Carbon Budgets

Carbon Budgets

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I ran my first marathon in 2009, many years and indeed many kilos ago. That may not seem in any way germane to the issue being discussed. But I learned an important lesson that day about what happens when human excuses meet immutable, external realities.

I had bargained with my training. I was too tired that day, or too busy, or I probably had enough done, or I could catch it up later.

And I took my excuses out onto the roads of Dublin on the October Bank Holiday weekend. And I found out by mile 21 that the road just didn’t care.

I feel we are, to some extent, doing the same with climate. We are bargaining. The science is not clear, the measures too hard, too unpalatable, the consequences too far away in terms of time or geography, or we are small while others are big.

And the atmosphere just doesn’t care. As we change its composition through human activity, it simply traps more and more energy from the sun.

And the science is clear, and the effects and impact of climate change are no longer far away – they are being felt and experienced in the here and now, and will continue and intensify in the years and decades ahead.

And if that wasn’t abundantly clear before now, that latest IPCC Report, published just this week, has made it so.

One of the IPCC Working Group Co-Chairs, Hans-Otto Portner states that “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act is in part our government’s response to that call to action, the Carbon Budgets being discussed here this evening an outworking of that legislation.

500 billion tonnes of C02 emissions is the global carbon budget that scientists predict will give us a 50% chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. That translates to 62 tonnes per person worldwide which, in turn, translates to about seven years of current per-capita emissions each year in Ireland, or less than five years if we include agriculture.

Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions covered in the carbon budgets were 68.3 Mt C02eq in 2018, which the Climate Act sets as our baseline year.

Therefore the first two budgets must be consistent with a reduction of emissions of 33.5 MtC02 in 2030. 

The proposed carbon budgets set us on a path to achieve a necessary climate neutrality by 2050 and present the potential to better our resilience to climate change and to protect and restore biodiversity. They also meet the temperature objectives required of us within the Paris Agreement – a temperature below 1.5°

I would share concerns around the backloading of targets to the second budget in the latter half of the decade, but we have to acknowledge that many of the bigger measures will take time to put in place.

For the first budget period 2021-2025, we set out an average reduction of 4.8% per annum.

From 2026-2030, an average of -8.3%. 

And in the third period 2031-2035, a provisional budget reduction of an average of 3.5% year on year.

But we need to ensure that we deliver beart de réir briathar.

Marie Donnelly, Chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council pointed out, there is already a “significant gap” between climate action policy and climate action delivery and “Ireland’s failure to meet its targets is due to not matching the ambition of plans with timely and complete delivery of actions”.

We must go further, faster. We must ensure that every step we take is a step in the right direction.

At the start of this year, Mr Ian Talbot, CEO of Chambers Ireland spoke about how decisions made or not made by the State lock in decades of transport-associated emissions into the future. He identified how inactivity has caused the long delay in creating regulatory and planning certainty for offshore renewable energy and commented that the main benefit to introducing budgeting is that it will no longer allow administrations to defer actions as the rolling five-year budgets require immediate action. 

We all know that political time horizons struggle to look beyond the next electoral cycle, and that won’t cut it in terms of Carbon Budgeting.

One particular area where we can address the twin climate and biodiversity crises in these Carbon Budgets is in the area of Land Use, Land-use Change and Forestry Emissions. The Climate Action Plan sets out indicative ranges of emissions reductions for the pertinent sectors.

I quote again Hans-Otto Portner:  “By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 per cent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development.”

We are waiting on a Land Use Review and Plan and a National Soil Strategy as laid out in the Programme for Government.
We are waiting on the EU Nature Restoration Plan, a law to help restore the nature we have already lost. We need to plan for departmental capacity and resources to take on that ambition, help restore our natural heritage and at the same time address LuLuCF emissions and see how best our land can be used as carbon sinks.

These must be delivered as quickly as humanly possible, and then acted upon.

Philip Boucher Hayes, one of our foremost and best journalists in terms of climate reporting in my view, in reporting on the latest report from the IPCC, posed the following question:

What happens when you put 270 physics, chemistry and environment PhDs in a room for eight years?

You get a revolutionary manifesto for changing the planet and saving humankind.

Let us adopt these budgets this evening, challenging and revolutionary as they are.

I’ll close with the lyrics of a song that has often played in my head since my election, reminding me of my responsibilities in this house:

Come senators, congressmen

Please heed the call

Don’t stand in the doorway

Don’t block up the hall

The battle outside ragin’

Will soon shake your windows

And rattle your walls

For the times they are a-changin’

Let us heed the call, as asked, and support the adoption of these Carbon Budget later this evening.