Gougane Barra Church, Cork, Ireland - Photo Credit - SeaneGriffin & Free Images - Pixabay
Welcome to the forty-third edition of my weekly blog where I take a closer look at the policies adopted by individual countries in their efforts to meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement. Particular attention is paid to the role that Carbon Capture, Utilisation, and Storage (CCUS) research and technologies are playing in the drive to meet these requirements.
Ireland ranks nineteenth highest in Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI) in 2016, its highest ranking since being placed tenth overall in 2006, the index’s year of inception. Between 2006 and 2014 Ireland did not feature in the top 30 list for this biennial index.
Paris Agreement Targets
As part of Ireland’s Paris Agreement targets, the country has agreed to reduce its Greenhouse Gas (GhG) emissions by at least 30% of 1990 levels, by 2030. This was agreed as part of the EU’s overall target to reduce emissions by 40% of 1990 levels by 2030.
The EU Climate Leaderboard produced by Carbon Market Watch and Transport & Environment ranks Ireland 18th out of the EU countries for its position towards negotiating the EU’s Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR). Similar, to Austria, featured last week, Ireland looked to weaken the starting point for emissions reduction and lobbied to move the start date from 2020 to 2021. This was met with widespread anguish by environmentalists and lobby groups in Ireland.
An environmental NGO called Friends of the Irish Environment (FiE) has taken the Irish government to court in response to what they believe is a lack of climate change action on their part. Addressing the Citizen Assembly, Joseph Curtin, UCC and Institute of International and European Affairs described the government’s performance as a spectacular fail. He went on to say that upfront pain would have to be incurred with the loss of jobs in the peat and agriculture sectors in order for Ireland to get back on track.
Laura Bourke, EPA, also addressed the Citizens’ Assembly and referred to peat and agriculture. She highlighted the triple negative of peat extraction: the production of poor fuel, the release of CO2 and the depletion of a natural way of storing CO2 in the Irish boglands. When writing about Estonia in week 28, I pointed out how the restoration of their bogs was helping reduce the nation’s emissions.
The climate action advisory council in their end of year communication recommended that the government take urgent action to reduce its emissions. According to data published by EPA in December 2017 it predicted that Irish emissions in 2017 will be about 3.5% higher than 2016 when final figures are released.
Just over 80% of electricity generated in Ireland in 2015 was sourced from fossil-fuel powered plants, this is an improvement when compared with 1990 when virtually all electricity was generated at fossil-fuel power plants. Over that time period, renewable energy has grown steadily and now is the source for 17% of electricity produced in Ireland. During this time the proportion of electricity sourced from gas-fired plants has increased from 27% of the overall share to 42%. All this is progress but it still falls short of peer comparison with other countries of similar size to Ireland such as Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
The Electricity Supply Board (ESB) are promoting the uptake of electric cars as a means towards reducing carbon emissions. Switching to electric cars will help as long as the renewables segment of overall electricity generation continues to grow.
Ireland has a long and proud farming tradition and just like other countries where agriculture is an important driver of the economy, it can come with the cost of greater CO2 emissions. Latest Statistics show that agriculture accounts for 32% of emissions in Ireland a slight decline from 36% in 1990.
A positive development has been the creation of ‘Smart Farming’, an initiative that has seen the 1,000 participating farmers save on average €8,700 in costs and reduce their CO2 emissions by 10%
We mentioned already how the Citizens’ Assembly (CA) had received climate change presentations from experts like Joseph Curtin and Laura Bourke. Following on from this, in November 2017, the CA voted for an overhaul of Irish climate change policy. Their recommendations include the introduction of a carbon tax, backing for renewable electricity support programmes, the abolition of peat subsidies and increasing bus and cycle lanes in Irish towns and cities.
Cool Planet Experience
You may have noted the official launch of the Cool Planet Experience (CPE) at Powerscourt Estate on Wednesday by Richard Branson and CPE founder Norman Crowley. CPE has a visitor centre at Powerscourt Estate dedicated to informing the general public about climate change and what action is required to address this. CPE will also host workshops across the country and is open to the general public, it also caters for school tours.
The Irish government has faced a flurry of criticism in how it is managing climate change policy, given their resistance to change. The introduction of a carbon tax would help in this regard, however following the controversial introduction and subsequent removal of water charges, the government may be reluctant to go down this road. Using the ‘carrot approach’ is likely to be more appealing, for example, rewards for using renewable energy.
In Week 40, I reviewed the ‘Clean 15’ countries, and found that on average 66% of electricity generated in those countries is sourced from renewable energy. In small countries such as New Zealand, Singapore, and Norway, over 85% of electricity generation is sourced from renewable energy, meaning that using Ireland’s small size as an excuse for poor performance is inadequate.
There are roughly 140,000 farms in Ireland. 1,000 farmers took part in the ‘Smart Farming’ programme last year and on average saved €8,700 each (€8,7m overall) in operating costs, lowering their CO2 emissions by 10%. If all farms signed up to this programme, assuming the average savings remain the same, it could result in up to €1.2 Bn in operational savings for the farmers of Ireland, and reduce agriculture’s overall share of CO2 emissions to levels below 30%.
The general public appear to be behind green initiatives in Ireland, it is up to the Irish government now to listen to the electorate and show some climate change leadership. Over to you Leo, et al!
Who to follow?
If you would like to keep up to date on Ireland’s performance against its climate change goals, the following individuals, organisations, twitter handles, and websites are good sources of information:
Dr. Paul Deane, Energy Policy & Modelling Group, UCC - @eriucc
Mr. Joseph Curtin, IIEA, and UCC - @jmcurtin
Mr. Kevin O’Sullivan, Environment & Science Editor, Irish Times – @KOSullivan
Mr. Niall Sargent, editor of ‘The Green News’ - @IrishEnvNet, www.greennews.ie
An Taisce, The National Trust for Ireland @AnTaisce, www.antaisce.org
Electricity Supply Board (ESB) – www.esb.ie
Smart Farming – www.smartfarming.ie
Next week’s blog will take a look at how companies are capturing CO2 and using it to enhance geothermal heat systems.
If you liked this article you might enjoy reading some recent articles in the series:
Week 42 Austria: New Government, same renewable energy goal
Week 41 Enhanced Oil Recovery: extracting oil more efficiently and replacing it with CO2.
Week 40 Clean 15: what can we learn from the low carbon economies.