The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) gives a broad welcome to the direction of travel in the Irish Government’s First Climate Mitigation Plan, but it is profoundly disappointed with the speed of uptake and lack of action with renewable energy, at a time when coal and peat use has actually gone up since the recent upturn in the Irish economy. NFLA is also disappointed with the lack of a joined-up strategy that gives local authorities a more prominent role in developing a decentralised energy market that would garner significant community support.
The Climate Mitigation Plan (1) spells out the scale of challenge in Ireland to reduce carbon emissions across electricity, heat and transport. It follows on from a previous Green Paper and a 2015 White Paper. Almost five years have passed by, but while the Mitigation Plan has lots of proposed plans, it has limited substantial action, particularly given the upturn in the economy places a greater demand for energy.
Areas of disappointment for the NFLA include:
- While some good work has been done to develop renewable energy as part of the plan to reduce carbon emissions, recent figures suggest an increase in carbon emissions due to improved economic performance, particularly in the agricultural sector. Coal and peat use has actually grown. (2) This flies in the face of the experience in other EU states and it has to be addressed. Investment in renewables has to rise significantly to offset these problems.
- There has not been a prominent enough role in carbon reduction given to local authorities. The European experience again shows Councils playing a leading role in decarbonisation in countries as diverse as Germany, Denmark and the UK. While the Mitigation Plan notes the importance of local authorities the real action to give them the powers and resources to be of significant benefit is painfully slow.
- There is a real need for an Irish Feed-in Tariff scheme to encourage more rapid deployment of wind, solar and tidal energy. Yet, it will not be till at least 2018 before this being implemented, many years behind the leading example of Germany, or even the UK. In both cases these policies rapidly developed uptake of renewables and sped up the process of decentralised energy in both countries.
- There is scant information on the promotion of solar energy, which has been the driving force of renewables globally. Its costs have rapidly gone down, but penetration of solar in Ireland is woeful compared to the European average.
- The Mitigation Plan talks about developing community energy and support, and provides some clarity to try and move onshore wind programmes forward. But there remains a lack of conversation and rapid action to bring communities, together with local authorities, to realise low carbon and economic opportunities at this level. Such behavioural change needs to be brought about more rapidly, but the vagueness of many of the plans hints at a lack of urgency from the government.
- In the past fortnight, both France and the UK have announced all diesel and petrol cars will be banned in favour of electric vehicles by 2040. While this has major impacts on the generation of electricity, they are part of a recognition that more radical answers in transport and heating are required. Ireland needs to step up to the mark in these areas and find its own radical edge.
- Brexit adds to the uncertainty with considerable energy to Ireland imported from the UK, and the position of the Integrated Single Electricity Market for Ireland is under threat. Ministers have to include energy as one of the key areas of concern in Brexit discussions at the European level and bilaterally with the UK and Northern Ireland Governments.
In sum, it is time for Ireland to move from vague policy and strategy to rapid deployment of renewable and decentralised energy projects. The Mitigation Plan has some plans within it to commend, but urgency is not at the heart of it, at a time when urgency to reduce climate emissions is essential for the well-being of the Irish people. NFLA welcomes the ‘National Conversation’ planned on energy, but wants to see it coupled with dynamic policy measures over the next 12 months that brings about the step-change to deliver the ambitious carbon reduction targets being put forward.
The next NFLA All Ireland Forum meeting being planned for September 22nd in Meath County Council Offices will consider these issues in more detail, whilst looking at the impacts of Brexit and the ongoing concerns over new nuclear development across the Irish Sea.
NFLA All Ireland Forum Co Chair Councillor Mark Dearey said:
“The Irish Mitigation Plan, like the 2015 White Paper, means well but is fundamentally lacking in urgency, dynamic policy formulation and concrete action. It is ridiculous that coal and peat use is going up at a time when, just across the Irish Sea, coal use has plummeted and renewables have hit new records of generation. There is also next to no encouragement of local authority energy policies. Why are there no local authority energy companies in Ireland in comparison to the likes of Munich, Copenhagen, Nottingham and Bristol? While it is vitally important to have a national conversation on energy, we have to see some real action. Feed-in tariffs should be implemented urgently as one such example. We have to move from warm words to positive action, and we have to do it now or the negative effects of climate change will damage our economy, communities and environment. I say to the government to get on with it. Actions always speak louder than words.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) Irish Government First Climate Mitigation Plan, July 2017 http://www.dccae.gov.ie/documents/National%20Mitigation%20Plan%202017.pdf
(2) Climate News Network, Ireland’s Climate Change Plan offers vague intentions, 25th July 2017 http://climatenewsnetwork.net/irelands-climate-strategy-offers-vague-intentions/