The following is a synopsis of the first Ireland’s Climate Change Assessment (ICCA) report published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on 25th January 2024.
The full report can be found here ICCA Report.
Ireland’s Climate Change Assessment (ICCA) is a major contribution to the national dialogue and engagement on climate change. It tells us what is known about climate change and Ireland.
The future climate is in our collective hands. To halt warming globally and in Ireland, requires rapidly reaching at least net-zero carbon dioxide emissions, and substantially cutting other greenhouse gas emissions. Every action matters.
Ireland’s Changing Climate
Atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations are higher than at any point in millions of years. Globally, the most recent decade was likely warmer than any sustained period in at least the last 100,000 years. Global sea level has risen by 0.2m since 1900, and the rate of global sea level rise is accelerating.
Over Ireland, annual average temperatures are now approximately 1°C higher than the early 20th century with 16 of the 20 warmest years occurring since 1990. 2022 is the hottest year on record to date. This warming is mainly due to increased atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.
If we can reach net-zero global carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, then components such as temperature and precipitation, will stabilise within the lifetime of many of today’s younger citizens. However, sea-level will continue to rise and will take thousands of years to stabilise, even once net zero emissions are reached.
Early and rapid global action on emission reductions would likely leave an Irish climate similar to the climate now, where the average temperature increase would reach 0.91°C by 2050 before falling back to 0.80°C at the end of the century.
In comparison delayed global action would very likely leave an Irish climate that is increasingly unrecognisable, where the average temperature increase would reach 2.77°C. At this level, intense precipitation become more frequent and storm surges and extreme waves will pose an ever-increasing threat to Ireland as sea levels rise.
Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Having peaked in 2001, Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions have reduced in all sectors except agriculture. Ireland is currently ranked second highest across the EU at 12.24 Tonnes CO2e per capita when all greenhouse gas emissions are considered. The EU average is 7.7 Tonnes CO2e per capita. On a positive note, the EU average is a 33% reduction from the 1990 average but Ireland has made limited progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to date and there is a very long way to go.
Irish Government’s Action
In 2021, Ireland legislated for 5-yearly carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings which set a limit on the amounof greenhouse gas emissions that can be released over defined periods. These budgets were consistent with a target for a 51% reduction by 2030, compared with 2018. Currently deployed policies and actions are insufficient and Ireland is not presently on track to meet these statutory greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.
Ireland has set the national objective to transition to a climate resilient, biodiversity-rich, environmentally sustainable and climate-neutral economy by 2050 at the latest. Resilience refers to the ability to absorb and respond to climate change by implementing effective adaptation actions and sustainable development to reduce negative climate impacts.
Climate change is happening now, and therefore adaptation needs to be given increased attention. Adaptation is mandated in national legislation and integrated with EU policy. Governance structures and oversight mechanisms have been developed. Many sectors nationally and local authorities have developed their first iteration of adaptation plans, but many have shown limited progress on implementation. Critically, developing a climate-resilient Ireland will require sufficient public and private investment and financial support in ways that recognise the value of ecosystem services and the importance of societal wellbeing. Knowledge gaps for adaptation and resilience also remain to be addressed.
Ireland needs to be resilient to ongoing and future climate change impacts. This requires increased focus upon and investment in adaptation that can protect us from future climatic impacts. Current implementation of adaptation is too slow and fragmented. Doing better requires financing, working with people and nature, monitoring and evaluating outcomes, and increasing public and private sector involvement. There is a significant gap in the literature available for climate-neutral pathways in Ireland.
Required Sectorial Actions
Established technologies, such as wind energy, solar photovoltaics and bioenergy, will be key in meeting short-term emission reduction targets (i.e. 2030), whereas offshore wind infrastructure is expected to be the backbone of future energy systems.
Deep emission reductions within the agriculture and land use sectors are a critical aspect of Ireland’s efforts to mitigate climate change. Optimal use of no-regret livestock management measures, including increasing the dairy Economic Breeding Index, improving herd genetics, improving animal health and promoting efficient feeding strategies, will help in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The research on land use, land use change and forestry suggests that the primary means to get to net zero for this (Agricultural) sector is through unprecedented rates of afforestation and the rewetting of organic soil along with a significant reduction in herd numbers. The majority of the mitigation options available in Ireland are still in the early implementation stages, and there is an urgent need for Ireland to explore various diversification strategies to enable deep mitigation.
The decisions made and actions taken this decade will have long-term consequences affecting many generations into the future. Immediate and sustained transformative mitigation and adaptation actions are likely to yield substantial benefits for health, wellbeing and biodiversity in Ireland.
Ireland’s current policy direction predominantly emphasises technology transitions, rather than wider systemic transformations and shifts in development pathways. Taking action to address the direct drivers of emissions may challenge vested interests that have a strong interest in maintaining the current status quo.
Public engagement and participation in development and implementation of transition management is essential. Further research is necessary to improve the recommendations from citizens’ assemblies and outcomes from subsequent engagement processes into policy, to enhance local deliberative processes, and to inform a just transition that protects and includes vulnerable groups.
The state has a central role to play in transformative change. This role can involve stimulating new policy, coordinating actors, mediating interests and shaping outcomes. Transition and transformation can be enabled through: adopting a holistic and systemic way of thinking to maximise win–win outcomes; developing an integrated long-term vision; addressing fragmented governance; developing integrative policy approaches; capacity building and broad stakeholder engagement; and enabling a strong social contract with citizens and communities.