Introduction: This document is written as a high level background brief to inform discussions of the Citizen’s Assembly. The paper draws on the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – especially the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), which represents the latest consensus view of the scientific community. These reports are compiled by hundreds of scientists from across the world, who summarise developments and insights from the scientific literature published in peer reviewed journals. The report is signed off by all countries. The IPCC thus provide an authoritative assessment of our state of knowledge on all aspects of climate change. The subsequent sections of this brief are organised around the key questions that I was requested to cover.
The Citizens’ Assembly has published its report on climate change (Assembly press release here). The report includes the Assembly’s 13 recommendations on ‘how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change’. These were agreed by the Assembly after four days of expert presentations in 2017 and following a major public consultation which received close to 2000 submissions.
The Stop Climate Chaos coalition* is calling on the Government to respect the mandate of the Assembly by immediately establishing a dedicated Oireachtas Committee to take the report’s recommendations forward, as was done with the Assembly report on the eight amendment to the Constitution.
This evidence for the government really doing nothing to mitigate excessive emissions from Transport calls into question its poor provision for every day cycling. Faced with this critique Minister Ross needs to urgently divert funding away from new roads and motorways into cycling infrastructure. Read article
In December 2015, Ireland along with nearly 200 other nations signed up to its commitment to do our full and fair share to ensure carbon emissions are reduced in line with the advice from science so that global warming does not irreversibly destabilise the world’s climate system.
Actions, however, speak far louder than words. As data produced today by the Environment Protection Agency confirm, instead of the required sharp reductions, Irish greenhouse gas emissions instead climbed in 2016, to the equivalent of 61.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO₂), the highest level since before the economic crash.
In just the last two years, total national emissions have increased by 7.3% or 4.16 million tonnes of CO₂. Ireland is legally mandated by the EU to reduce national emissions by 20% by 2020. By comparison, Scotland has already achieved its far more ambitious 2020 emissions target cut of 42%, and achieved these five years ahead of target.
“There is no magic involved. The missing ingredient in Ireland is political will and the backbone to stand up to the special pleading of well-funded lobby groups”, according to John Gibbons, An Taisce’s Climate Change Committee spokesperson. He continued “Ireland has among the best average wind speeds in Europe, yet the share of wind energy on the grid actually declined by nearly 2% last year, while there was an overall increase of 3.8% in the emissions intensity of power generation.”
Ireland’s shambolic transport sector has recorded its fourth straight year of emissions growth, adding 3.7%, or nearly half a million tons of additional CO₂ in 2016 versus the previous year. The other price of this failure is ever-worsening traffic gridlock as the excessively car-dependent transport model inevitably leads to congestion, inefficiency and chaos. The ongoing neglect of cycling and public transport is fuelling this national transport debacle.
Agriculture and transport together accounted for almost three quarters of Ireland’s entire EU 2020 target sector non-ETS emissions in 2016. Since 2011 agricultural sector emissions have increased by +10.2%, contrary to the misleading media talking points being recently repeated by agri lobbyists. Last year, agricultural emissions rose by the equivalent of over half a million tonnes of CO₂. This followed a 6.2% increase in dairy cow numbers and a 4% increase in milk production. For 2017, the quantity of nitrogen fertiliser used is already known to be up by 12%, which will push agri-sector emissions even higher than in 2005, the reference year for a 20% ‘Non-ETS’ reduction by 2020.
Dairy and beef production are both highly emissions-intensive, and today’s EPA data proves that the industry spin about ‘efficiency’ and ‘carbon neutrality’ is all just hot air. There is no effective way of reducing Irish agriculture’s massive emissions profile without tackling the root cause of these emissions: ever more, fertiliser-boosted grass fed to ever more cattle results in ever more climate pollution. Controlling beef and dairy emissions requires a production cap or a price on agricultural emissions so that efficiencies can actually be realised.
This underlines the findings of an EU study published in April this year that found Irish agriculture to be the least ‘climate-efficient’ in the entire EU28. Ireland produced the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per euro of agricultural output, the study concluded.
“Governments come and governments go, but CO₂ lingers in the atmosphere for decades to centuries. Increasing agricultural methane and nitrous oxide emissions greatly increases Ireland’s responsibility for near-term climate warming. The decisions we take and fail to take today will have long-term implications for our children and their children. True sustainability means providing for our needs today without compromising the needs of future generations. Ireland is today stealing from the future, calling it growth and leaving a toxic legacy to all future generations”, according to John Gibbons.
He continued “We as a nation are better than this. The recent Citizens’ Assembly recommendations proved that the Irish public is prepared to back strong action to tackle climate change, but these shocking pollution figures from the EPA show Ireland’s citizens are being shamefully betrayed by its political and business classes for short term gain.”
Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 3.5 % (2.06 Mt CO2 eq) in 2016 with significant increases observed across all the main sectors including:
- Agriculture emissions increased by 2.7%
- Transport emissions have increased by 3.7%
- Energy Industry emissions increased by 6.1%
Ireland and its laggardly response to impending global disaster: Full Submission
Minister Naughten has announced he is bringing Ireland’s first plan to cut climate pollution in 10 years to Cabinet today. Publication of the draft National Mitigation Plan and the launch of a public consultation is expected within days.
The new action plan is a successor to the National Climate Change Strategies of April 2007 and October 2000, and the CO2 Abatement Strategy of June 1993. However, Irish greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change are higher now then they were at the time of the first plan in 1993. This is despite the National Policy Position on Climate Action which sets a national objective of cutting CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050 and capturing all our agricultural emissions by planting more trees and restoring our peatland bogs.
Stop Climate Chaos, the civil society coalition campaigning for Ireland to do its fair share to tackle climate change, has today published “Five Tests to for Ireland’s draft National Mitigation Plan“.
- Does the new plan add up to doing our fair share?
- Does it start the phase out of fossil fuels?
- Does it ramp up renewable energy and kick-start community ownership?
- Does it put agriculture on a path to carbon neutrality?
- Does it realign transport investment to reduce emissions?
Commenting, Cliona Sharkey, Trócaire Policy Officer and a spokesperson for the coalition said:
“Ultimately the plan needs to demonstrate Ireland is preparing to deliver not only on its EU targets, but also on the even more ambitious action agenda set out in the Paris Agreement. If we fail to meet our EU targets we will face significant fines.but if we fail to deliver on the Paris Agreement, we invite climate catastrophe with devastating consequences across society, the environment and the economy.”
The Paris Agreement commits Ireland and all the other parties to the treaty to hold: “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”.
Unfortunately, Ireland is a persistent laggard – not a leader. According to latest figures, Ireland’s current emissions are 6.6% above 1990 levels, and emissions increased by 3.7% in 2015. Ireland, with the 8th highest emissions per person in the OECD, is one of only two countries in the EU which will overshoot its 2020 targets for emissions reductions.
Ireland needs to immediately embark on a rapid and just transition to a carbon-free future. Both the EPA and the new Climate Change Advisory Council describe what is required as “a major societal and economic transformation”. Ireland’s last action plan on climate was launched in 2007 – by the then Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche – and expired in 2012. The Advisory Council is clear the new National Mitigation Plan should not just focus on our EU targets for 2020 and 2030 but “should outline the roadmap to achieve the 2050 national objective”. That objective, set out in the National Policy Position on Climate Action, is an 80% aggregate emissions reduction between the buildings, energy, and transport sectors, and carbon neutrality in agriculture.
Under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, which became law on December 10th 2015, Minister for Climate Action, Denis Naughten TD, is obliged to submit a final action plan on how Ireland will cut climate pollution (called the National Mitigation Plan) to Government by 10th June 2017.
Cyclist.ie was disappointed with the near absence of actions to decarbonise transport in Minister Denis Naughten’s first Annual Transition Statement on climate action. Read press release
Ireland could face fines of up to €5.5 billion by 2030 if it fails to bring forward measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in line with European Union targets.
“Take the current capital investment plan which envisages twice as much spending on roads compared to public transport. Meanwhile, apparently there is nothing in the kitty for investment in worthy low-carbon projects such as cycle lanes, or indeed energy efficiency in homes,”