An Taisce condemns the Irish Government’s prominent role in critically undermining the EU’s efforts to tackle climate change. Wednesday’s announcement on the effort sharing decision, “Proposal for 2030 non-ETS Effort Sharing Decision”, signalled the EU’s capitulation to well-funded lobbies and short term interests. Loopholes to emissions legislation were introduced to benefit countries who are unwilling to take the necessary steps to cut emissions in certain sectors such as agriculture and transport. In a move that lacks scientific credibility, countries like Ireland with large emissions in their agricultural sector will be allowed to offset emissions with forestry.

Ireland is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases relative to our population and we have been among the most complacent at tackling emissions. The decision is a victory for the well-funded Irish and Danish agricultural lobbies who shouted the loudest in Brussels and kept the volume up the longest. The Irish approach to climate action has been defined by special pleading and arguments around the fairness of emissions reduction targets.

However, The critical thing is not Ireland’s weak individual target, but the toxic effect that Ireland’s (and others’) game playing has on the possibility of a serious EU-wide increase in ambition, in line with the Paris Agreement. Indeed, it is abundantly clear that this decision will allow many countries in the EU to avoid making the kinds of emissions cuts necessary to save future generations and the world’s poorest from catastrophe.

This proposal represents an abject failure to deliver the level of climate action agreed to in the recently adopted Paris Agreement.

Speaking for An Taisce’s climate change committee, Professor Barry McMullin said:

“Far from acting ambitiously on climate, the EU Commission and Ireland are in fact engaged in a massive and carefully greenwashed avoidance of the necessary level of climate action required to limit average global warming to the Paris target of ‘well below 2 degrees Celsius’.

The Commission’s target of a 40% cut in whole-economy EU emissions was announced last year before the Paris talks. The Commission are aware that this 40% target is not consistent with the Paris goals and yet they have not revised it. In fact, it is likely that achieving the Paris Agreement requires an 80% reduction in EU emissions by 2030 [Note 2].”

Professor McMullin continued:

“Meanwhile, the Irish government and business interests have lobbied hard to reduce the level of national action required, benefiting the agricultural sector in particular. However this will only increase the effort required by other sectors and by other nations.

By failing to grasp the scale and urgency of response now needed, the EU Commission and the Irish Government are increasing economic, health and security costs for the public now and in the future. Most immediately though it is the world’s poor who are most exposed to increasing climate impacts and who will pay the highest price for our failure [Note 3].”

Ireland has done little to achieve its existing 2020 climate targets, which the EPA projects that we will miss by a significant margin [Note 4]. Instead, Ireland has been lobbying the Commission for special treatment and the EU have now allowed Ireland exceptionally large new offsets (so called “flexibilities”) that essentially postpone the Irish national target by a further ten years.

The new EU Effort Sharing Decision target for Ireland is a reduction of 30% in national emissions from transport, agriculture and buildings combined relative to 2005. However, if the proposed “flexibilities” (loopholes?) arising from forestry and Emission Trading System allowances are fully exploited/allowed, the target will effectively reduce to only 20.4% – almost unchanged from the 20% reduction target previously “agreed” to be achieved already in 2020!

Limiting global warming requires every nation and every sector to reduce total emissions urgently and progressively, yet Ireland is currently increasing emissions.

By allowing Ireland and other nations forestry offsets against agriculture emissions the Commission displays a fundamentally flawed understanding of climate science. Forestry, soils and other land-based carbon ‘sinks’ that absorb carbon dioxide cannot offset ongoing fossil fuel and agricultural emissions in any significant way because they cannot provide the permanent removal of carbon dioxide required to limit global warming. The available sink is also dwarfed by the ongoing high emissions [Note 5].

For An Taisce, Barry McMullin continued:

“Planting the right kinds of trees in the right places is good environmental policy, but carbon sequestration in forestry, soils and grassland cannot be equated with effective climate action unless radical cuts in energy and agriculture emissions are also being implemented, which they are not.”

“Claiming forestry and soil offsets while peat continues to be strip-mined in Ireland for electricity, home heating and horticulture is a deeply hypocritical and dishonest land use policy. Halting peat extraction therefore needs to be an immediate climate action priority.”

“EU and Irish climate policy continues to rely on empty rhetoric and wishful thinking rather than engaging in the level of political debate and societal engagement needed to make decisions on future policy within harsh, and non-negotiable, planetary limits. Most importantly this includes the hard limit on total future emissions to limit climate change in accord with the Paris Agreement to which Ireland is a signatory.”

“Just and effective action would require annual reductions in EU and Irish whole-economy emissions to already be of the order of over 5% per year with additional payments to poorer nations to enable them to follow a low carbon development path. This is a level of action far beyond the weak, minimal targets now being proposed for the EU and Ireland. European citizens deserve much much better from their political leaders.”

We are ignoring the physics of Earth’s climate system. The climate does not do policy or effort-sharing or bargaining. It responds inexorably to the pollutants we emit. We are pushing it beyond safe thresholds.

Yesterday’s announcement confirms that the European Commission is not prepared to take action commensurate with the scale of the threat, does not acknowledge the Paris commitments and is prepared to gamble with the future well-being of its citizens and the ecosystems on which they depend.

An Taisce reiterates the call for urgent, equitable, and collective climate action to achieve the rapid pathway to a zero carbon economy needed within the next small number of decades. The difficult choices being avoided need to be faced. By acting quickly to cut energy and agriculture emissions within our fair share of the remaining global carbon budget we can chart a far safer course. But continued procrastination, as epitomised by this ESD charade, is simply a counsel of despair.


Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: [email protected]
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland


  1. EC Proposal for 2030 non-ETS Effort Sharing Decision. 20th July 2016.
  2. “Open Letter to the EU Commission president about the unscientific framing of its 2030 decarbonisation target.” Prof. Kevin Anderson, 13th Dec. 2013.
  3. Mary Robinson: Climate change compounds El Nino drought in Africa. Mary Robinson, 19th July 2016.
  4. EPA 2016. Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions to 2020 - An Update.
    1. Environmental Pillar and Stop Climate Chaos. Not So Green Report 2016: Debunking the Myths around Irish Agriculture.

About An Taisce

An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.