Turning Interest Into Action

Part of Professor John FitzGerald’s task as Chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council is to explain the issues around climate change to a wider audience. His scariest audience so far has been 6th class pupils at Harold’s Cross National School, he recalls.

“I was there for a photocall and the minister was late so the teacher asked me to talk to the class. Not having anything prepared, I was a bit intimidated at first. The children were so well informed, so engaged and so knowledgeable.”

Young people such as Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg who inspired school strikes worldwide against global warming have captured the public’s imagination in recent months. In Ireland, young people took part in the Extinction Rebellion protest in Dublin on Good Friday and school children feature regularly on news reports for their efforts to make society more environmentally aware.

“As the problems of climate change will steadily grow over the coming century they are likely to be more serious for our children, and even more serious for our grandchildren, than they are for us. Thus it is really important to listen to the views of the younger generation who will be most affected,” says FitzGerald.

“Unfortunately, younger people are less likely to vote than the grey electorate, so their voice is muted in the political system in the developed world. For this reason it is very important that they are both encouraged to make their voice heard and that they actually do so by participating actively in political life,” he said. “Protests can play an important role in highlighting issues but real change needs the engagement of the political process. It is right that children be educated about the science of climate change and also about the civic society in which they are growing up. However, carrying political campaigns into schools is not appropriate.”

An independent statutory body established under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, the Climate Change Advisory Council’s role is to review national climate policy and advise government on how Ireland can move to a low carbon, climate resilient economy and society by 2050.

Its latest annual review, published last July, stated that Ireland is not on track to meet its 2020 or 2030 targets, or to decarbonise its economy by 2050.

“Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions increased again in 2016, with the projections to 2035 showing that we are completely off course in addressing the challenge of climate change,” FitzGerald said at the launch of the review

Frustrated that there has been very little development of climate change policy since the council started,
FitzGerald sees the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action report published at the end of March as a significant step forward.

“The fact that five parties agreed on a carbon tax gives reasonable assurance that this key measure will be implemented in this Dáil and the next,” he says. “The balanced summary on agriculture was also helpful, emphasising land use issues and diversification. The proposal on a carbon-budget approach to managing our future emissions sounds sensible.”

The report calls for new legislation which will set ambitious climate and renewable electricity targets, and which will require five-year carbon budgets to be devised.

In reaction to this, FitzGerald says: “I don’t think there is time for this Dáil to legislate and with any new Dáil it can take a year before it is fully up and running with new legislation. Thus I think the issues that require legislative change will be for a future Climate Change Action Council – our remit runs out at the beginning of 2021.”

An adjunct professor in Economics at Trinity College Dublin and former research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute, FitzGerald is currently also a member of the Commission of the Central Bank of Ireland.

“One of the things I’ve learned after 40 years is that as an economist your research influences outcomes once in every three or four times. One of my disappointments has been that I have published about 20 papers since 1991 on the need for a carbon tax if we want to take climate change seriously. I have been like a broken record on how important it is to get the price of carbon tax right,” he says.

Transformation in Action

Chamber Partner profile

by Karen Ferris, Ervia

Ireland’s second largest semi-State body, Ervia is focussed on safeguarding and upgrading key national infrastructure to meet the challenges of a growing population and support Ireland’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

Responsible for operating the nation’s vital water and gas networks through its regulated businesses Irish Water and Gas Networks Ireland, it also provides dark fibre broadband infrastructure through Aurora Telecom.

Ervia is overseeing one of the most significant programmes of capital delivery in the State as it continues to invest significantly in a number of large-scale infrastructure projects across the country.

By 2021, Ervia is predicted to represent about 20% of all construction activity in the State. Based on a recent report compiled by EY-DKM, the company spent €1.45bn in the Irish economy, supported 26,000 jobs and added €2bn to Ireland’s GDP in 2017 alone.

The scale of Ervia is clear when you consider that Irish Water provides water and wastewater treatment to over 1.5 million households and 200,000 businesses daily, with demand expected
to increase to a further 555,000 households between now and 2040. Gas Networks Ireland equally supplies around 700,000 customers with natural gas and is also an important component of our electricity system.

Gas-fired power stations provide a secure and flexible low-carbon back-up to the high levels of renewable energy integrated on the National Grid. This has included keeping the system going during a 10-day period in June 2018 when wind produced less than 5% of electricity demand.

The gas network also has tremendous potential to play a pivotal and game-changing role in transforming Ireland to a low-carbon economy by 2050. Ervia is investing in a series of grid injection points to increase the level of renewable gas in the network with a target of 20% by 2030.

Momentum in delivery

The positive impact of Irish Water’s investment in water and wastewater systems is already being felt by communities right across the country. Over €800m was spent in 2018 on new and upgraded water infrastructure to support economic growth and development through a number of critical projects to protect health and quality of life and directly improve the environment.

This was highlighted by the completion of a new link pipeline in Co Wicklow earlier this year, on time and on budget, which was part of a €200m investment in the Vartry Water Supply Scheme Project. The supply area stretches through North Wicklow to Dublin, and serves more than 200,000 people. The tunnel was at critical risk of collapse since the mid- 1990s. The investment removes this risk and provides a safer, more secure water supply to the people of Wicklow and Dublin.

Other key projects included the commencement of works on an €80m upgrade to the Ringsend plant and the rehabilitation of 135km of water pipes and the repair of over 5,700 leaks as part of a €500m spend on Irish Water’s ‘Leakage Reduction Programme’.

While there are significant challenges ahead, it’s important to reflect on the progress achieved and the momentum in delivery, particularly with critical projects ahead including the Greater Dublin Drainage scheme and the Water Supply Project.

Transforming our energy landscape

Looking ahead, Ervia is actively progressing a number of ambitious, innovative solutions to facilitate the significant transformation required to our energy network. Ervia has a key role to play in decarbonising Ireland, in particular the electricity, domestic heating and transport sectors. Imperative to achieving these CO2 reductions for Ireland are solutions such as carbon-free biomethane for heat and transport, compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles and hydrogen.

Ervia is committed to supporting geo-engineering projects that can significantly reduce Ireland’s carbon emissions including assessing the potential for large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) at the near-depleted Kinsale gas field off the coast of Cork. Ervia has highlighted the potential for the gas network to reduce Ireland’s emissions by at least 15 million tonnes of CO2 per annum by 2050 as part of its submission to Ireland’s Draft National Energy & Climate Plan (NECP) 2021-2030.

In terms of security of supply in 2018, Gas Networks Ireland successfully completed commissioning the Cluden to Brighouse Bay pipeline in Scotland, resulting in full twinning of our two gas interconnectors between Ireland and the UK. This is crucial for Ireland in reinforcing security of energy supply for the island and supporting decarbonisation. It involved constructing a new 50km high pressure gas pipeline, which feeds two subsea pipelines between Ireland and the UK.

Project Ireland 2040

A key partner to Government in the rollout of Project Ireland 2040 and the transition to a low-carbon economy, Ervia is making significant progress in its investment plans for critical infrastructure to support Ireland’s ongoing economic development.

As well as being committed to the transformation necessary to ensure safe and reliable water infrastructure supporting development as the population grows, it is investing in its national dark fibre network to establish a return path between Cork and Dublin. In addition, it is actively supporting a combination of ambitious actions across a range of sectors to enable Ireland to significantly reduce its emissions targets and meet its climate targets.

Our national gas and water networks support the social and economic development of Ireland and are playing strategic roles in the transition of Ireland to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and sustainable economy by 2050.

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