An Taisce's Submission to the National Mitigation Plan

31st July 2015
Submission Summary

Executive Summary

Ireland’s National Mitigation Plan must set out a carbon-budgeted pathway to a net-zero carbon future for the Irish economy by very soon after 2050. This massive challenge requires enormous societal engagement with the reality of climate change to build cross- party political support for the necessary decarbonisation. To date, our society as a whole – government and citizens, business, agriculture and media – has failed to make the necessary collective effort to understand and set an emission-cutting course to deal with climate change. It may still be possible to chart a transition course to regain climate stability, if we act strongly and quickly at every level – local, national and global – focusing on the global.

Any feasible +2ºC National Mitigation Plan requires a pathway of steadily declining emissions, decreasing year on year up to 2050 and beyond. To achieve sustained and substantial reductions, annual emissions cuts of 5% or more per year are likely to be necessary. A +2ºC pathway very likely requires energy emissions to be cut by 80% within 15 years, requiring peat and coal use for energy and heating to be phased out very rapidly. This kind of change will require a national emergency level of effort to enable Ireland to play its part in the global challenge of climate change. Only through hard and enforced caps on emissions can conservation and efficiency savings be realised – otherwise local and national efforts are likely to be futile in achieving effective climate action to limit warming.

Agriculture and transport emissions, currently rising, will also need to drop fast, and be costed for, within traded systems aligned with the +2ºC target to realise efficiencies effectively. Low GHG land use, renewable energy, a timetable for rail electrification and networked public transport are needed. Rising taxes on all GHGs embodied in foods, goods and services will be needed for society’s transition to a low carbon future. Consumption of these high GHG products is irreversibly and dangerously compromising the future of the global economy for all generations to come. A very different low carbon economy is needed.

Climate justice, fairly sharing the remaining global carbon budget for +2ºC, to enable sustainable development for poorer countries and future generations, requires an equitable rationing of the remaining global carbon budget among nations, among citizens and through time. A primary task of Ireland’s new independent Climate Change Advisory Council must be to assess Ireland’s approximate equitable share of the +2ºC global carbon budget based on the best available peer-reviewed modeling and evidence.

In this regard, An Taisce’s analysis suggests that the current National Policy Position is wholly inadequate. It evades statement of a cumulative carbon budget, fails to define a specific pathway of emission reductions, allows increased near-term emissions, does not even acknowledge (never mind respect) the moral obligations of climate justice, is sectorally biased (without any articulated basis or criteria), and tacitly commits future Governments and Irish citizens to progressively more unachievable rates of decarbonisation. The National Policy Position is vague, unscientific, sectorally biased and morally unjust. Its apparent intent is to avoid public discussion and evade political decision-making. It will be up to the Climate Change Advisory Council to present independently evidenced, unbiased and equitable, alternative carbon-budgeted pathways that accord with the +2ºC limit in place of this fundamentally flawed NPP. The time for procrastination is over. Meaningful political decisions have to be made.

A National Mitigation Plan and any reality-based +2ºC transition pathway requires far more urgent and radical change to Ireland’s economy and society than the NPP or the DECLG consultation document envisage. A Plan for total emissions from energy, food, goods and services to go to near-zero net carbon by 2050 is critical to limit risk of near term climate impacts to levels still compatible with managed adaptation, and then to ensure sustainability for future generations.

Summary of An Taisce’s NMP Submission: Nine key points

  1. A cap on TOTAL future national greenhouse gas emissions is critical to realising effective climate policy. Otherwise, short-term, apparent savings in energy and cost will be spent at some point in the future, by us or by others, thereby wiping out local and sectoral efforts. Savings in CO2 emissions have to be ‘forever’ to be meaningful (net CO2 emission rate must go to zero). Cuts in emission rates of other short lived greenhouse gases (especially methane), mainly from agriculture, need to be deep and essentially permanent to effectively limit global warming. Permanent reductions in agricultural emission rates are possible while still maintaining or, better, growing, total nutritional output. By contrast, the rhetoric of ‘flat-lining’ agricultural emissions (i.e., failing to cut emission rates) is not mitigation at all. It is obfuscation.

  2. The National Mitigation Plan requires a fully independent expert assessment by the Climate Change Advisory Committee of the equitable future remaining carbon budget for Ireland. This stated goal is the national fair claim on the global carbon budget (based on a prudent chance of limiting global warming to a maximum of +2ºC above pre-industrial – i.e., with probability significantly better than a reckless 50:50 coin toss). This goal is needed to state the necessary ambition in line with our international commitments to act in accord with science and equity.

  3. Climate science and policy analysis in the IPCC’s recent Fifth Assessment Report shows that the world and Ireland requires a target of ZERO nett carbon emissions by soon after 2050 to possibly limit warming to less than +2ºC. (We discount here any policy that would instead rely on entirely speculative availability of large scale “negative emissions” technology in the second half of this century: such policy would essentially gamble our children’s very survival just to avoid confronting our own clear and present responsibilities; it would be morally and ethically indefensible.)

  4. We assume that the CCAC will choose to carry out an urgent assessment of possible alternative transition pathways that meet Ireland’s equitable future remaining carbon budget. If other nations do not follow then climate chaos is certain. Ireland must lead with a Plan that respects the science and equity for a +2ºC limit. Otherwise, we are accepting failure and planning for disaster.

  5. As part of NMP planning, prior to and alongside CCAC assessment, Government needs to present a well-funded, continuing and coordinated strategy of engagement with the Irish people to greatly increase awareness of the benefits of urgent, pro- active, and radical climate change action – and the essentially incalculable potential costs of continuing delay. This honest dialogue has been postponed for far too long and is now vital to ensure future political commitment for the climate action a realistic NMP implies.

  6. In parallel the NMP requires concentrated and sustained Irish international diplomacy to push for strong EU action to cap total future EU and global emissions as soon as possible. This will be extremely difficult to achieve, of course; but without clear and unilateral commitment at home, it will be all but impossible.

  7. Political leadership, backed by increased public understanding and all-party political support, will need to decide the most achievable and feasible pathway within the above constraints. To date, Governments have failed to indicate the level of burden- sharing between sectors. This cannot continue, a strong evidence-based debate is needed. Evasion cannot go on, hard decisions have to be made.

  8. The analysis presented in this document by An Taisce strongly suggests that the National Policy Position, as currently stated, is not fit for purpose. It does not specify a pathway or cumulative target (unlike the EU 2020 Non-ETS target). Further, it is biased towards sheltering agricultural emissions in particular, without any objective explanation or justification.

  9. Instead of relying on the current highly dangerous path of continuous growth in material consumption, based on high GHG policy in energy production, transport and livestock agriculture, we can choose equitable resilience through societal change, low carbon energy and land-use change to forestry, renewables, and improved energy efficiency – within a GHG cap.

Our current course is locked into denial of the implications of climate science and the demands of human equity: it can lead only to despair. But if based in reality, Ireland’s NMP can support other nations around the world to do the same, to limit emissions urgently and deeply, and so meaningfully limit climate change. We can set out on such a hopeful and equitable path by starting now. But the first, unavoidable, challenge is to state clearly and honestly how perilous our situation has already become.