The Environment: Ireland’s Green Deal
However, we are now facing a global crisis that means our scenic environment is under threat and can no longer be taken for granted. Climate change is the greatest challenge of our times and urgent action is required to prevent irreversible damage to our planet.
Tackling climate change is a top priority for the EU and the European Commission has presented a package of measures designed to make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
The European Green Deal includes key policies aimed at ambitiously cutting emissions, preserving Europe’s natural environment and investing in cutting-edge research and innovation.
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 that will result in economic growth and jobs.
Making the transition to a sustainable future needs to be fair and inclusive for all, and the European Green Deal can ensure no individual or region is left behind in the great transformation ahead.
The EU is now working to repair the economic and social damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The immediate focus is on supporting citizens and businesses but the Green Deal will play a central role in leading the EU out of the coronavirus crisis by kick-starting recovery, protecting jobs and creating sustainable growth.
- Air pollutants were above the World Health Organisation’s guideline values for health at 33 monitoring stations across Ireland in 2019 – this is mostly as a result of the burning of solid fuel in cities, towns and villages.
- Absolute emissions of greenhouse gases in agriculture and land use have increased in Ireland relative to 2005. Even with the policies and measures envisaged under Ireland’s Climate Action Plan, projections to 2040 show limited progress towards emissions reduction.
- Sewage from the equivalent of 77,000 people in 36 towns and villages is released into the environment every day without treatment according to an EPA report on Urban Waste Water Treatment published in 2019.
- Fishermen in Ireland have hauled nearly 400 tonnes of marine litter in their fishing nets since 2015 under the Fishing for Litter campaign. The initiative is supported under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.
- 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 0.14C 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.
- The winter of 2018/2019 was the warmest winter on record in Ireland (records go back 119 years) and 2019 was the ninth year in a row that temperatures were above normal.
The European Green Deal
The European Green Deal is the EU’s long-term strategy to protect humans, animals and plants by cutting pollution and securing a healthy planet for generations to come.
It is also the European Commission’s plan to make the EU economy sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities for economic growth.
The Green Deal commits Europe to becoming the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050 while also transforming the EU into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy.
The European Green Deal Investment Plan introduced in 2020 will help achieve the EU’s Climate Change targets including those set out in the 2030 Climate Target Plan by mobilising at least €1 trillion in sustainable investments over the next decade.
Part of this investment plan, the Just Transition Mechanism, will ensure the transition to a sustainable economy is fair to everybody by mobilising at least €100 billion to support workers and citizens most impacted by the transformation.
The European Commission has also proposed a European Climate Law that will turn climate change ambitions from what has previously been a political commitment into a legally binding obligation.
Policies, investment and regulation will help the Green Deal meet its targets but to be successful it also needs the support of local people and organisations. To help achieve this, the Commission is launching a European Climate Pact to engage citizens and communities in local actions to protect the climate and our environments.
The EU’s ambitious climate change targets will be achieved by Member States acting together and supporting each other. Each country has now published an individual assessment called a National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) detailing how it intends to fulfil its climate goals over the next 10 years, starting from 2021.
Green Deal strategies
The European Commission has presented and adopted a number of strategies that will support the Green Deal. The European industrial strategy will help ensure Europe’s industries, including SMEs, lead the way in sustainable and digital technologies for the new age.
There needs to be changes in agriculture sectors too, but the transition has to be sensitive to farmers, fisheries and rural communities, and two strategies introduced in 2020 will help achieve this.
The Farm to Fork Strategy aims to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly for both farmers and consumers. It is a comprehensive approach that reflects how Europeans value food sustainability and an opportunity to improve lifestyles, health, and the environment.
The new Biodiversity Strategy will enhance Europe’s natural environments by tackling the key drivers of biodiversity loss, such as unsustainable use of land and sea, the overexploitation of natural resources, pollution, and invasive alien species.
A Strategy for Energy System Integration to pave the way towards a fully decarbonised, more efficient and interconnected energy sector has also been adopted as well as a Circular Economy Action Plan that focuses on sustainable resource use.
The Green Deal also covers chemicals that are essential for well-being, high living standards and comfort but which also have hazardous properties that can harm the environment and health. The EU already has sophisticated chemicals laws in place but a new Chemicals Strategy designed to create a toxic-free environment has now been adopted.
Reducing methane emissions is another priority ambition of the Green Deal and a new Methane Strategy has been introduced to reduce levels of this greenhouse gas contributor in the energy, agriculture and waste sectors.
Buildings are responsible for about 40% of the EU's energy consumption, and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions but only 1% undergo energy efficient renovation every year. The Commission’s Renovation Wave Strategy aims to double renovation rates over the next ten years and make sure they lead to higher energy and resource efficiency.
Renovation Wave could see 35 million buildings renovated by 2030, creating up to 160,000 construction sector jobs in the process.
The Offshore Renewable Energy Strategy aims to increase Europe's offshore wind capacity from its current level of 12 GW to at least 60 GW by 2030 and to 300 GW by 2050. This ambitious growth will be based on the vast potential across all of Europe's sea basins and on the global leadership position of EU companies in the sector. It will create new opportunities for industry, generate green jobs across the continent, and strengthen the EU's global leadership in offshore energy technologies.
Green Deal actions
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 help create a fully integrated, interconnected and digitalised EU energy market that will provide a secure, affordable, clean supply for all.
SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS: The Commission will present a Sustainable Products policy, which will prioritise reducing and reusing materials before recycling them. Consumers, the environment and the climate will benefit from products that are more durable, reusable, repairable, recyclable, and energy-efficient. Measures will also be introduced to ensure all packaging in the EU is reusable or recyclable by 2030.
BUILDING AND RENOVATING: The Renovation Wave Strategy will include measures to tackle energy poverty and 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.
Sustainable transport initiatives will be promoted and supported while 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’s Biodiversity Strategy includes proposals to help ‘green’ European cities and increase biodiversity in urban spaces. A new EU Forest Strategy is also being prepared that will include a roadmap for planting at least three billion additional trees in the EU by 2030. The EU is also encouraging imports from trade partners that do not create deforestation abroad.
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.
Building on progress
The European Green Deal will be a significant boost to the fight against climate change and environmental degradation, but progress has already been made in tacking the crisis.
The EU is now a global leader in the fight against climate change and is the only major economy in 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.
The EU has overachieved its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% and total EU-27 emissions are at their lowest level since 1990. By 2018 emissions were down by 23% while at the same time the EU’s combined GDP grew by 61%, highlighting that the economy can benefit from climate change actions.
A comprehensive Circular Economy Action Plan designed to reduce waste and make the most of renewable resources was first adopted by the European Commission in 2015. All 54 actions outlined in that plan have now been delivered and it is now completed.
The latest Circular Economy package includes 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 is delivering a comprehensive and legally binding framework for reaching the Paris Agreement goals, while simultaneously helping to modernise the European economy and its industry.
An Energy Union progress report published in 2020 concluded that good progress had been made on improving EU supplies for electricity and gas, but more work needs to be done to fully integrate the markets.
The report also highlighted that household energy costs have been falling for all income levels since 2012 and that the share of renewable energy in the EU27 had reached 18.9 % and that sector targets were expected to exceed 2020 targets.
The 2020 European Semester Country Report for Ireland states that the country has so far lagged behind in tackling climate change, with greenhouse gas emissions in transport, building and agriculture sectors high and on a rising trend.
The report acknowledges that Ireland’s 2019 Climate Action Plan, which includes over 180 actions aimed at getting Ireland back on track, is an important step to address challenges in these and other areas, but warns its success will depend on early, sustained implementation of policies and actions.
Measures from the Climate Action Plan will feed into Ireland’s National Energy and Climate Plan. The European Commission has invited Ireland to consider a number of investment and reform actions that will assist in meeting its climate change targets for 2030 and 2050.
These include measures for the deep retrofitting of buildings, including social housing, investments in renewable energy and initiatives to support a shift towards sustainable modes of transport.
Ireland has been allocated EU funds of up to €13.3 billion between 2021 and 2027 to help with its transition to a low-carbon economy. Further EU funds to help Member States with their NECPs (outlined in the funding section below) are also available.
Recent Eurobarometer surveys have found that protecting the environment is important for 93% of Irish people and that Irish people perceive climate change and environmental degradation as key issues facing the EU.
The EU is working with Ireland to help it achieve its climate change ambitions. 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 European Commission Representation in Ireland has compiled Keeping Ireland Green - a collection of 12 environmental success stories that highlight some of the positive climate change actions taking place around the country.
The EU has a number of funding sources available to support the Green Deal including the Just Transition Mechanism that will mobilise at least €150 billion over the 2021-2027 period to alleviate the socio-economic impact of the transition in the most affected regions.
Around €100 million will be available to Ireland from Just Transition, as well as €1.2 billion in EU structural funds, €10.6 billion from the Common Agricultural Policy, €1.3 billion from the Recovery & Resilience Facility and €100 million through the EU Emissions Trading System auction review.
Further EU funds available to all EU Member States that may be utilised for the implementation of National Energy and Climate Plans include:
- €91 billion from Horizon Europe;
- €9.1 billion from InvestEU;
- €29.9 billion from Connecting Europe Facility;
- €360 billion from the Recovery and Resilience Facility;
- €0.9 billion from the Technical Support Instrument;
- €5.4 billion from the LIFE programme;
- €8.2 billion from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development; and
- €140 billion from the Innovation Fund.
The EU Commission's Directorate-General for the Environment