale in Sweden should be considered as they can be blended at scale with diesel.
Encouraging remote working is important but impacts are often overstated; doubling the number of people working from home would reduce emission by less than 1%.
In agriculture, giving rural families better options and a certain future is an important element to more financially and environmentally sustainable farming.
Bioenergy production of renewable gas could displace emissions in both industry, buildings, transport, manure management and chemical fertilizer use delivering approximately 0.7Mt of savings in 2030.
This will require strong, long term financial support as well as the swift introduction of strict compliance, certification and monitoring procedures to ensure sustainability.
Ireland is unlikely to achieve a 7% reduction in annual emissions however success should be measured in cumulative emissions reduction from 2020 rather than annual intervals which are swayed by weather and interrupted by social events as we are seeing with the current crisis.
To increase chances of success strict monitoring of progress will be required.
Increased ambition is not enough - actual emissions reductions are required.
Above all, expectations may have to be managed and plans may have to be flexible The history of energy transitions often shows us that what was once thought impossible can be achieved, but it usually takes much longer than expected.