The cost of going green

Ireland is unlikely to reach the ambitious emissions targets set by the EU for 2020. Cormac Murphy explores the cost of the country’s environmental record.

Ireland is set to fail on its 2020 climate objectives.  

According to the Environmental Protection Agency the country will not meet its future greenhouse emissions targets.   

In 2009, Ireland was given an EU goal to cut its emissions of global warming gases to 20% below 2005 levels. The country was previously on course to meet its objectives as the economic downturn led to a subsequent reduction in emissions.  

Decreased activity in the transport, energy and agriculture sectors coupled with a shrinking economy meant the state surprised analysts and suddenly found itself on track to achieving its obligations under both the Kyoto Protocol and EU 2020 binding targets.

Irish Countryside. Image by Sarah 777 via Wikimedia Commons

However, the economic upturn has meant Ireland is now failing in its objective.

The biggest problem areas were, again, transport and agriculture.   

Speaking to RTE, Laura Burke, Director General of the EPA, said that the latter sector intended to be carbon free by 2050 but that a “lot of work” still is underway to achieve this.    

The country is still looking at an overall reduction, but a much less significant drop of between 4% and 6% by 2020.  

As a result, we are likely to face fines worth hundreds of millions of euro to buy carbon credits.

According to one study conducted by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, even a small shortfall of 1% to 4% could cost the government between €140 million and €600 million.

In addition to our own climate goals, Ireland as a developed country is expected to provide part of a share of over $100 billion to developing countries to help tackle their issues.   

The terms, agreed under the 2015 Paris Agreement, have been strongly criticised by US President Donald Trump as a hindrance to economic and energy interests.

Paris Agreement 2015, world Leaders convening. Image by Presidencia de la Republica Mexicana via Wikimedia Commons

One of the criticisms levelled at climate change legislation has been that it makes Western industry less competitive in the face of growing rivalry between the West and countries such as China and India, as the latter states don’t have to curtail their emissions.

That’s Trump tweeting in 2012. China, with its enormous population, is in fact the world’s biggest polluter, followed by the US, India and Russia.

Carbon Credits and EU Targets

A carbon credit is a permit which allows a country to produce a certain amount of emissions and trade the remainder if they are not used.

If a country does not use its full allowance, they can either save the remaining permits for next time or sell them to a country that has exceeded its limit on the market.

Due to economic disparity across the European Union, not all targets are the same, with differing limits according to national wealth.   

Coal Factory in Germany. Image by Sebastian Schluter via Wikimedia Commons

For example, states like Bulgaria and Romania are permitted to increase the amount of emissions they produce by 20% and 19% respectively, but countries such as Ireland, Luxembourg and Denmark are expected to cut their levels by the same figure.

In the event that one of the former states (Bulgaria or Romania) fall below this percentage (but still manage an overall increase) and Ireland fails to hit its own reduction figure, the Irish government might be forced to buy carbon credits from these governments.

The Irish state was previously allowed to increase its emissions from 1990 levels to 2010 but this figure was capped under the Kyoto protocol.

Future Goals

Ireland will be unable to achieve the targets enacted in EU legislation by 2020; however, this is not the only environmental milestone that the nation is expected to arrive at, with more to come after that.

By 2030, a further reduction of 30% is expected relative to 2005 levels.  

Speaking on the issue, EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete stated:

“The EU has an ambitious emissions reduction target, one I am convinced we can achieve through the collective efforts of all Member States. The national binding targets we are proposing are fair, flexible and realistic.

“They set the right incentives to unleash investments in sectors like transport, agriculture, buildings and waste management. With these proposals, we are showing that we have done our homework and that we keep our promises.”

Wind turbines. Image by Kenueone via Wikimedia Commons

By 2050, Ireland is expected to shelve emissions between 80% and 95% compared to 1990 levels.

Agriculture, which the EPA highlighted as a problem area, still accounts for 8.6% of employment and over €12 billion in exports to the Irish economy.

Meanwhile, the private car remains the dominant form of transport. However, there has been an uptake in the number of bikes used in big cities such as Cork, Limerick, Galway and Dublin.

All things considered, Ireland is going to face an uphill struggle in attaining all of its current climate change goals and is likely to suffer significant fines in the process.  




Featured Image by Gerald Simmons via Flickr

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