The Government’s first progress report on the implementation of the Climate Action Plan, encompassing quarters two and three of 2019, has found that 85 per cent of the projects commenced within that time are currently on time and progressing as expected, writes Odrán Waldron.
“To date, Ireland has been a climate laggard and repeatedly ranked as the worst performing EU member state in the annual Climate Change Performance Index. Progress towards decarbonisation has been slow, though evidence of the climate crisis has never been more pressing or well received. This includes a rally from the bottom up for change, including from the next generation that will be impacted most by climate action or inaction taken today.”
The introduction to the first progress report on Ireland’s Climate Action Plan makes for bracing reading and serves as a reminder of the work ahead following the fanfare that surrounded the rollout of the plan by Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton. A Climate Action Unit has been founded to monitor and drive implementation of the Plan, a task which involves compiling quarterly progress reports, the first of which found that 85 per cent of the measures scheduled for quarters two and three of 2019 have been completed or progressed to their expected status according to the update. A total of 149 out of 176 initiatives are adhering to schedule, with 27 having been delayed. All 27 of these fell within the plans laid out for quarter three.
Speaking at a press event for the launch of the report, Minister Bruton confirmed that part of the five-year carbon budgets currently under development would include financial penalties for government departments and agencies that fail to deliver on their climate action remits. With Taoiseach Leo Varadkar saying that Ireland was reducing carbon emissions, but “not nearly fast enough”, the Minister said: “This [the report] marks good progress but we must consider what barriers exist to achieving 100 per cent delivery and make sure we keep pushing across the board.”
Quarter two 2019
All seven of the initiatives slated to start or be implemented in quarter two were carried out on time, the report found. Most notable among these were perhaps two actions that progresses climate action in the electricity and built environment sectors. A steering group has now been established in order to examine and oversee implementation feasibility of carbon capture and storage in Ireland. The steering group will report its findings on the rapidly evolving technology with the potential to prevent further carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere to the Standing Committee on Climate Action.
In built environment, Nearly Zero Energy Buildings Dwellings in Building Regulations were introduced to facilitate the phasing out of oil boiler installations in new dwellings “where practical”. Such measures are said to be “key to support the phasing out of fossil fuel boilers and develop a more sustainable housing supply”.
Quarter three 2019
Delays began to appear in Q3, with all 27 reported delays occurring within the quarter, across the 116 measures due to be implemented in the timeframe. While the overall progress report has an 85 per cent rate of success so far, Q3’s rate drops to 76.8 per cent, although it is notable that the achievements come across a broader scope and array of sectors than in Q2.
Notably, a working group on micro-generation and renewable self-consumption has been established, with a review of requirements for resolving market settlement issues for renewable self-consumers to export to the national grid having begun. The ability of those whose homes incorporate private solar panels to sell surplus energy generated directly to the national grid was one of the more significant provisions within the Plan that fell under the personal rather than the systemic category and its progression will be welcomed.
Work has also begun on the development of the country’s electric vehicle network, as the Government progresses towards meeting the goal of having a national public charging network capable of supporting at least 800,000 electric vehicles by 2030. This scheme includes the introduction of a capital support programme that will allow local authorities to develop 200 on-street public chargers per annum, that will be “essential to improve the public charging network and mitigate citizen concerns regarding range anxiety”. The SEAI has now opened the scheme for applications.
In a further electronic transport development, the process by which the public service obligation bus fleet will begin the transition to low emission vehicles began with the initiation of the tender process for the purchase of double decker hybrid buses. The tender was expected to be awarded in Q4 2019. Also in public transport, the first scheduled extension of the Luas train, from 42 to 54 metres in length, was delivered on time.
85 per cent of the measures scheduled for quarters two and three of 2019 have been completed or progressed.
A Tax Strategy Group paper on Climate Action was completed as scheduled in Q3 and carbon pricing and governance measures introduced in 2020 will include an increased carbon tax “with support for more vulnerable members of society”. Also included will be a nitrogen oxide emissions-based charge, changes to benefit-in-kind for vehicles and extended vehicle registration tax reliefs.
The €6 carbon tax increase in Budget 2020 is included within the completed progressions of the plan, with it being seen as the first step towards achieving the stated goal of carbon being priced at €80 or more per tonne by 2030.
Of the 27 projects and measures that were delayed in quarter three, the most notable include the failure to start the process of formulating the three consecutive five-year carbon budgets scheduled to run from 2021 to 2036. It is said within the report that the Climate Change Advisory Council planned to have its recommendations for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment ready by November 2019. These budgets were expected to be ready for the drafting of a Climate Action (Amendment) Bill that was due to hit the Dáil floor in early 2020, but the General Election scuppered that hope.
Other delays include the commitment to finalise updated planning guidelines for onshore wind and the failure to finalise the design of the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme “including state aid notification”. The RESS process is said to be at an “advanced stage” but not yet completed. There has also been a delay in the development of a roadmap for the sustainable future of the agriculture and land-use sectors, with stakeholder engagement said to be ongoing. This roadmap will remain one of the Plan’s most significant measures given Irish agriculture’s disproportionate share of Irish emissions.
Of the 176 measures included in the progress report, 56 are said to be ongoing as expected and all are currently given as being on schedule. These measures include reform to environmental taxation measures across all relevant tax heads, considering the merits of equalising electricity tax rates for business and electricity consumers to €1/MWh, the delivery of National Planning Framework objectives for regional development, urban growth and compact growth, developing retrofit standard guidance for traditionally built buildings and the restoration of 22,107 hectares of raised bog habitat in order to combat carbon loss.