During the week of Earth Day, the EU hosted a conference regarding its climate laws towards cutting emissions. This coincided with a US-hosted summit on Thursday and Friday of that week, where the White House urged world leaders to make tougher pledges to protect the planet. What do these actions mean for Ireland and it’s journey to a net-zero future in 2050? How will work and life be affected?
Six years after the Paris Climate Agreement, Europe’s commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions have so far outstripped those of most major emitters, and the EU hopes to raise the leadership bar by enshrining more ambitious targets in law. Only a handful of countries have made their climate goals legally binding. On Thursday 22 April, Ireland signed their climate action plan into law with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar praising it and calling Ireland “one of the most ambitious countries in the world on climate”. He further added that businesses will have a really important role to play in the country’s decarbonisation effort and that it is “an enormous opportunity to create new jobs and grow companies”.
The law calls for a 51% reduction in emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050. It will introduce a legal requirement of the government to adopt a series of economy-wide five-year carbon budgets on a rolling 15-year basis. Minister for Transport, Climate and Environment Eamon Ryan welcomed the law and said Ireland is “tired of being considered laggards”. He further added that if the country began falling behind in some sectors then policies would be implemented to catch the country up to its projections.
However, not everyone is on board with these climate laws. Leading climate experts have written to the government asking for clarity as aspects of the bill are “not scientifically well grounded” and “entirely lacking in legal certainty”. Climate scientist Prof John Sweeney of Maynooth University along with a team of experts and environmental law specialists have stated that “the substantive element of how the greenhouse gas reductions intended will be managed is in our view ambiguous and liable to challenge should the wording remain as is”.
Rural representatives in government fear that this bill will negatively impact rural Ireland which is about 35% of the population. Rural parts of the country rely on carbon intensive industries like fossil fuel generation and farming with TD’s saying that it was a “bill to finish rural Ireland” and that the law was “rushed and ill-conceived.” Other members of the opposition stated that they wanted the majority government to make sure the most vulnerable do not bear the cost, “especially since the poorest in our society are the most vulnerable to climate change and the least responsible.”
This level of proposed emissions reduction by 2030 is ambitious for the country. Some sectors will be harder than others and require investment and innovation. The energy sector is primed to help businesses and Ireland as a whole reduce emissions without great financial costs. Ireland has energy systems in place across the country that could scale up and make a difference. Policies incentivising electric cars, home heating upgrades and renewable electricity are also available, but will have to be massively scaled up and accompanied by new measures around infrastructure to support these. While Ireland is currently investing in renewable energy technologies around the country, progress is slow and will take years to reach its full potential, putting its 2030 target under pressure. To achieve this, the country will need to see something that has never been done before. New behavioural, technological and financial measures must be put in place and most will happen sooner than later, well within the near future.
All companies large or small, private or public will be expected to play their part in contributing towards a lower carbon economy. Companies in Ireland must better understand both the risks and opportunities that climate laws will present. Many firms are already committing to net zero targets and are aiming to become leaders and advocates in the fight against climate change. While considering when to set net zero targets it is important for firms to understand what their competitors are doing and how they are positioned relative to them. The government is beginning to offer incentives for companies to transition to lower carbon initiatives. Recently a €10 million fund launched by the government aims to help businesses with this and there will surely be more incentives to come within the future.
While the carbon tax is set to increase every single year, your business can save money while helping Ireland achieve its net zero initiative by switching to renewable energy. If Ireland fails to meet its targets, it will most likely opt to hike the tax percentage negatively impacting businesses that didn’t make the switch yet. Eamon Ryan doesn’t want Ireland to be considered laggards in the race for sustainability, you wouldn’t want your business to be either.