Ireland is facing significant challenges in meeting its EU future emissions targets for greenhouse gases under the EU Climate and Energy package for 2020 and anticipated longer term targets up to 2050. Effective action by all economic sectors is required for the transition to a low emissions economy.
Climate change is one of the most significant and challenging issues currently facing humanity. Increased levels of greenhouse gases, such as CO2, increase the amount of energy trapped in the atmosphere which leads to global impacts such as increased temperatures, melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea-level.
If not addressed, the projected impacts of climate change present a very serious risk of dangerous and effectively irreversible climate impacts at both the global and national levels with food production and ecosystems being particularly vulnerable. Ireland also faces a range of negative impacts related to climate change. Consequently, future investment decisions at national, regional and local levels must incorporate consideration of future climate conditions and adaptation options, with flood prevention and improved management of water resources being important elements of these considerations.
State and Impacts
Climate change is a global issue and is being driven by enhanced atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. The levels of these gases have continued to increase as shown by measurements of carbon dioxide (CO2) at Mace Head on the west coast of Ireland.
These observations are replicated at other sites around the world. Current atmospheric levels now exceed by far the natural range over the last 650,000 years.
The effects of the enhanced greenhouse gas levels are most evident in the temperature record. For Ireland the average temperature has increased by 0.7oC over the period 1890 – 2007 and there is also evidence of a trend towards more intense and more frequent rainfall. These trends are reflected in ecosystem changes, with an increase in the growing season and greater numbers of warmer latitude fauna evident in Ireland and its surrounding waters.
Future impacts of climate change in Ireland will be both direct and indirect, resulting from spillover from impacts in other parts of Europe and the rest of the world. Predicted negative impacts in Ireland include:
- more intense storms and rainfall events
- an increased likelihood of flooding in rivers and on the coast, where almost all our cities and large towns are situated
- water shortages in summer in the east and the need for irrigation of crops
- changes in the distribution of species
- the possible extinction of vulnerable species
Drivers & Pressures
Under the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Ireland's total emissions are limited to an average of 62.84 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents per annum (13 per cent above the baseline estimate) in the period 2008-2012. The actual situation in relation to compliance with the Kyoto protocol will not be known until after this five year period. However, we can estimate that after the first four years we are currently a total of 1.9 million tonnes above the target when the impact of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and Forest Sinks are taken into account.
In 2011, Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions decreased across all sectors due to the effects of the economic downturn with a decline in total emissions of 6.5 per cent from 2010 total emissions and a decline of 14.9 per cent as compared to 2008.
Ireland’s emissions profile has changed considerably since 1990, with the contribution from transport more than doubling and the share from agriculture reducing since 1998. In a European context it is notable that Irish per capita emissions of greenhouse gas emissions remain among the highest.
Agriculture is the largest source of emissions, representing 32 per cent of total national emissions in 2011. This is despite emissions from agriculture reaching a peak in 1998 and decreasing to below their 1990 level in recent years, reflecting a long-term decline in cattle population and in fertiliser use due to the Common Agricultural Policy. Ireland’s unique position, within the EU, as the country with the highest national proportion of agriculture emissions will present this country with major challenges in limiting emissions and meeting future targets.
The energy industries represented 20.8 per cent of total national greenhouse gas emissions in 2011. Emissions from power generation account for the bulk of energy sector emissions. Since the mid 1990s, Ireland’s population growth has been significantly greater than the EU average. This coupled with the increase in the number of households, has placed greater demands on energy for heating and electricity, which to a large extent are fossil fuel based. Since around 2001 the improved efficiency of electricity generation by the use of less carbon intensive fuels, coupled with an increase in the share of renewables, have allowed increased electricity production while at the same time resulting in lower emissions. Emissions from energy (principally electricity generation) decreased by 10.6 per cent in 2011. This reflects an increase in the share of renewables in gross electricity consumption from 12.9 per cent in 2010 to 19.4 per cent in 2011. Wind resources were significantly higher in 2011 than in 2010 (up 56 per cent) which resulted in less electricity generation from conventional fossil fuel fired power stations.
The transport sector, responsible for 19.6 per cent of total national emissions, has been the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, showing a 120 per cent increase between 1990 and 2011. However, transport emissions decreased by 2.7 per cent between 2010 and 2011. This is the fourth year in a row that a decrease in transport sector emissions has been reported following significant growth up to 2007 - transport emissions in 2011 were 22 per cent lower compared with 2007. The decrease primarily reflects the impact of the economic downturn as well as the changes in vehicle registration tax and road tax introduced in mid-2008. In addition, the Biofuels Obligation Scheme started operation in mid-2010 with biofuels displacing petrol and diesel use in the transport sector.
The industry and commercial sector is responsible for 14.3 per cent of total national emissions. Emissions from this sector were 8.9 per cent lower in 2011 compared to 2010. This is due primarily to a reduction of fuel oil and to continued decreases in CO2 emissions from cement production. The milder winter also resulted in a lower heating demand for commercial and public buildings, with natural gas consumption down 17 per cent. Verified emissions data from the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, reported to the EPA since 2005, show that CO2 emissions from the cement sector decreased by 60 per cent between 2005 and 2011.
National Climate Policy Review
The national policy response to climate change was outlined in the National Climate Change Strategy (NCCS) published in 2007. It sets out a plan for how Ireland can meet its greenhouse gas emissions limitation under the Kyoto Protocol involving actions by all sectors of the economy.
The 2011 Programme for Government includes a commitment to publish climate legislation to give certainty and clarity in relation to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to be achieved by Ireland in line with EU targets. In November 2011 the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government announced a review of National Climate Policy in order to develop the necessary policy mix to support an ambitious but realistic national mitigation agenda based on a three-pronged approach:
- a public consultation, initiated by the Minister in 2012, to enable all stakeholders to engage in the policy development process
- an independent study to be carried out by the secretariat to the National Economic and Social Council (NESC)
- sectoral mitigation progress to be persued through the Cabinet Committee on Climate Change and the Green Economy based on positive engagement with the relevant Government departments where progress must be made if we are to meet our legally-binding targets.
On 23 January 2012, the Minister issued a work programme setting out the steps and milestones for the development of national climate policy and legislation. A public consultation process was subsequently launched in spring 2012, the results of which were announced the following August. In its report (published in February 2013), the NESC Secretariat provide a long term vision (to 2050) on the options available to Ireland in meeting the long term target of a carbon-neutral society. In conjunction with the conclusion of the NESC Secretariat analysis, the Minister released outline Heads of a Climate Action and Low-Carbon Development Bill 2013 with the aim of finalising climate legislation in the second half of 2013.
EU Emissions Trading Scheme
The Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is the EU’s cornerstone in the fight against climate change. The EPA has been given the responsibility for implementing the ETS in Ireland. The scheme works on a "cap and trade" basis whereby companies must keep their emissions below the level of their allocated allowances or buy extra allowances on the market. Since January 2012 the ETS includes emissions from air flights to and from European airports.
Developing renewable energy is an integral part of Ireland’s climate change strategy. The renewable contribution to Ireland’s gross energy consumption in 1990 was 2.3 per cent rising to 6.4 per cent in 2011. Under the EU Directive on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources, Ireland’s overall target is 16 per cent of gross energy consumption to come from renewable sources in electricity generation, transport and thermal energy by 2020.
A carbon tax of €15 per tonne was announced in the 2010 Budget. The tax was applied to petrol and diesel with immediate effect from December 2009 and to non-transport fuels (i.e. kerosene, marked gas oil, liquid petroleum gas (LPG), fuel oil and natural gas) from May 2010. The application of the tax to coal and commercial peat will be subject to a commencement order to allow a mechanism to be put in place to counter the sourcing of coal and peat from Northern Ireland.
In Budget 2012 the carbon tax was increased to €20 per tonne of CO2 emitted on fossil fuels. In Budget 2013 the carbon tax was extended to solid fuels (i.e. peat and coal). A rate of €10 per tonne of CO2 emitted applies from May 1st 2013. This will increase to €20 per tonne of CO2 emitted from May 1st 2014.
Emissions projections give an outlook for greenhouse gas emissions over the period up to 2020 taking into account key assumptions such as economic growth, fuel price and the impact of Government policies and measures.
Ireland is on track to meet its commitment under the Kyoto Protocol. The latest projections (published in April 2013) indicate a distance to target of between 0.2 and 0.7 million tonnes of CO2 eq. It is likely therefore that there will be a very low requirement for the use of credits to ensure compliance with the agreed limit.
2020 EU Effort Sharing Target
The 2020 EU Effort Sharing target commits Ireland to reducing emissions from those sectors that are not covered by the ETS (e.g. transport, agriculture, residential) to 20 per cent below 2005 levels. The projections indicate that even under the most ambitious scenario (With Additional Measures) Ireland will exceed its annual limit in 2016 and exceed its 2020 target. Under the With Measures Scenario, it is projected that Ireland will exceed its annual limit in 2015.
Meeting the 2020 targets will require reduction measures in all sectors, but particularly in the agriculture and transport sectors. It is essential that Ireland reduces its dependence on fossil fuels while ensuring that very significant increases are achieved in the use of alternative energy sources (wind, ocean, biomass and others). Considerable improvements in energy efficiency will also be required. The role of research will be crucial, particularly with regard to examining all possible options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and transport.
To avoid significant adverse climate change impacts over the coming decades, a concerted approach involving both adaptation and mitigation is required with mainstreaming of climate change issues into future investment decisions.