The Irish Government recently published its Climate Action Plan. The objective of the Plan is to enable Ireland to meet its EU targets to reduce its carbon emissions by 30 per cent between 2021 and 2030 and lay the foundations for achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This is an ambitious target to meet. The Plan sets out 180 actions that need to be taken and extends to all sectors of the economy. In the related articles available below you will find a summary of the key measures in focus sectors.
The Plan has been described as ambitious but realistic. However, those experienced in the sector will be aware of the potential pitfalls in trying to implement a plan of this scale across the economy and the requirement for co-ordinated governance.
Helpfully the Plan, as a priority measure, outlines the establishment of the Climate Action Delivery Board, within the Department of An Taoiseach, which will be tasked with ensuring Government departments and public bodies are complying with their obligations under the Plan and are held accountable for their actions. Encompassing the Board under the Department of the Taoiseach is a positive step. The Board is tasked with reviewing the Plan every quarter, reporting to the Cabinet and updating the Plan on an annual basis to ensure that the actions being taken to combat climate disruption are both flexible and effective. The Plan envisages the Board being established by Q3 2019 and the sooner this happens the better.
Under the Plan a Climate Action Council will be established and will have the power to recommend to the Government the appropriate five-year Carbon Budgets, monitor State progress on Greenhouse Gas reduction and provide policy advice. Significantly a Standing Committee is to be established which can hold Ministers and public bodies accountable for any failure to deliver on their climate targets. The Plan introduces a greater level of accountability by requiring the Minister responsible for each sector to report to the Oireachtas on an annual basis.
A Carbon Tax & Budget
A new Climate Action Act is to be introduced which will make carbon budgets a legal requirement. The Government will be required to propose carbon budgets for three five-year periods with the first coming in 2021. Once the carbon target has been agreed by the Dáil then a decarbonisation target will be proposed, along with an annual trajectory target range for each sector. Failure to adhere to the targets will result in penalties.
In order to reach its carbon reduction targets by 2030 the Government is committed to implementing a carbon tax of at least €80 per tonne by 2030. This will be increased gradually over successive annual Budgets. The aim of the carbon tax is to change behaviour and encourage investment in low-carbon alternatives. Significant investment from the private sector will be required to transition Ireland to a low-carbon country. The Climate Action Fund is committed to funding initiatives that make a positive contribution to the achievement of Ireland’s climate targets.
The carbon tax generally generates terrible press without any clarity about what it means for the average consumer. To put it in context at the moment the carbon tax (which is currently €20 per tonne) adds around 5 cent to every litre of petrol and diesel and if the carbon tax is increased to €30 per tonne it would add another two or three cents to every litre.
It is important that this message is clearly communicated by the Government or the carbon tax will run the risk of Irish Water style public opposition.
Renewable Electricity - Ireland’s Competitive Advantage
Ireland has significant renewable resources and the Climate Action Plan sets out a co-ordinated plan that aims to make optimum use of these resources. At present 30% of Ireland’s electricity comes from renewable resources. Under the Plan this is to increase to 70% by 2030.
To facilitate this growth substantial new infrastructure will have to be put in place with increased development in offshore wind. By 2030 the Plan identifies the potential for 3.5GW of offshore renewable energy; 1.5GW of grid-scale solar; and up to 8.2GW of more on-shore wind with 15% of demand being met by corporate PPAs.
The putting in place of long awaited regime change in relation to planning consents and grid management is critical to achieving these ambitious off-shore wind targets and will require co-ordinated efforts from Government, system operators, the regulator and various stakeholders. This is where the Climate Action Delivery Board should demonstrate its value.
The Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) is the key piece of policy that will drive the move to the increased use of renewable resources, particularly for on-shore wind and solar in the short term. This Scheme will introduce competitive auction design, community investment and ownership. It appears the Government remains committed to delivering the RESS scheme before the end of 2019. However, to the interested observer, it looks like much work still remains to be done to achieve this.
The Plan commits to the phasing out of fossil fuels. Significantly, a commitment to close the Moneypoint coal-burning station by 2025 and the peat-burning stations in the midlands by 2028 has been made.
Across the building sector, the Plan proposes a ban on the use of oil-fired boilers from 2021 and gas boilers from 2025. As a result, any new developments will be deterred from using such technologies. The Plan sets out ambitious targets to retrofit 500,000 homes by 2030 and have 600,000 renewable energy heating sources in homes and 25,000 in commercial premises by 2030. To achieve this target the Plan aims to increase the number of grants available to individuals. However, similar payment schemes have been introduced in the past but with very modest results. It is difficult to say whether the targets set out are achievable within a decade.
Waste & The Circular Economy
Ireland’s waste emissions have increased by 58% since 2011. The aim under the Plan is to reduce landfill to 10% of all waste and to recycle 70% of all waste by 2030. The Plan also proposes banning single-use plastic and ensuring that all packaging is recyclable by 2030. The waste targets set out in the Plan are some of the more achievable and should be met within the designated time frame.
Substantial investment in transport will be required in order for Ireland to meet its 2030 targets. The Plan is to introduce the DART expansion, Metro Link and the BusConnects Programme. However, with opposition to such plans increasing it may be difficult for these projects to be implemented. The Plan has committed to having no diesel-only purchases to its public bus fleet by 1 July 2019 and commits to the introduction of electric buses. A huge uptake in the number of electric cars is required to cut carbon emissions. To promote this, the Plan promises to support the expansion of EV charging infrastructure but with motorists still facing the issue of price it is disappointing that the Plan contains no provision for the granting of payment incentives. However, with the introduction of the carbon tax the uptake for electric cars may increase. The goal of having 950,000 electric cars in Ireland 2030 is not unattainable.
Tackling carbon emissions in Ireland’s agricultural sector has proved difficult with projections for emissions currently increasing rather than decreasing. A balance between meeting increasing food demand and committing to carbon neutrality needs to be struck. The Plan states that it is committed to reducing carbon emissions, yet with no explicit reference to any measures to reduce the number of cattle or sheep this seems unrealistic. This has been one of the major criticisms of the Plan.
In other areas of agriculture, a commitment has been made to increase afforestation rates, better manage the peatlands and soils and support the use of cost-effective substitutes. The next Common Agriculture Policy at EU level will enable the enactment of these measures with 40% of the new CAP budget being applied to environmental or climate action.
The Climate Action Plan will undoubtedly introduce significant changes across all sectors of the economy. Individuals, especially those in rural communities, will be affected by the new measures that are to be introduced. It is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that individuals are provided with the necessary training and education to upskill or move away from their industry into more carbon friendly practices.
Pressure is mounting on Ireland to meets its obligations under the Paris Agreement 2015, its targets under various EU Directives and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The Climate Action Plan lays down a co-ordinated plan that is admirable in its objective but may be lacking in its practicality. Ireland is currently a long way off reaching its 2020 targets making the targets for 2030 seem even less achievable. While many have welcomed the Plan it has been criticised for lacking specific details with questions being asked as to whether or not the targets are achievable. More in-depth policies coupled with greater investment in infrastructure will be required to ensure the effective implementation of the Plan.
To discuss the aspects of the Plan likely to impact your business the most, contact a member of our Energy & Utilities team.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.