Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Climate Action and Low Carbon Development: Statements


8:25 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent) | Oireachtas source

This is a key moment of political accountability for Ireland's action on climate change in the past year. Despite all the consultations, plans and research papers, it is clear that Ireland is making very limited progress towards meeting its current long-term national policy position. Policy positions and expensive consultant contracts do not bring down emissions, but action does.

The 2014 national policy position set the target of 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 based on 1990 levels and an approach to carbon neutrality in the agriculture sector. In 2019, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action endorsed a target of net zero emissions by 2050 and the enshrinement of this target into law in first quarter of 2020.

In its climate action plan, the Government indicated an intention to increase the 2050 goal to a net zero target and enshrine the 2050 position into law in early 2020. I understand the Cabinet was supposed to have discussed the heads of the Bill this morning but did not reach this agenda item. When it comes to the crunch, climate change seems to fall off the Government's agenda every time.

I call on the Government to explain to the House why Ireland will not meet our EU 2020 climate targets. In my opinion, even the most recent climate action plan is insufficient to meet Ireland's obligations under the Paris Agreement and international law, since it is built on the premise that carbon pricing and electric vehicles will largely do the job. Extra financial burdens do not deliver climate action. They penalise disadvantaged communities and do not offer systemic change based on environmental and social justice.

The science is clear and the message is unequivocal. Our planet is in danger of hitting some key tipping points that could shift the global environmental systems out of balance. More than 1 million species are threatened with extinction and the world is on track for temperature increases up to 4°C and higher that would make much of the earth uninhabitable for humans. Experts and civil society organisations are all in agreement that only a rapid and deep transition to a decarbonised global economy based on the principles of social and climate justice is now required over the next decade to prevent the spiralling of catastrophic climate impacts and to reduce the levels of risks associated with the transition to a zero-carbon future.

The United Nations Environment Programme published its annual emissions gap report at the opening of COP 25 in Madrid a few weeks ago, highlighting that we must cut global emissions by 55% on 2018 levels within ten years if we are to stand a chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C, the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. This equates to cuts of 7.6% per annum over the next decade. I call on the Government to take steps immediately to align Ireland's climate policies with what climate science and international law demands.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, special report on 1.5°C published in 2018 makes it explicitly clear that limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels must be the goal underpinning all national targets and policies. The report concludes that global average emissions must be net zero by 2050 at the latest. This means that developed nations such as Ireland must reach net zero sooner. It is interesting to note that Ireland produces more carbon than 55 African countries combined. That is the state Ireland is in. People speak about us being a small country making no difference. We would make a huge difference if we lived up to our aims.

If the current rate of increase in emissions continues, we will reach 3°C to 4°C warming before 2100. Ireland's current plans will only contribute to catastrophic climate breakdown unless there is a radical shift in Government ambition and urgency. However, Ireland remains a very poor performer by EU standards and our emissions continue to rise. Only because of the Citizens' Assembly and the report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action did we see the Minister finally start to develop concrete policies and measures.

Ireland is far off track from meeting its current 2030 target and longer-term commitments to decarbonise the economy. The most recent projections show that over the next decade, even with additional policy measures included in the national development plan, methane and nitrous oxide emissions from the agrifood sector are projected to increase by 3%. Continued growth in emissions from the transport sector is also projected in the short term, largely due to the continued use of diesel cars and diesel freight and the absence of public transport in much of the country. Energy consumption is also expected to grow, going in the opposite direction of what is needed collectively by the EU. We need the Government to commit to phasing out all fossil fuels, including gas and LNG, and all offshore oil and gas exploration. The current trends are unacceptable. Climate action requires that CO2 emissions from energy and cement need to go to net zero well before 2050. Nitrous oxide and especially methane emissions need to reduce steadily and permanently. Therefore, increases in these emissions from agriculture must be addressed with incentives for diversification, agriforestry, hedgerow maintenance and ecosystem restoration.

The 2019 climate action plan sets a pathway for a 2% decline in emissions per annum from 2021 to 2030. This is not in line with Ireland's fair share of the Paris Agreement carbon budget. Ireland will need to reduce emissions by more than 7% per annum every year to comply with the Paris Agreement but that is not the Government's policy. Ireland's continuing delay in increasing action and ambition will drastically escalate the governmental and political effort that will be required in the future. The annual transition statement does not show that the Government is serious about implementing the Paris Agreement.


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