26. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views on concerns that the national mitigation strategy will fail to reduce Ireland’s carbon emissions sufficiently resulting in significant fines from the European Union and dangerous weather change worldwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 42134/17 asked on 04 Oct 2017)

Deputy Timmy Dooley: There are serious concerns that Ireland’s national mitigation strategy will fail to reduce Ireland’s carbon emissions sufficiently resulting in significant fines from the European Union and dangerous weather changes around the globe. Will the Minister enlighten us on where he is at on that particular strategy?

Deputy Denis Naughten: I published Ireland’s first statutory national mitigation plan in July 2017. This is an important initial step to enable the transition to a low carbon economy and society. The plan identifies 70 mitigation measures and 106 related actions to address the immediate challenge to 2020 and to prepare for the EU targets that Ireland will take on for 2030.

The latest projections of greenhouse gas emissions by the Environmental Protection Agency indicate that Ireland is likely to fall short of our 2020 target to reduce emissions by 20% below 2005 levels. Emissions from those sectors of the economy covered by Ireland’s 2020 targets could be between 4% and 6% below 2005 levels by 2020. The projected shortfall to our targets in 2020 reflects both the constrained investment capacity over the past decade due to the economic crisis and the extremely challenging nature of the target itself. In fact, it is now accepted that Ireland’s 2020 target was not consistent with what would be achievable on an EU wide cost-effective basis. While Ireland is likely to have to purchase additional allowances towards compliance with our 2020 targets, the cost of compliance is not at this stage expected to be significant.

Given the complexity of the issues and the time horizon involved, it is not possible for the national mitigation plan to provide a complete roadmap to achieve our 2050 objective. Similarly, it does not yet provide a complete roadmap to meeting Ireland’s expected targets between 2021 and 2030 under the draft EU effort sharing regulation. Instead, the plan will be subject to formal review at least once every five years and will also become a living document, accessible on my Department’s website, where it will be updated on an ongoing basis as analysis, dialogue and technological innovation generate further cost-effective sectoral mitigation options. This continuous review process reflects the broad and evolving nature of the sectoral challenges outlined in the plan, coupled with the continued development and deployment of emerging low carbon and cost-effective technologies across different sectors of the economy. As this first plan moves into the implementation phase, the process will enable it to be amended, refined and strengthened over time and will assist in keeping Ireland on target to meet our obligations.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: The Minister spoke about the Environmental Protection Agency’s report of March 2016, indicating that projected emissions in 2020 in Ireland could be in the 4% to 7% range.

Deputy Denis Naughten: In a 4% to 6% range.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: My reading is they will be 6% to 11% below 2005 levels. As we are supposed to have a 20% reduction on 2005 levels, we will be significantly below that figure, if my numbers are correct. I do not buy the contention that the fines will be somewhat small and irrelevant; they will be significant. It will depend on the cost of carbon credits, but fines may, of course, be very significant. It remains a mystery to me as to how the Government intends to pave the way towards meeting our even more ambitious targets for 2030. This is totally unacceptable and there is a lack of regard for the severity of the climate change challenges we are facing. The Minister now has a public that in the past two to three years has moved significantly towards accepting and recognising the real threat posed by climate change. We have seen various weather events, most recently in County Donegal and previously in the Minister’s area and mine along the River Shannon. We have the potential to get a public buy-in, but yet again the Department and the Government are way behind on the matter.

Deputy Denis Naughten: The Deputy had an initial statistical point. The previous EPA projection indicated that emissions would be between 6% and 11% below 2005 levels. The target is a 20% reduction. I am saying the projection is now worse as the current figures from April 2017 indicate that the range will be between 4% and 6% below 2005 levels. I wish they were between 6% and 11% as that would be a far more positive position, but they are not. Ireland is projected to cumulatively exceed its obligations by between 11.5 megatonnes and 13.7 megatonnes carbon dioxide equivalent between 2013 and 2020, but it is not at all positive. These are the projections in respect of the 2020 target for carbon emissions.

With regard to energy targets for 2020, the overall objective is to reach a 16% reduction figure. Based on the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s analysis, there is a 9.4% reduction. We expect, at a minimum, to be at a figure of 13.2%. The intention is to get it to between 15% and 16%.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: If the Minister is to make any meaningful progress towards reaching our targets, we need a plan and action. I get where the Government is when it speaks about the mitigation plans being an organic document.

Deputy Denis Naughten: To which target is the Deputy referring? Is it the 20% or 16% figure?

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Both. The Minister knows the decisions he must take in order to move the public. It requires much greater incentivisation to move people into electric vehicles, which will to some extent address some of our issues. We are way behind in the deep retrofitting of homes on the heating side. We may miss our target for the use of renewables in the electricity sector. There is still a very considerable way to go. The Minister has overall responsibility and said in the past that there are issues with certain Departments and that he cannot do it all on his own. We need some serious action and movement if we are to avoid paying significant fines.

Deputy Denis Naughten: The big risk with regard to paying significant fines is in not reaching renewable energy targets. I am confident that we will reach our electricity targets and the projections available to me indicate that we will reach a figure of 40%. It is important to remember that we are the global leader when it comes to supplying variable and renewable electricity on the grid. Currently, we can take a 60% loading of variable electricity, mainly produced from wind energy, which by the start of next year will go to 65%. Nobody across the globe has come anywhere near what we are doing on an isolated grid and we will be up to a figure of 75% by 2020. The renewable heat incentive scheme will significantly progress us towards the 12% target. Transport has been challenging and the target for 2020 is 10%, which is legally binding. It is not just about electric vehicles, it also concerns biofuel blending, on which we are engaging in consultation. We will get quite close to the targets and are determined to try to push as hard as we can to get to them. The Deputy is right in that there are potentially significant penalties that could occur or recur if we do not reach the targets.