by Eoin Brennan
In December, the Irish Government released its new and updated Climate Action Plan 2023. It is the first plan following the introduction of country-wide carbon budgets in July, which featured emissions targets for specific industries. This is the second time the 2019 Climate Action Plan has been amended. This article will discuss what has changed, the quality of those changes, and reactions to the plan.
According to the Government, the plan is a pathway to “how Ireland can accelerate the actions that are required to respond to the climate crisis.” The plan is arranged into six vital high-impact sectors. They are Powering Renewables, Building Better, Transforming How We Travel, Making Family Farms More Sustainable, Green Business & Enterprise, and Changing Our Land Use. Emission reduction targets in each sector differ from a 75% reduction in the powering renewable sector emissions to a 25% reduction in agricultural emissions by 2030.
“the plan doesn’t detail any legal tools for the committee to intervene if necessary or to research other regions”
The plan’s contents are vast, but it’s a necessary undertaking considering the climate and biodiversity crisis. However, is it the right projected proposal with the necessary detail? For instance, the plan states that a “Just Transition” committee would be set up. This is a crucial step, to ensure that the green revolution is equitable and that the most vulnerable are supported. While the report rightly acknowledges that the midlands will be the first region “to directly experience the negative impacts of the transition away from fossil fuels,” the plan doesn’t detail any legal tools for the committee to intervene if necessary or to research other regions. Is this just another toothless committee? The report states that the committee “will be established to provide advice to Government.” The lack of directional detail is disappointing, and this oversight affects large swathes of the actions in the plan.
Another example is offshore wind, part of the powering renewables sector. It is long held as the flagbearer for Ireland’s climate solutions and a crucial element of our energy emissions targets. To highlight this, the report decrees, “the development of Ireland’s offshore wind energy potential can help to improve the sustainability of our national and European energy sector, it will improve our security of supply and its affordability.” That sounds like fantastic news, but it is a shallow statement, nonetheless. Details are scarce, and the report calls for an Offshore Wind Delivery Taskforce. The task force will publish another plan, a system-wide plan of action. The report doesn’t detail the work to be carried out or the force’s composition. Will it be interdepartmental? The report doesn’t mention creating a wind-farm port deep enough to launch wind turbines (we currently have no such ports in the Republic). The report details grid infrastructure changes but does not mention the needed investment or fast-tracking of the planning process. This hints at significant flaws in the Climate Action Plan 2023. It only creates more plans. There are few direct actions. The plan seems almost entirely devoid of any challenging, strict measures that can be undertaken immediately. However, the main challenge now is the implementation of the plan. It is desperately needed.
“walking, cycling, and public transport to account for 50% of our journeys by 2030”.
The other high-impact sectors have sweeping actions too. The ‘Building Better Sector’ calls for retrofitting 120,000 dwellings to Building Energy Rating Certificate (BER) B2 by 2025, with a target of 500,000 for 2030. The ‘Transforming How We Travel’ sector dumps the previous commitment of one million electric cars and instead seeks to have a third of all private vehicles on the road, be electric. This report emphasizes active forms of transport, with walking, cycling, and public transport to account for 50% of our journeys by 2030. 70% of people in rural Ireland will have buses that provide at least three trips to the nearby town daily by 2030. The agricultural sector is mentioned below. The ‘Greening Business and Enterprise Sector’ aims to decrease embodied carbon in construction produced and used by 30%. The final industry, ‘Changing Our Land Use’, aims to increase our annual afforestation rates to 8,000 acres hectares per annum from 2023 onwards. These are mammoth plans and will need immediate implementation.
The analysis from environmentalists and scientific bodies recommends something similar. Friends of the Earth, in a statement, notes that the plan is a step in the right direction. However, it said that “2023 must see a laser-like focus on implementation, implementation, and implementation.” They also highlighted that this is the first plan after the climate act.
“Ministers now have an individual responsibility to act on the sector emissions targets for their area. This is a fantastic first for this country and demands more inspired leadership”.
Ministers now have an individual responsibility to act on the sector emissions targets for their area. This is a fantastic first for this country and demands more inspired leadership. The Climate Change Advisory Council, the body responsible for advising the Government on the crisis, had a more subdued response. They note the 26 million tonngges of CO2 emissions, which are yet to be allocated and dependent on “emerging technologies”. The council states, “despite the progress in the new climate action plan, the remaining gap of unallocated emissions reductions is a substantial concern”. They also urge swift implementation of the plans.
The Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA) response was optimistic, noting that they were committed to reducing emissions but could not come at the cost of farmers’ livelihoods or by reducing output. The IFA continued by saying that the “focus must be on reducing emissions, not on reducing cattle numbers”. This has become a divisive debate among agricultural stakeholders. The Government now proposes to cap cattle numbers, even though the expected cut of 10% of the national herd was not in the final plan. Overall, the association’s message urged significant engagement with farmers. Specifically, the plan proposed actions on agriculture include: a substantial reduction in chemical nitrogen as a fertilizer and increasing organic farming to 450,000 hectares by 2030. Again, the plan lacks detail; it talks about diversifying farmer income streams. However, it does so without specifying how the Government will support this diversification.
While I was writing this, Met Eireann announced that “2022 was the warmest year on record for Ireland” since 1900. It is the 12th consecutive year with above-average temperatures in Ireland. These climate action plans are essential, and the 2023 action plan showcases an enormous positive shift in policymakers’ ambition and understanding of the climate and biodiversity crisis. The real problem is that it’s just a plan; we should be beyond plan-making and moving toward unprecedented implementation. That will be the real test of political leadership and bravery. The time to act is now, we don’t want to hear about another plan, not when climate breakdown is hitting the poorest people in the world, and its effects are more visible than ever. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans”. In this case, life is climate breakdown. Implementation is challenging, but the effects of climate change are already here and accelerating, so we need to make these changes before it’s too late.