However, the global climate emergency means our scenic environment can no longer be taken for granted and urgent action is required to prevent irreversible damage to our planet.
This is now a top priority and the European Commission has presented a package of measures designed to make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent.
The European Green Deal includes key policies aimed at ambitiously cutting emissions, investing in cutting-edge research and innovation and preserving Europe’s natural environment.
It sets out an achievable roadmap that will ensure the EU's economy becomes sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all policy areas.
Making the transition to a sustainable future needs to be just and inclusive for all and the European Green Deal can ensure no individual or region is left behind in the great transformation ahead.
- Fossil fuels such as coal, peat and gas continue to be key contributors to emissions from the power generation sector in Ireland.
- Agriculture emissions are projected by the EPA to continue to grow steadily over the period up to 2040, mainly due to an increase in farm animal numbers, particularly for dairy herds.
- Continued growth in emissions from Ireland’s transport sector is projected in the short term, largely due to fuel consumption from diesel cars and diesel freight.
- Ireland exceeded its annual emissions allocation for 2018 under EU Effort Sharing legislation by over 5 million tonnes. This follows an exceedance of 3 million tonnes in 2017.
- Ireland will miss the target set for the period 2013 to 2020 for renewables by about one eighth and for cumulative emissions by a little under 5%.
- Temperatures in Ireland have increased by about 0.8°C since 1900, an average of about 0.07°C per decade. The increase during the period 1980-2008 was equivalent to 0.14 C per decade.
- An average sea level rise of just 0.5m to 1m by the end of the century, in combination with storm surge events, could result in as much as 1,000km2 of coastal lands around Ireland being inundated by the sea.
- Over half (52.8%) of Irish surface water bodies assessed are in satisfactory ecological health being in either good or high ecological status. The remaining 47.2% are in moderate, poor, or bad ecological status.
- According to the latest European bathing water quality report, 71% of Irish swimming sites monitored in 2018 met the European Union's highest and most stringent 'excellent' quality standard for waters mostly free from pollutants. The EU average was 85.1%.
The European Green Deal
The European Green Deal is being introduced to improve the well-being of people, make Europe climate-neutral and preserve our natural habitat.
It will protect humans, animals and plants by cutting pollution and securing a healthy planet for generations to come.
The Commission will propose a European Climate Law that will turn what has been a political commitment into a legally binding obligation.
This legislation will trigger investment and help turn climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all EU policy areas and every sector of the economy.
The Green Deal aims to decarbonise the energy sector, which accounts for 75% of EU greenhouse gas emissions, and renovate buildings across Europe to help cut energy bills and usage.
It will also support EU industry to innovate and become global leaders in the green economy so cleaner, cheaper and healthier forms of private and public transport can be rolled out.
As well as proposing strong climate legislation, the Commission’s ambition will be further enhanced by a new Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.
There will also be a new Industrial Strategy and Circular Economy Action Plan, a Farm to Fork Strategy for sustainable food and proposals for a pollution-free Europe.
Meeting the objectives of the European Green Deal won’t be easy or cheap. It needs significant investment.
Achieving the current 2030 climate and energy targets is estimated to require €260 billion of additional annual investment - representing about 1.5% of 2018 GDP – from both public and private sectors.
The Commission will present a Sustainable Europe Investment Plan to help meet these investment needs. At least 25% of the EU's long-term budget needs to be dedicated to climate action, and the European Investment Bank, Europe's climate bank, will provide further support.
The Commission will present a Green Financing Strategy for the private sector so it can contribute to financing the green transition.
A new European Climate Pact will be launched during 2020 too, as well as a proposal for an 8th Environmental Action Programme.
Also included in the Green Deal will be a comprehensive plan to increase the EU 2030 greenhouse gas emission reductions target from 40% to at least 50% and towards 55% in a responsible way by summer 2020.
CLEAN ENERGY: The production and use of energy accounts for more than 75% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions so it’s important to decarbonise the EU’s energy system.
The Green Deal will prioritise energy efficiency and help develop a power sector based largely on renewable sources.
Measures will be introduced to create a fully integrated, interconnected and digitalised EU energy market that will provide a secure, affordable supply for all.
Relevant energy legislation will be reviewed and where necessary revised by June 2021, after which Member States will update their national energy and climate plans in 2023, to reflect a new climate ambition for 2030.
SUSTAINABLE INDUSTRY: Achieving the EU’s climate and environmental goals requires a new industrial policy based on the circular economy.
A key aim will be to stimulate the development of new markets for climate neutral and circular products while the decarbonisation and modernisation of energy-intensive industries such as steel and cement is essential.
The Commission will present a Sustainable Products policy, which will prioritise reducing and reusing materials before recycling them and measures will be introduced to ensure all packaging in the EU is reusable or recyclable by 2030.
BUILDING AND RENOVATING: Buildings account for 40% of energy consumed in the EU so the Green Deal will include proposals for them to achieve better energy performance.
The Commission will launch an open platform bringing together the buildings and construction sector, architects and engineers and local authorities to see how energy efficiency in buildings can be improved.
There will be measures to help consumers keep their homes warm with particular attention paid to the renovation of social housing, to assist households that struggle to pay energy bills.
SUSTAINABLE MOBILITY: Transport accounts for a quarter of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions and the Green Deal seeks a 90% reduction in this sector by 2050.
Measures to incentivise the transport of freight by rail or water are planned and Single European Sky reform will help to cut up to 10% of air transport emissions.
There will also be supports for automated mobility and smart traffic management systems to make transport more efficient and cleaner.
BIODIVERSITY: The Commission will present a new Biodiversity Strategy and propose a global target to protect biodiversity at the UN Biodiversity Conference in 2020.
There will also be proposals to ‘green’ European cities and increase biodiversity in urban spaces as well as new measures to improve the quality and quantity of European forests.
A new EU Forest Strategy will be prepared and the EU will encourage imports from trade partners that do not create deforestation abroad.
FROM FARM TO FORK: The Commission will put forward a new Farm to Fork Strategy to tackle climate change and make sure Europeans have access to affordable and sustainable food.
The Commission believes 40% of Common Agriculture Policy funding and 30% of the Maritime Fisheries Fund should contribute to climate action in the EU budget 2021-2027.
Farmers and fishermen are key to achieving a climate-neutral Europe and the Commission will work with Member States to ensure the transition is fair to everyone working in or dependent on the agricultural and maritime sectors.
Organic farming will be increased through the Green Deal and use of chemical pesticides, fertilisers and antibiotics reduced.
ELIMINATING POLLUTION: The Commission will adopt a zero-pollution action plan to prevent the pollution of air, water and soil across Europe.
This will help preserve biodiversity in lakes, rivers and wetlands and reduce harmful pollution from micro-plastics and pharmaceuticals.
Air quality standards will be reviewed in line with World Health Organization guidelines and pollution from large industrial installations will be reduced.
A new Chemical Innovation Strategy for a toxic-free environment will also be put forward to protect citizens against dangerous chemicals.
Building on progress
The European Green Deal will be a significant boost to the fight against climate change and environmental degradation, but the EU has already made progress in tacking the crisis.
Between 1990 and 2018, EU greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 23%, while the economy grew by 61%. In fact, the EU is the only major economy of the world to have put in place legislation covering all sectors of the economy to cut greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the Paris Agreement.
A comprehensive Circular Economy Action Plan designed to reduce waste and make the most of renewable resources was adopted by the European Commission in 2015.
All 54 actions outlined in the action plan have now been delivered and it is now completed.
The Circular Economy package included a Europe-wide EU Strategy for Plastics aimed at ensuring all plastic packaging becomes recyclable by 2030.
In 2015, the European Commission launched a new strategy for a resilient Energy Union with a forward-looking climate change policy.
This delivered a comprehensive and legally binding framework for reaching the Paris Agreement goals, while simultaneously helping to modernise the European economy and its industry.
A report published in 2019 found the Energy Union had made a significant contribution to strengthening Europe’s energy security through interconnecting national markets, further diversifying energy sources, deploying indigenous renewables, implementing energy efficiency measures and promoting an enabling environment for investment.
In its European Semester Country Report for Ireland 2019, the European Commission observed that Ireland has so far failed to decouple its economic growth from the emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants.
The report warns that this raises health, climate and environmental concerns and means that Ireland may miss opportunities linked to the EU’s ambitious decarbonisation objectives.
Ireland has put in place effective environmental taxation measures including an emissions-based vehicle registration tax and a carbon tax.
However, the country is expected to miss its greenhouse gas emissions target due to high emissions from agriculture, increasing emissions from transport and the restricted rollout of renewable energy sources.
The Semester Report points out that while Ireland has defined a vision for a low-carbon economy, it has yet to fully spell out a pathway towards a decarbonised and sustainable future.
The report also highlights that concrete actions programmed or budgeted for, fall far short of putting Ireland on a path to achieving the 2030 climate targets.
The Irish Government published a new Climate Action Plan in 2019 that includes over 180 actions and a timeline for delivery aimed at getting Ireland back on track.
The European Commission’s projects of common interest (PCIs) include major investments in infrastructure that will help Ireland’s transition to a greener environment.
PCIs that will improve Ireland’s energy connectivity include the Celtic Interconnector between France (La Martyre) and Ireland (Knockraha, Co Cork), a terminal and connecting gas pipeline in Shannon and a Hydroelectric Power Station at Silvermines.
The Commission has also been instrumental in encouraging Ireland to take action to protect Irish peat bog habitats.
Ireland is now responding, and from 2011-2015 work on restoring some 685 hectares of raised bogs on 17 Coillte owned sites across seven counties was undertaken as part of a major nature conservation project.
Demonstrating Best Practice in Raised Bog Restoration in Ireland was jointly funded by the European Commission's DG Environment, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Coillte under the EU LIFE Nature Programme.
The LIFE Programme is also currently helping fund The Living Bog Project in Clara, Co Offaly, Ireland’s largest single bog restoration project, that will see an area of raised bog the equivalent in size to 7,000 Croke Parks brought back to life.
The LIFE Environment and Resource Efficiency strand has co-financed 40 projects in Ireland so far, representing a total investment of €78 million, of which €26 million has been provided by the EU.
The LIFE programme for 2014-2020 has a total budget for the period of €3.5 billion and has sub-programmes for the environment and climate action.