Fr Sean McDonagh
A report published by the Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO) in August 2018 stated that Ireland was way off track in reaching its carbon reduction targets. In fact, the country had the third highest per capita greenhouse emissions rates within the EU in 2015. In terms of sectors that produce greenhouse gas emissions, agriculture was the worst offender, accounting for 32 per cent of the total in 2016, followed by transport and energy at 20 per cent.
This is why An Taisce, the largest environmental organisation in Ireland, of which I am president, has challenged Ireland’s Draft National Energy And Climate Plan (NECP).It calls for urgent revision by the end of 2019 to ensure that the finalised Plan includes ambitious plans for substantial and sustained reductions in annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Crucially, the Draft NECP fails to deliver on either alternative energy systems or ways to reduced agriculture emissions. The CSO figures show that in 2016 Ireland had thefourth largest cattle herd in Europe. In terms of forestry,the CSO figures show that in 2015, 10.6 per cent of the country’s land area was covered by forestry, the second lowest rate in the EU.
The Draft NECP also shows no coherent climate action aligned with Ireland’s commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The Draft Plan demonstrates that the Irish government has failed to grasp the overarching imperative of sharply and permanently cutting greenhouse gases (GHGs) from every part of our economy. This includes the built environment, transport, energy and agriculture.
All four Draft Scenarios presented in the NECP only show a ‘flat-lining’ of total annual fossil fuel CO₂ emissions between the years 2015-2040. This misses the point completely, as ‘flat-lining’ means continuing to pump ever more emissions into the atmosphere when we need instead to urgently cut these emissions, year by year, all the way to net zero by mid-century.
Furthermore, the Draft NECP fails to show scenarios coherent with Ireland’s existing climate policy, widely understood as a linear annual reduction in CO₂ to at least an 80% reduction in 2050 compared with 1990 levels.
Worse, the Draft NECP’s data projections show no reduction in annual GHG emissions from agriculture and land use until 2035. This means that there is effectively no serious attempt to reach carbon neutrality in the agriculture sector at any time in the future.
An Taisce points out that, while the Draft NECP points towards a move to lower carbon fossil energy usage in the grid, in reality, this is just a shift from coal and peat to gas, with little change in oil use. Rapid decarbonisation in line with our Paris Agreement commitment requires urgent reductions in emissions from all fossil fuel sources. Simply switching from one fossil fuel to another does not and cannot achieve this objective.
An Taisce regrets that the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change which was held in November 2017 have not been taken into account in the Draft NECP. An Taisce urges that the will of the Irish public, as clearly expressed through the Assembly, be reflected in the final document.
We are glad that the high school students who are protesting about the Irish government’s lack of vision on this vital issue will finally push the government to take real steps to lower Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions. The students are also demanding the Irish government the Climate Assembly’s other recommendations on this topic.