The Paris Agreement & Ireland: What You Must Know

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Time after time references to the Paris Agreement come up in the Irish press, along with dire predictions of missed deadlines and claims that Ireland is lagging in its commitments. So what exactly is the Paris Climate Agreement and what does it have to do with Ireland?


What is the Paris Agreement?

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The Paris Agreement was signed during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on 12 December 2015. In essence, 186 parties agreed to abide by its terms, which include several measures aimed at halting global warming, as well as reducing and reversing climate change.

The agreement came about because of international unrest and worry regarding the future of the planet under the threat of climate change. The precursor to the Paris Agreement, called the Kyoto protocol, was introduced in 1997 and defined emissions targets, but did not halt global warming, and greenhouse emissions continued to rise.

What is the Difference Between the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Climate Agreement?

Part of what makes the Paris Climate Agreement unique compared to its Kyoto predecessor is that it is legally binding for all signatories.

The terms of the Paris Agreement are such that each country that signed it needs to plan and report on the efforts and contributions they are making to lessen global warming. Of those who agreed to abide by the Paris Agreement, the US is the only country to have temporarily withdrawn, only to officially rejoin on 19 February 2021.

What are the Aims of the Paris Agreement?

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The exact aims of the Paris Agreement as set out in article 2 are the following:

  1. To hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels and to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees optimally.

  2. Increase adaptability to climate change and encourage low greenhouse gas emissions in a way that doesn’t threaten our food supply.

  3. Focus on directing finance towards lower greenhouse gas emissions and more climate-friendly development.

In a nutshell, the agreement aims to stall and maintain global warming at a 2-degree max increase, to preferably decrease the global temperature average slightly by half a degree to 1.5 degrees, and for countries to make every effort possible (including providing financial support) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A 2-degree centigrade increase is widely held to be the “tipping point” temperature at which, should we reach it, we will be unable to reverse the effects of global warming.

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Is Ireland in the Paris Agreement?

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Yes, Ireland is one of the 186 countries which signed and agreed to the terms of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Under the terms, the EU agreed that all member states, Ireland included, should hit the following targets:

  1. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 when compared with levels in 1990.
  2. Reduce emissions by at least 20% by 2020 (when compared to 2005 levels).
  3. Ensure that 16% of the energy used across all sectors came from renewable resources.
  4. That 10% of the energy used in transport is renewable.

Did you know? According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, Ireland only managed to reduce its 2020 level of emissions by 18% compared to 2005.

Is Ireland Meeting its Targets?

Unfortunately, not all countries which signed the Paris Agreement are following through on their commitments. The fact that in 2018 Ireland ranked the worst out of all EU countries for action taken against global warming, is particularly shameful.

As one of the smaller island-based countries, Ireland stands to lose much if global warming is not halted and ice caps melt and sea levels rise.

We’ll also receive quite a blow to our purses if we don’t meet our financially binding targets. Due to policy and government inaction, Ireland missed its 2020 emission targets, and possibly even set to miss its 2030 targets as well. Shamefully, despite being up there with the smallest countries in the world, according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)’s report, we have some of the highest greenhouse emissions per person worldwide.

Missing the 2020 Target

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The good news is that the EU as a whole surpassed the Paris Climate Agreement targets in 2020 and is set to meet the objectives in 2030 as well. This good news is dampened a little when we dig a little deeper and see that these fantastic results are mainly due to the outstanding efforts of 2 countries, the UK and Germany. Together, they account for *47% of the Union's net reduction in gas emissions, of the 27 countries part of the EU, only 21 reached the targets set.

Source: Euractiv

As you may have guessed, Ireland was one of the six countries to miss their 2020 Paris Climate Agreement targets, but also missed them by the widest margin. Ireland failed in both categories:

  • Reducing emissions by 18% instead of the desired 20%.
  • Only 14% of the energy production came from renewables instead of 16%.

Source: European Environment Agency

Projections show that emissions may even increase over the coming decade unless serious action is taken soon.

The finger for this failure has been squarely pointed at Ireland’s reliance on fossil fuels for heating purposes, and the government's lack of action. Shockingly, fossil fuel boilers are still permitted to be installed in newly built houses, and an increase in the amount of carbon tax for fossil fuel heating was defeated in the Dáil.

However, other less obvious culprits are contributing to missing these targets. For example, a failure to lower carbon emissions in the farming sector. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the sector accounts for 37% of the Nation's greenhouse gas emissions.

What are the Consequences for Failing to Meet our Legally Binding Responsibilities?

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Ireland has been fined close to €455 million for not meeting its 2020 goals. The loss of this money (which might well have been spent on increasing our renewable energy resources) will also hamper our ability to meet the 2030 targets, by significantly cutting into funding resources.

The government is planning to purchase carbon offsetting allowances to the tune of €150 million to avoid paying the entire €455 million fine. Hopefully increased public awareness of the importance and consequences of failing to meet these targets will help Ireland develop a 'greener' attitude.

By far the gravest consequence of all is that although the government, large industries, car companies, and agricultural conglomerates have all had a hand to play in so spectacularly missing the Paris Agreement goals, the financial consequences will be felt by public coffers that the Irish taxpayers have filled.

Leading by Example In Gambia, a cripplingly poor country with over a third of the population living below the United Nations poverty line, a massive reforestation project has been undertaken and Gambia met its 2020 goals. Facts like this underscore how little has been done in Ireland to meet our targets, and how complacent the government has been about the very real damage and consequences of inaction.

How can Ireland Meet the 2030 Targets?

With the 2020 deadline a lost cause and the government scrambling to mitigate the fallout, it’s time to see how we can meet our 2030 targets.

The government has since introduced the 2021 Climate Action Plan which has the following goals for 2030:

  • Ireland's Climate Action Plan
  • 80% of the Nation's electricity demand is supplied by solar and wind energy.
  • Have 1 million electric cars by 2030.
  • Have 1,500 electric buses.
  • Reduce public sector gas emissions by 51%.
  • Increase organic farming property by 350,000 hectares.
  • Reduce food waste by 50%.
  • Decrease to 325,000 tons usage of chemical fertiliser.
  • Increase the use of renewables for home and business heating needs.

The Climate Action Plan is updated annually and sets clear targets and initiatives by sector. We look at what each sector can do for Ireland to meet the Paris Climate Agreement 2030 targets.

Agriculture

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Emissions from agriculture are set to grow throughout the next decade due to strong economic growth in the Irish dairy market. A comprehensive strategy is needed to halt rising farm emissions.

Currently, agriculture - cattle farming in particular - is responsible for a third of Irish greenhouse gas emissions, and rising every year, with two-thirds of Irish land devoted to agriculture.

Countermeasures such as better breeding strategies and using different fertilisers could still only cut agricultural emissions by 7% at best. Members of the farming community have argued that Ireland’s grass-fed system for cattle is more efficient and produces fewer greenhouse gases and that reducing cattle farming in Ireland would only increase production in less carbon-efficient countries.

Another strategy could be to attempt and curb the population's meat and dairy consumption. Doing so would not only have a quick impact in Ireland but also in all countries with a similar diet.

Heating

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Fossil fuels still play an important role in heating Irish homes, and with all the alternatives available on the market (including bioLPG, heat pumps etc.), the government simply has to do more to educate people on using greener alternatives and make them more financially accessible.

Many of the issues caused by home heating stem from the fact that the Irish population is well-dispersed across the island. Many are too far away from the gas grid to connect to it. As such, many citizens are reliant on oil for heating purposes.

Even LPG would be a greener fuel than oil, although still a fossil fuel, and with the advent of renewable BioLPG, there is no excuse for the government not to encourage uptake.

Transport

Transport emissions are also likely to remain a concern. The government needs to apply a three-pronged approach:

  • Encouraging car-sharing.
  • Making public transport more economical and greener.
  • Encouraging the uptake of electric cars and hybrid plug-ins as much as possible.

Little effort has been made to foment cleaner greener alternatives to transport. For example, Ireland is one of the few European countries that still doesn’t have any electric buses. The city of Dublin did recently sign an €80 million deal for 120 electric buses which are set to be ready in 2023.

Electric car uptake in Ireland is also below the EU average, with paltry grants available that do little to offset the considerable expense of buying an electric vehicle and limited public EV charging stations.

Energy

While Ireland may not hit its 16% target for renewable energy, it wasn’t not far off at 14%. According to SEAI chief executive Jim Gannon:

we need to take greater advantage of the renewable resources available to us here in Ireland

More work needs to be done to phase out fossil fuels used in energy production, and a real effort needs to be made to recognise that we have made a legally binding agreement in the Paris Climate Accord. Which, quite frankly, we still don't seem to be taking seriously enough.

An easy way for you to contribute is by switching energy provider to a 100% renewable supplier. With some of the cheapest electricity offers on the market coming from 100% renewable sources, there's no reason you shouldn't consider such a switch.

In the table below, you can find the cheapest plans offered by 100% renewable electricity suppliers.

Cheapest Electricity Offers from 100% Renewable Suppliers
Supplier Best offer Price per year
Bright Energy** Has stopped trading No longer available
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Ecopower** 25% Discount €1,759.42
Energia 10% Discount €1,608.34
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Panda Power Has stopped trading No longer available
Pinergy Family Time €1,973.00
SSE Airtricity 10% Discount
€100 Cashback
€1,964.40
Waterpower** Standard €2,616.43
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*Figures are for illustrative purposes only. Calculations based on average consumption figures for an urban home with a 24-hour standard meter. All discounts and cashback have been applied. Last updated: October 2022
**The fuel mix from Bright Energy, Ecopower, Waterpower, and Community Power have yet to be verified by the CRU.

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