The Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael-Green Party government’s new carbon budgets will soon be passed by the Dáil. These budgets map out how they plan to reduce carbon emissions over the coming decade. But as Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin argues, these proposals are totally lacking in ambition and will leave us well short of the kinds of reductions we need to be in with a chance of staying under 1.5 Celsius warming.
The Climate Change Advisory Council’s carbon budgets for 2022 will soon be passed by the government and the Dáil. Eamon Ryan and the Green Party will praise them as a major step forward in fighting the climate crisis, and indeed as an example of why they were right to enter government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
However, the reality is that the budgets and the debate around them show a total lack of ambition and a willful ignorance of reality from the Greens and the government.
The stated aim of these carbon budgets is to map out a path that allows us to reduce CO2 emissions in line with the science, showing how much we can emit while limiting temperature increases to under 1.5 degrees Celsius.
It shouldn’t go without comment that the 45% reduction by 2030 recommended by the United Nations is to give us a 66% chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees. Even if we do achieve it, there is still a 1 in 3 chance that we could go over this threshold.
Moreover, even this level of warming will be a death sentence for parts of humanity and parts of the planet. Droughts, heatwaves, storms and burst rivers are being experienced on an unprecedented scale. In 2020 an estimated 40.5 million people were displaced – the highest in 10 years.
Climate Emergency is not something that will happen some time in the future if we fail to act. It is happening now, and the question is how much damage will be done before we begin to turn things around.
In this context of rapidly accelerating climate breakdown, the targets recommended by the UN and EU and the aims of the Paris Treaty appear to be insufficient. It is outrageous, therefore, that the government’s carbon budgets suggest cuts of only an average of 5.7% a year until 2030. This is less than the government’s own promise of 7% a year, less than the 7.6% called for in the UNEP Emissions Gap report, and much less than what is needed to comply with the terms of the Paris Treaty.
Of course, this isn’t all that is wrong with these budgets. They do not account for emissions from shipping or aviation. This is completely unacceptable given that airlines like Ryanair are some of the biggest polluting companies in Europe. The attitude appears to be that carbon that is not actually emitted on Irish soil does not count, that we can forget about the pollution spewed out by planes as soon as they leave the ground. The obvious problem here is that the emissions enter the atmosphere and add to global warming whether somebody takes responsibility for them or not. In this respect as with many others, the government is burying its head in the sand.
Another issue with the budgets is that their baseline year is 2018 – not 1990, the year used by the EU, or even 2015, the year the Paris Treaty was signed. If 1990 was used by the CCAC as a baseline, the budgets would only provide for a 45% total reduction by 2030. The budgets are also backloaded onto the second budget, with cuts of just 4.8% per year for the first 5 years and then cuts of 8.3% for the second 5 year budget. This means that any slippage in the first 5 years – and there is already some – will be very hard to rectify in subsequent years.
Of course, this is what the Green Party signed up to in the programme for government – a plan with no binding commitments for carbon emission reductions for the term of government. The result is another case of kicking the can down the road and letting whoever comes next deal with the fallout. The fact that the targets are less ambitious than the 7% reductions promised by the Fine Gael-led government in 2019 speaks for itself. The presence of the Greens in government has not made one iota of a difference, except perhaps as a window dressing to the same old Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil approach.
Nor are the budgets compliant with the Paris Treaty and its obligation to reduce emissions in a fair and equitable way between richer nations and poorer. The CCAC itself has said:
“In its deliberations, the Committee considered the question of what Ireland’s appropriate contribution would be to the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Any such determination has implicit or explicit implications around climate justice, historical responsibility, equity and equality. It is not the job of the Council or the Carbon Budget Committee to make such value judgements”.
In relation to this, climate scientist Dr. Andrew Jackson has said that in his opinion, “CCAC has not complied with its legal obligations”, pointing out that one of the commitments of the Paris Agreement is “to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.”
Underpinning all of this is the premise that we can rely on the deployment of vast, unproven technologies in the future to deliver “Net Zero” by 2050. The CCAC itself has admitted that future targets rely on carbon capture and storage technology and massive carbon sequestration in land use that is neither planned for nor possible at present.
This and the other issues highlighted above are all things that have been pointed out by climate scientists such as Prof. Barry McMullin, Prof. John Sweeney, Prof. Kevin Anderson and Dr. Andrew Jackson. The Greens and the government will claim to be following the science, but continue to ignore the criticism of the experts.
The commitment to legally binding mechanisms and budgets for the next 15 years was hailed as a major victory by some, but if there is no serious effort to aim for the necessary targets, let alone take the necessary action to meet these targets, it will all be for naught.
At this crucial juncture, the government is failing us once again.