At the end of October, EU leaders agreed on climate and energy goals that define the bloc’s sustainability pathway to 2030. The agreed targets include a cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, an EU-wide binding target for renewable energy of at least 27%, and an indicative energy efficiency target of at least 27%. Leaders also adopted a target to increase interconnections between Europe’s power markets to 15% in 2030.
José Manuel Barroso, European Commission President at the time, insisted that “no player in the world is as ambitious as the European Union when it comes to cutting greenhouse gas emissions”, his proof being that “we are now going from a goal of 20% cut by 2020 compared to 1990 to 40% by 2030, so, doubling the effort”. Connie Hedegaard, then Commissioner for Climate Action, said that the move sent a strong signal to other big economies and all other countries: “We have done our homework, now we urge you to follow Europe’s example.”
Perhaps the ‘big economies’ of China and the USA were indeed taking note because just a few weeks later President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China came forward jointly with their own climate targets. The US pledges to cut climate pollution by 26-28% by 2025 from 2005 levels, and the Chinese aim for CO2 emissions to peak around 2030, and to increase the non-fossil fuel share of all energy to around 20% by the same time.
When it comes to traveling down the EU’s 2030 pathway, about 50% of emission reductions will be achieved through a “well-functioning, reformed Emissions Trading System (ETS)” with an instrument to stabilise the market. However, this will not sit well with many environmentalists as the ETS, in its current form, has been sharply criticised for massive over-allocation of emissions permits and huge fluctuations in the carbon price. Friends of the Earth even alleges that ETS fraud has led to millions of emissions permits being stolen. Note 1. Outside of the ETS, the other half of the reductions is set to be achieved by new measures in sectors not yet covered by the ETS like transport, agriculture and buildings.
Concretely, what do the new EU targets mean for the island of Ireland? One aspect that will be important for Ireland relates to agriculture, as The Irish Times reports: “The agreement essentially recognises Ireland’s heavy reliance on agriculture so the future build-up of the dairy sector can proceed without running the risk of EU fines for increasing emissions of methane gas.” It appears that in the final national targets, “…Ireland will be permitted to offset its high proportion of forests, grasslands and bogs, which absorb carbon from the atmosphere, against high methane emissions attributed to agriculture.” Note 2. This is significant, the article states, given plans for a big expansion of Ireland’s national herd after the abolition of EU milk quotas next year.
The specific emission reduction targets for Ireland may not be clear for some time because, although EU leaders settled on an overall 40% reduction target, talks on specific national targets are not expected to begin until 2015. However, a look at our current emissions reduction record does not necessarily bode well for the future: the Republic of Ireland, now the eighth highest carbon emitter per capita in Europe and the 35th highest globally, is currently struggling to meet its current target of 20% reduction target in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
As a Trocáire report released in early November noted: “The latest figures from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicate that emissions in the Republic of Ireland, even under best case scenario of implementing all policies and measures, is significantly off-track, with decreases of only 5-12 per cent projected. Even more worryingly, emissions in the Republic of Ireland are expected to rise by 12 per cent by the year 2030.” Note 3.
Northern Ireland is not faring much better according to the same report. Under the 2008 Climate Act, the UK has set a binding target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, with an interim target of a 35% reduction by 2020. However, this Act does not extend to the devolved regions within the UK. Northern Ireland is now the only region in the UK that has not yet introduced a regional climate change Act and is therefore the only administration within the UK without legally binding emission targets. The results are not good, as the Trocáire report notes: “The latest emission figures from the UK Greenhouse Gas Inventories reveal that Northern Ireland is again the lowest performing region of the UK on emission reductions with only a 16 per cent decrease reported for 2012, compared to the UK average of a 26.5 per cent decrease.”
The details for Ireland will probably become clearer after COP21 in Paris, however one wonders how our current lack of progress can be reconciled with an EU-wide 2030 target of 40% reductions.
Note 1. Friends of the Earth www.foeeurope.org/carbon-trading
Note 3. Feeling the Heat www.trocaire.org/resources/policyandadvocacy/feeling-the-heat
Aoife O’Grady is an Irish, Brussels-based journalist who is the Brussels Correspondent for irish environment