Ireland is starting late in climate action, and we need to start stronger. The public has until Tuesday to demand ambitious carbon budgets without stalling or rotation.
he latest international report on climate change has been called by the UN “code red for humanity”. He warned that the crisis is “widespread, rapid and intensifying”.
Every week, in every region of the world, we see communities overwhelmed, homes destroyed by forest fires, families forced to flee, crops failing and habitats destroyed. If global temperatures increase by more than 1.5°C, these events become more frequent and more dangerous, and large parts of our planet could become uninhabitable.
There is real hope, however, in the growing number of people across society speaking out for urgent climate action. The public is often ahead of politicians when it comes to recognizing the threat we face, caring about the environment, thinking creatively and questioning ‘business as usual’.
As leading climate scientist Professor John Sweeney recently remarked: “Young people in particular can see through the fog much more clearly than someone who is beset and harassed by vested interest groups.
The past 10 years have been the hottest in 100,000 years, so what we do with the next 10 really matters.
The government is currently drawing up Ireland’s first two five-year carbon budgets, which will define the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions, measured in megatonnes of carbon equivalent, that we can add to the atmosphere by 2030 .
Ireland does not have a great climate record, so there is a lot of catching up to do.
Unfortunately, the carbon budgets initially proposed do not meet UN standards, fail to ensure climate justice and may even fall short of commitments made in the Government Agenda.
The good news is that these budgets are not finalized and there is room for improvement if we act quickly.
The public consultation, open until next Tuesday, is an opportunity for anyone who cares about these issues to call for stronger, better and earlier climate action.
A 2019 report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) calculated that a global average annual emissions reduction of 7.6% would be needed to give the world a 66% chance of staying below an increase. temperature of 1.5°C.
Ireland, as a wealthy country, is expected to achieve more than this average. We certainly shouldn’t deliver less. Yet in his recent presentation to the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action, Professor Barry McMullin of Dublin City University noted that currently proposed carbon budgets of 495 megatons through 2030 cumulatively equate to a reduction rate annual average less than 6%. This is far less than UNEP’s average of 7.6pc, and also appears to fall short of the Programme’s commitment to the government to “an average reduction of 7pc per year in global greenhouse gas emissions”. from 2021 to 2030″.
Professor McMullin estimates that to reach the 7.6pc average, carbon budgets would need to be cut by 41 megatonnes, while meeting the 7pc pledge would mean a reduction of 27 megatonnes. These small additional reductions would always be less than our “fair share” of the global effort.
Under our climate legislation, Environment Minister Eamon Ryan is required to produce budgets ‘in line’ with Article 2 of the Paris Agreement, including an obligation ‘to reflect the equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances”.
As a country with historically high emissions rates, Ireland should take greater responsibility and recognize its climate debt to the countries that did the least to cause the crisis but are bearing the worst impacts. The first carbon budgets should also be accompanied by additional new climate finance for developing countries.
We can do better on climate justice and just transition through swift and fair action, as well as early and ambitious public investment. Yet the draft budgets postpone real progress until the second budget period of 2026-2030.
Professor Sweeney has called on the government to treat this situation as an emergency by taking urgent measures over the next 18 months. As we make hard choices, we certainly cannot afford sleight of hand or bookkeeping. This is why the Minister must ensure that when we measure the achievement of each carbon budget, we will only include emissions reductions or carbon “removals” measurable during the period of that budget.
We need this clear commitment because there have been mixed signals around a possible “prospective count” on forestry.
Trees planted today will primarily sequester carbon after 2030. Given the long-term nature of this outcome, additional incentives for “the right tree in the right place” should be offered. But this cannot include premature counting of carbon storage that has not yet arrived. Climate doesn’t negotiate, and playing with the facts would deeply damage public trust.
As Professor Kevin Anderson recently noted: “The carbon budget challenges facing Ireland today stem in part from its own choice to essentially ignore three decades of clear scientific analysis and advice.”