Ireland is on course to miss its 2030 climate targets by a large margin unless all sectors, including agriculture, electricity and transport rapidly deliver further emission reductions and sustain this delivery into the future, according to the latest report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The EPA has analysed how far emissions would fall if the very challenging policy measures already approved and included in our national Climate Action Plan were fully implemented and delivered on time.
Its latest projections show that if all climate policies and measures currently planned are fully implemented, Ireland will achieve only a 29% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, well short of the legally binding 51% reduction target.
Ireland is also on course to exceed the two carbon budgets for the 2021 to 2030 period by between 24% and 34%.
EPA Director General Laura Burke said there are only seven years left to 2030 and Ireland must grasp the nettle of climate action so it can realise the significant opportunities and social and economic co-benefits for people, communities and business that can be delivered through innovation and decarbonisation.
The EPA is also warning that additional greenhouse emissions released by strong economic growth and related energy demands are now beginning to cancel out some of the cuts in emissions achieved by the Climate Action Plan.
It said that this underlines the urgency of moving to an economy and society powered by renewable energy sources.
"The longer we wait, the longer it will be before we realise the benefits as the time horizon for achievement of national and EU commitments is getting ever shorter," it stated.
Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Ms Burke said the 51% reduction is feasible, but "each sector really needs to grasps the nettle, get on with it."
She said that it is "not just one sector. We've tended to kind of focus on one sector or another. It is all sectors" which need to prioritise climate action.
"We have committed at an EU level and that EU target has been set at 42%," she said.
"It's less than 51%, but it's still a long way off 29% and we've committed legally to do that.
"And it's not an option. Failure isn't an option."
Meanwhile, the co-ordinator of 'Stop Climate Chaos Coalition' said she is "surprised" at the scale of the undershoot found by the EPA.
Sadhbh O'Neill said that last year the EPA found that the climate action plan then in place would deliver 28% emission reductions.
"And even though we have a much more detailed, prescriptive climate action plan in place now since last December, they reckon that will only deliver 1% more emission reductions by 2030 - so we're still way off the target set out in the climate law and the carbon budgets," she said.
Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, she said there has been very slow implementation of some key measures and some of the polices and proposals are still "incoherent".
Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley said the EPA report shows that meeting Ireland's 2030 carbon emissions targets is going to be a "really difficult challenge".
Also speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, Mr Dooley said the report was not "the full story" because there was an element in the plan for which the data is not yet available to "appropriately model" across agriculture, industry and other areas.
"In this whole climate change debate, we've got to move away from, what is in my view, the academic debate, it's got to move right down to the detail, working with small groups, working with communities, and we'll get there," he said.
The main findings of the greenhouse gas emission projections on a sectoral basis are as follows:
Total emissions from the agriculture sector are projected to decrease by between 4% and 20% over the period 2021 to 2030.
Savings are projected from a variety of measures including switching to different fertilisers, limits on nitrogen fertiliser usage and bovine feed additives.
The higher ambition scenario assumes that most of the measures outlined in Climate Action Plan 2023, AgClimatise and Teagasc (MACC) are in place.
Emissions from the sector are projected to reduce by 35% over the period 2021 to 2030 if the measures set out in plans and policies are implemented.
These include over 940,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030, increased biofuel blend rates and measures to support more sustainable transport.
Road freight is projected to be the biggest source of road transport greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
Continued dependency on coal use due to the unavailability of sufficient gas-fired generation, recent geopolitical events and the slow implementation of renewable electricity targets has undone some of the good work of recent years.
This could negatively impact achievement of national targets, particularly for the first carbon budget period.
Despite this, increased renewable energy generation, from wind and solar, if delivered as planned, can reduce energy industry emissions by 60% and achieve over 80% renewable electricity generation by 2030.
Emissions from the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector are projected to increase over the period 2021 to 2030 as our forestry reaches harvesting age and changes from a carbon sink to a carbon source.
Planned policies and measures for the sector, such as increased afforestation, water table management on agricultural organic soils and peatland rehabilitation, are projected to reduce the extent of the emissions increase.