Ministers have been told they will have to hit the upper end of sectoral emissions targets to give Ireland a chance of hitting its climate goals.
Meetings have begun between Minister for Climate Change and Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan and his Cabinet colleagues over sectoral targets that will bind different parts of the economy to tough reductions in emissions by 2030.
Ranges published last November indicated that different sectors would be asked to reduce their emissions by 22-81 per cent. However, the deepening climate crisis means that Mr Ryan’s team is advising Ministers that the targets, which are due to be set this summer, will be at the upper end of the ranges.
This means electricity production will have to cut emissions by close to 81 per cent, rather than the 62 per cent envisaged at the lower end of the range. Similarly, agricultural emissions will have to drop by closer to 30 per cent rather than the less stringent 22 per cent, and transport by up to half, rather than 42 per cent in the lower bound estimate.
A source involved in the talks told The Irish Times “there’s not a lot of wiggle room here”, adding: “Last year’s climate action plan gave sectoral ranges… It’s not hard to deduce from last year’s climate action plan and the ranges to see that everyone is going to be up towards the top end of their ranges.”
It comes after the Environmental Protection Agency warned this week that urgent implementation of all Ireland’s climate plans, and new policies, will be needed to hit the 51 per cent emissions reduction target by the 2030 deadline.
With much attention focused on agricultural emissions, some on Mr Ryan’s team believe a range of economic factors are forcing farmers to make decisions which have a positive emissions angle — for example incorporating clover when reseeding grassland, and lower consumption of fertiliser due to shortages and price rises caused by the war in Ukraine. This, they hope, will allow for earlier gains to be made without political flashpoints emerging.
“The initial savings will be driven by economic factors and will happen quickly; the last percentages will be harder,” a Green Party source said. However, sources elsewhere in Government are less optimistic, saying talks between Mr Ryan and Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue are expected to be “tense”, with the Donegal TD unlikely to accept a demand that he force farmers to cut 30 per cent of emissions.
It is intended the bilateral meetings with Cabinet ministers will run for the first three weeks of this month, before the plan containing the targets is sent to the Cabinet subcommittee on environment and climate change, with the intention that Cabinet sign-off on the targets before the Dáil rises for its summer break.
The Ukrainian war is seen by some within Government as a watershed moment for the Coalition’s climate policy, which is pushing more rapid action and forcing high-emissions sectors — most notably agriculture — to move ahead with emissions-reducing steps ahead of time.
“The war in Ukraine has focused minds,” one source said. “There’s going to be a lot less conflict [over policy] than there would have been if the war hadn’t happened.”
There are concerns over potential flashpoints over data centres, but Government sources expressed the belief that there is political backing for the challenge, although the scale of the work required will require system-wide buy-in from civil servants as well.
The Government is hopeful electricity emissions can be rapidly brought down this decade with the development of large-scale wind farms in the Irish Sea, developed from Cork, Belfast and Rosslare, where the Iarnród Éireann-owned port will shortly seek planning permission for a new facility to serve the industry.