Understanding Climate and Environment Policy

It is now broadly accepted that mankind’s release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere is causing the climate to warm. The Paris agreement sought to limit that warming to 1.5degrees. However existing policies, even following some improvements at COP26, mean the world is still on a path to more than 2 degrees of warming. There is no doubt that this is the challenge of our generation, and will radically change the cars we drive, the ways we heat our homes and the way we generate our electricity. Gaothlinn is optimistic that despite the scale of the changes required, with good engineering and sensible policies, Ireland can move to new zero-carbon technologies at a manageable cost. Weaning ourselves off fossil fuels changes will bring other ancillary benefits, such as improved air quality and reduced dependence on imported fossil fuels from geopolitically unstable regions. The recent gas price spike and risk of gas supply shortages is a timely reminder that gas is not a “natural clean reliable transition fuel”, as the gas industry likes to brand it. It is a fossil fuel that Europe sources from a single supplier who does not have Europe’s best interests at heart.

Ireland’s climate policy is fairly strong and ambitious. The recently published Climate Action Plan commits Ireland to a 51% reduction in CO2 emissions from 2021 to 2030. Ireland’s emissions arise from agriculture, heating, transport and electricity. In contrast to previous plans, the emissions reduction targets will be allocated to each sector, and budgets set every 5 years. It is fair to say that both up to 2020, and in this plan to 2030, electricity has been the leader. In fact green electricity is the foundation on which we will be able to decarbonise transport using electric vehicles and rail electrification. It will also enable the rollout of heat pumps to replace oil and gas boilers. Gaothlinn is focussed on technologies and policies that will enable Ireland to generate 100% of its electricity from onshore and offshore wind and solar. The Climate Action Plan sets a target of 80% of electricity to be renewable/zero carbon by 2030.

Our view is over the next few years, it should be possible to decide in some detail how to move from 80% to 100% renewables (or higher, given the opportunity to export). We don’t need to wait for new technologies, there are commercially mature technologies available today in the long duration storage space that could be used to build such a power system. For example Wind Energy Ireland’s Endgame report sets out some options and policies that achieve 100% renewable power at minimal extra cost. If carbon prices were to remain as high as now (the end of 2021), these options would in fact be cheaper than their fossil fuel alternatives, making the choice to move to such a system a no-brainer from both an environmental, security of supply and costs point of view.