Cabinet told that climate is reaching tipping points

  • Minister Ryan outlines stark overview of the rapid rate that climate is breaking down and the policy responses that can help ensure Ireland is prepared

Eamon Ryan, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, today informed Government that the climate is already reaching key tipping points, defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as critical thresholds that, when exceeded, can lead to a cascading impact that results in irreversible climate breakdown.

Cabinet told that climate is reaching tipping points Climate Tipping Points pulls together information from the EU Copernicus Climate Observatory and World Meteorological Organisation, as well as the EPA’s Ireland’s Climate Change Assessment (ICCA) report which shows that Europe is warming twice as fast as the global average. The Minister also noted that 77% of IPCC climate scientists surveyed recently expect the global climate to increase in temperature by at least 2.5 degrees globally, which is significantly higher than the Paris agreement target of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The world’s poles are already experiencing temperature extremes. In March 2022, an ice shelf in the Antarctic bigger than County Dublin (stretching over 1,100 km2) collapsed within days of soaring temperatures. Ice cap melting is directly contributing to an acceleration of sea level rises, from 2.1mm a year three decades ago to 4.3mm a year over the last decade. Rising levels, storm surges and extreme waves pose an ever-increasing threat to our coastal cities and towns, and will require significant investment, potentially diverting large amounts of government resources from health and education. Another tipping point – the transition of the Amazon Rainforest to a dry savannah, leading to irreversible dieback, has already started – something Minister Ryan heard about first hand in Brazil.

Ireland is not immune. 2023 was our warmest year overall on record and in June an extreme marine heat wave occurred off our west coast where sea surface temperatures reached 5.5 degrees above normal, which resulted in tropical and freak rainfalls and damaging flash flooding. Warmer than usual temperatures and excess moisture brought persistent and damaging rainfall throughout the winter and spring. For Ireland, the greatest risk, as outlined by the EPA, is that the circulation of water flows from south to north off our Atlantic coast (known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation or AMOC) which gives Ireland its temperate climate could weaken or collapse this century. Ireland is on the same latitude as Labrador in Canada. If we lose the temperate protection of the AMOC, we could be looking at winter temperatures of -10 to -15 degrees, and summer temperatures no warmer than 10 degrees.

The Minister highlighted the Climate Tipping Points to underscore the need for further intensive and swift action on climate, as outlined by the EPA today also with the publication of their 2030 emissions projections.

As part of this, he also brought the National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) to Cabinet which will go to public consultation this week. It focuses on the actions that Ireland is taking to meet its EU 2030 targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions, as well as renewable energy, energy efficiency and electricity interconnection. It takes into account the EPA’s emissions projections, which indicate that Ireland is not currently on track to meet its 2030 aims. Nevertheless, the NECP reflects what is a significant decrease of 29% in the projected emissions by 2030. Now, things are turning around, but the Government recognises that things have to move faster and at greater scale.

It should be noted that the EPA projections do not immediately tell the full story, as sufficient data is not yet available to allow all actions in our Climate Action Plan to be modelled. For example, key strategies not modelled include the District Heat Policy, the National Adaptation Framework or Ireland’s Long-term Climate Strategy, which will all be presented in coming weeks.

Minister Ryan commented:

“Climate scientists and climate observatories have become increasingly alarmed over the past year, highlighting unexpected rises in global temperatures. Temperature records are being smashed all around the globe and 2023 has passed the global target of 1.5 degrees. Governments have not reduced emissions quickly enough to prevent the climate system moving into an uncharted and irreversible state. In Ireland we risk shutting down the Atlantic currents that give us our temperate climate, we risk putting our cities and coasts under water and we risk destabilising our agricultural production and farm incomes.

“We have to act now and we have to act fast. We cannot put climate on the back burner. If we do, it will cost us all more and it will cost the most vulnerable in our society most. We are already making huge strides which are also improving people’s quality of life. Retrofitting numbers are continuing to surge. 700 homes a week are going solar. Public transport numbers are growing faster than ever before and our energy system is rapidly installing wind, solar and interconnection to decrease emissions despite a growth in use. Publishing our National Energy and Climate Plan today is another step on the road to net zero by 2050, but we need step things up so that Ireland is not just resilient but prepared for the opportunities that climate action brings.”

National Energy and Climate Plan

The National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) which covers the period from 2021 to 2030, focuses on the actions Ireland is taking to meet its EU 2030 targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions, renewable energy, energy efficiency and electricity interconnection, as mandated by EU Regulations and Directives. The aim of this consultation is to gather feedback that will inform the submission of the NECP as part of the Strategic Environmental Assessment that is currently underway. All European Union (EU) Member States, including Ireland, develop NECPs to outline progress towards their climate and energy objectives and targets under EU legislation.

This consultation builds on the previous consultation on the draft NECP, held earlier this year, as well as the extensive consultations conducted on the constituent parts of the document such as the Climate Action Plan, the National Dialogue on Climate, and the Just Transition. There has also been extensive consultation in more specific areas, such as renewable energy, transport and security of supply.

The NECP collates plans, polices, and targets from across Government. The substantive engagement on the design and consultation of specific polices has largely been carried out as part of the development of various workstreams outlined in the NECP. Any feedback received that relates to a specific workstream will feed back into the national policy cycles to be reviewed.

Ireland submitted its draft NECP to the European Commission in 2023. The feedback from the Commission’s assessment of the draft has been reviewed and incorporated into the revised draft where possible. An online public event will be launched shortly to provide further context on the plan and to enhance this consultation.

Key targets across six vital high impact sectors in Climate Action Plan 2024

Powering Change: Electricity

75% reduction in emissions by 2030 (compared to 2018)

We will facilitate a large-scale deployment of renewables that will be critical to decarbonising the power sector as well as enabling the electrification of other technologies.

  • We will have 6GW of onshore wind capacity – enough to power the entire country at full production – and 5GW solar PV capacity by 2025
  • End the use of coal and peat in electricity generation
  • Improve grid flexibility to allow for up to 85% of renewable generation on the grid at once
  • Encourage flexible electricity consumption by promoting the use of smart meters and Time-of-Use tariffs which ease the burden on the grid, reduce emissions and benefit customers

Building Better: Built Environment

45% reduction in commercial/public buildings emissions; 40% reduction in residential buildings emissions

We will increase the energy efficiency of existing buildings, put in place policies to deliver zero-emissions new builds and continue to ramp up our retrofitting programme.

  • Enable the retrofitting of 120,000 dwellings by 2025
  • All new homes to be constructed to Nearly Zero Energy Building standard by 2025
  • Support the roll-out of 215,000 heat pumps in our homes by 2025
  • Develop up to 0.8TWh of district heating like the Tallaght District Heating Network which utilises excess heat from a nearby data centre to heat 32,800 square meters of buildings

Greener Mobility: Transport

50% reduction in emissions by 2030

We will drive policies to reduce transport emissions by improving our town, cities and rural planning, and by adopting the Avoid-Shift-Improve approach: reducing or avoiding the need for travel, shifting to public transport, walking and cycling and improving the energy efficiency of vehicles.

  • 50% reduction in fuel usage for transport by 2030
  • 130% increase in daily public transport journeys by 2030
  • 50% increase in daily active travel journeys by 2030
  • 25% reduction in daily car journeys by 2030
  • 175,000 passenger EVs on our roads by 2025

Sustainable Farming: Agriculture

25% reduction in emission by 2030

We will support farmers to continue to produce world-class, safe and nutritious food, while also seeking to diversify income through tillage, energy generation and forestry.

  • 80% uptake of inhibited urea on grassland farms, resulting in reduced ammonia N and nitrous oxide N emissions and a potential reduction in farm emissions of 8% on dairy farms;
  • Reduce the use of chemical Nitrogen on our farms;
  • Production of 1TWh of biomethane by 2025;
  • Flagship €1.5 billion Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) rewards farmers for undertaking measures with a wide range of environmental benefits.

Decarbonising Business: Industry

35% reduction in emissions by 2030

We’re changing how we produce, consume and design our goods and services, by breaking the link between fossil fuels and economic progress. Decarbonising industry and enterprise is key to Ireland’s economy and future competitiveness.

  • 50-55% share of carbon-neutral heating in total fuel demand by 2025
  • Decrease embodied carbon in construction materials produced and used in Ireland by 10% by 2025
  • At least 1TWh consumption of zero-emission gas for industrial heating by 2025
  • Support large energy users to develop more energy efficient industrial processes
  • Promote the use of timber in construction to reduce emissions and embody carbon

Nature-based Solutions: Land Use Management

The first phase of the Land Use Review told us how we are using our land at present. This will help us identify how we can use land to most effectively to capture and store carbon and to produce better, greener food and energy.

  • Land Use Review to be completed, to better understand this sector’s baseline emissions
  • Afforestation rate of 8,000kha/year to 2030, equating to 8 million trees with 50% of all new forests native or broadleaf
  • Rehabilitate 63,000 hectares of exploited peatlands by 2030
  • Plant 2,000km of new hedgerows by 2030

Other Actions

  • Provide at least €225 million per year in Climate Finance to developing countries by 2025
  • Reduce the consumption of plastic single-use items, and ensure all plastic packaging is reusable or recyclable by 2030
  • Invest in former peatland communities in the midlands, funding businesses, community projects, and training
  • 51% reduction in GHG emissions and a 50% improvement in public sector energy efficiency by 2030
  • Implement nature-based solutions to improve the resilience of Ireland’s water infrastructure to the effects of climate change

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