An afternoon in Leinster House, what an exciting experience! On April 24th Francesca, our EVS volunteer, had the opportunity to visit the buildings of the Irish Parliament (Oireachtas) in Dublin and participate as observer to the works of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and the Environment.
Chaired by Ms. Hildergarde Naughton, the committee’s purpose was to investigate the progress made on the National Mitigation Plan implementation process. Three delegations of experts were present, including the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment (DCCAE) lead by Assistant Secretary for Climate Action and the Environment Brian Carroll; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) represented by its Chief Executive Officer Jim Gannon.
DCCAE, EPA and SEAI were asked to give an update on specific tasks and actions undertaken in compliance with the Plan. After the opening statements from all parties, the floor was open to questions.
The overview that has emerged is “quite depressing”, to quote a common feeling within the Committee. Ireland is going to miss its 2020 EU emission reduction targets of 20% below the 2005 levels. In fact, according to the latest EPA projections, the country will reach only between 4 and 6% of the targeted reduction. Our emissions are going on the opposite direction. In 2016, latest year available, total national emissions soared by 3.6% with agriculture and transport numbers went up of 2.7% and 4.1% respectively while the energy industry (mostly power generation) saw an increase of 6%.
When asked about acceptance of the critiques from the National Climate Change Advisory Council, DCCAE responded affirmatively and justified the slow pace of action by stating that “the National Mitigation Plan is a living document that will be updated as ongoing analysis, dialogue and technological innovation generate more cost-effective sectoral mitigation options”. Furthermore, Mr. Carroll emphasised that, with the publication of the first National Mitigation Plan, the government “explicitly recognised that it does not represent a complete roadmap to achieving the objective of transitioning Ireland to a low carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050”.
SEAI presented a more positive progress report related to their activities and tasks, almost all of which are on track to be achieved, while EPA emphasised the key role played in climate-related research and data input to support the Department’s actions.
Deputy Stanley inquired on views about microgeneration and the recent Bill he put forward, Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill 2017 (currently at its first stage), highlighting the importance of households and small businesses participation to the energy transition. Mr.Confrey, principal officer of DCCAE Electricity Policy Division, responded that the Department “is working closely with SEAI on gathering the evidence and the appetite among the public for the take-up of domestic microgeneration” perceiving “a good deal of enthusiasm” and pointing out that solar PVs costs have dramatically decreased in the last few years and will continue to do so.
Also, the electrification of transport and heating is inevitable, according to Mr. Gannon, and manufacturers are going in the same direction as governments by stopping fossil fuel-based cars production.
Other interesting aspects were discussed in the debate, ranging from peat extraction, the increase of electricity demand as consequence of new data centres, behavioural changes on transport to the new deal with China on thousands of cattle and dairy products export.
“To sum up, the general feeling of the Committee members is that the National Mitigation Plan is not fit for purpose, inadequate to provide a clear pathway to 2050 and lacks of specific actions” Francesca commented.
Acknowledging that the publication of a national plan to mitigate the impacts on climate change is an important first step, it is far from enough. The Government must show leadership and fully implement the 106 actions listed in the document.
Francesca also added that “as citizens we have the right to demand the Department and Minister Naughten to take immediate and concrete action to fight climate change”. It is not too late, yet.
You can find a complete transcript of the debate here