First Annual Report Card 2021: Is the Government keeping its promises on climate and the environment?
Posted by Deirdre Duff on September 13, 2021 at 08:25 AM
Friends of the Earth commissioned an independent expert assessment of the Government’s delivery of the Programme for Government (PfG) commitments on climate and the environment.
A PDF outlining the results of this assessment, with associated infographics, can be download by clicking here.
The assessment gave the Government marks out of 10 in each of the following nine categories: Climate, Nature & Biodiversity, Transport, Waste, Air Quality, Water & Marine, Buildings, Energy, and Agriculture & Forestry. The infographic below outlines how the Government did in each of these categories, over the last year.
What was the Government's overall grade in Report Card 2021?
The Government’s performance on environment and climate achieved a C+ grade overall. Significant progress has been achieved on their environmental and climate commitments in a number of areas within their first year. However, the pace of progress is currently too slow to achieve their own targets or sufficiently address Ireland’s climate and biodiversity emergency.
Summary of analysis
Category 1: Climate: Marks: 7.5/10
There has been significant progress to improve Ireland’s response to the climate crisis through climate governance and new legislation. While greenhouse gas emissions have risen in 2021 compared to 2020, these improvements in governance are expected to bend the emissions curve within the next five years. Increased funding will help turn this new legislation into action. However, some level of climate change is now locked in due to past emissions, so the lack of Government attention to climate adaptation is a serious concern. Nonetheless, progress on climate governance and funding were given more weight in this evaluation than adaptation due to their prominent roles in the PfG and within civil society. Implementation of provisions regarding just transition is another area that requires greater focus.
Category 1A: Climate Governance: Marks 8/10
Although enactment of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Amendment Act 2021 took over a year to deliver, the law was a key success of the Government. It delivered on the Government’s commitments to make provision for the enactment of ambitious 2030 and 2050 emissions targets and 5-year carbon budgets, in addition to enhancing the expertise and diversity of the Climate Change Advisory Council. Furthermore, the Irish Government demonstrated leadership and ambition in its negotiating position on the EU Green Deal.
Category 1B: Climate Emissions: Marks 6/10
While emissions targets are included in the new climate legislation, preliminary data for 2021 suggest greenhouse gas emissions will increase relative to 2020. This is not necessarily the fault of the current Government as 2020 emissions were low due to the pandemic and other factors. Nonetheless, there is a lack of progress on Government department strategies and the climate mandates of its agencies. The contrast between the urgency of commitments on emissions reductions in PfG and the current pace of policy changes to date is too slow to deliver on the Government's 2030 commitment for emissions reduction.
Category 1C: Climate Adaption: Marks 4.5/10
The PfG has very few commitments regarding Ireland’s adaptation to climate change and little attention has been paid to climate adaptation so far, with no apparent progress in policy development and no sign of the multi-annual commitment to flood relief investment. This is a risk in the face of our rapidly changing climate and impacts arising from climate change.
Category 1D: Climate Funding: Marks: 8/10
Good progress has been made on funding efficiency improvements for the built environment, such as the National Recovery Fund. However, the lack of a National Retrofitting Plan and poor progress developing retrofit pay-back mechanisms are weaknesses. COVID delays further weakened development of pilot projects, such as those in the midlands. In 2020, 3,964 homes were retrofitted to a ‘B2’ equivalent BER or higher (Government data), which is well off the scale needed to meet the Government’s 500,000 overall target.
Category 2: Nature and Biodiversity: Marks: 4.5/10
There were positive developments regarding the budget and staffing of the National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) announced in Budget 2021 along with funding for Bord na Mona’s Bog Rehabilitation scheme. However, NPWS funding is still far short of what is needed to address the biodiversity crisis. Commitments to review the NPWS mandate and form a Citizens’ Assembly on biodiversity are progressing too slowly, and the Government has thus far failed to address their commitments on hedgerows, invasive species and implementation of the National Biodiversity Action Plan. The new National Pollinator Plan has been resourced by NPWS and DAFM-funded project officers to help with implementation, which is a strength.
Category 3: Transport: Marks: 6.5/10
There have been a number of positive actions in transport that will take time to translate in emissions reduction but do pave the way, including significant funding in Budget 2021: funding for staff in local authorities, changes in the Bike to Work scheme, and some investment in safe cycling school routes and greenways. A number of studies and reports have been commissioned and developed by NTMA to inform policy, and several policy announcements are pending. However, the urgency for local authorities to examine the adequacy of their network has faded, and there is a lack of progress on public transport commitments such as fare structures, Sustainable Rural Mobility, Local Link and development of an integrated national strategy for greenways. Overall policy development on private and light transport is good but the follow-through in new urban buses remains to be seen. Reasonable progress has been made in the areas of e-scooter legislation, NOx motor tax, and grant changes for electric vehicles, including significant investment in electric taxis. However, commitments to improve EV charging infrastructure, ban the sale of fossil fuel vehicles in 2030, and address aviation emissions have not progressed sufficiently.
Category 4: Waste: Marks: 8.5/10
Substantial progress has been made in the Government’s commitments on waste, especially in the development of the Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy and of policies to address single use plastic. In addition, Ireland has engaged constructively on EU policy in this area.
Category 5: Air Quality: Marks: 7/10
While the national clean air strategy is long overdue, there have been very positive developments in solid fuel regulations and extension of the smoky coal ban along with a planned expansion of the air quality monitoring network.
Category 6: Water and Marine: Marks: 5.5/10
Progress in water and marine commitments has been mixed with some small funding increases and consultations, but nothing has been done yet that will clearly improve water quality or marine ecosystems.
Category 6A: Drinking and Waste Water: Marks: 5/10
There is limited evidence of progress on water-related commitments, and water quality continues to decline (EPA, 2020). Funding for well upgrades and group water schemes was maintained, and there was a modest additional budget allocation to Irish Water of €44m in the 2020 budget. However, in the context of the infrastructural upgrades required, this was not significant. While a bill on water abstraction has reached pre-legislative scrutiny stage, the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers advised that the heads of the Bill were not in compliance with the Water Framework Directive.
Category: 6B: Marine: Marks: 6/10:
A number of consultations in the marine area have been launched, but the pace of policy development in this area is slow. Funding has been allocated for research and development on blue carbon and some groundwork has been laid on Marine Protected Areas and marine plastic waste. Significant positive efforts were made by the Government in pursuing large vessel exclusion in the High Court.
Category 7: Buildings: Marks: 6.5/10
There has been some progress on the funding to improve efficiency for the built environment, such as the National Recovery Fund. However, the lack of a National Retrofitting Plan and poor progress developing retrofit pay-back mechanisms are weaknesses. COVID delays further weakened development of pilot projects, such as those in the midlands. In 2020, 3,964 homes were retrofitted to a ‘B2’ equivalent BER or higher (government data), which was far from the number needed each year to meet the Government’s target of 500,000 homes by 2030.
Category 8: Energy: Marks: 6/10
Generally, the Irish energy sector has been a leader on emissions reductions and climate action, yet there has been mixed progress on energy commitments in the Programme for Government. Some important positive commitments have been progressed, such as the ban on new oil and gas licences and a policy position on the importation of fracked gas. However, some time-limited commitments that could have reasonably been expected in year one have not been delivered, such as the whole-of-government renewable energy plan. The pace of policy development has been particularly slow for key strategies in the power sector (i.e. onshore and offshore wind, RESS 2). The slow pace of new energy policy is a particular weakness that needs addressing to meet climate targets, along with follow-through of other elements such as the solar energy strategy. Planning continues to be an obstacle for community solar projects, especially schools. The rise in data centres is also an emerging risk and a potential threat to achieving energy commitments within the PfG.
Category 9: Agriculture and Forestry: Marks: 4/10
Progress on the sustainability of Irish agriculture and forestry has been disappointing. While Food Vision 2030 and AgClimatise were published, they are incompatible with climate goals and emission reduction targets. The development of a national liming programme, knowledge transfer via Teagasc’s Signpost Programme and peatland rewetting, along with increased support of organic farming and horticulture, are all welcome. However, the current agri-food strategy perpetuates an agricultural model which is directly responsible for escalating nutrient pollution and locks Ireland into damaging water quality for the remainder of this Government. The proposal for a national land use review has not progressed, and many of the commitments on forestry have not been actioned despite being critical to addressing climate targets. Thus far, the Government has failed to effectively address the stalled forestry appeals process and other roadblocks to afforestation.
In July 2021, Friends of the Earth Ireland commissioned three academic experts to independently assess the current Irish Government’s performance on environment and climate relative to commitments within the 2020 Programme for Government (PfG).
The PfG contains nearly 300 environmental or climate-related commitments. Friends of the Earth divided these commitments into nine categories: Climate, Nature & Biodiversity, Waste, Water & Marine, Air Quality, Transport, Buildings, Energy, and Agriculture & Forestry. In consultation with a range of organisations, we reported on the progress, process and outcomes of these PfG commitments in a compendium here.
In the second phase of this assessment, three academic experts used the information in this compendium along with their own knowledge of Government policy to score each of the nine categories. Their assessment does not evaluate whether commitments contained in the PfG were adequate, but rather how well the Government is keeping its word on their own climate and environmental promises. The current Government has only served for one year while their PfG was developed with a 3-5 year timescale, so this assessment evaluates performance based on the level of policy development and implementation that could reasonably be expected within one year. It is anticipated this exercise will be conducted annually to track progress over the entire duration of the PfG.
The experts commissioned for Report Card 2021 were:
- Dr Cara Augustenborg, Environmental Policy Fellow at University College Dublin
- Dr Diarmuid Torney, Associate Professor, School of Law and Government, Dublin City University
- Dr Paul Deane, Senior Research Fellow, MaREI, the SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine, University College Cork.
The compendium of information used for the assessment was compiled by Sean Mc Loughlin.
Comments by the experts
Dr Cara Augustenborg, Environmental Policy Fellow at University College Dublin, said:
"While many of the Government's commitments are not yet visible in our everyday lives, environmental issues have clearly moved up the political agenda in the past year. Significant groundwork has been achieved to turn the Government's environment and climate commitments into action over the next 3-4 years, particularly in the areas of climate and waste. However, serious concerns remain regarding the Government's progress in addressing the biodiversity crisis, declining water quality, and the role of agriculture and forestry in these areas."
Dr Paul Deane Senior Research Fellow, MaREI, the SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine, University College Cork, said:
“I found this exercise very insightful. The process of reflecting on all environmental commitments from the Programme for Government in one go gives a unique perspective on the state of policy as opposed to piecemeal individual assessments. I found I changed my mind on a number of areas; I was impressed by the breadth of policy and successes in key areas such as the climate action bill, but disappointed with the pace of development that often seemed at odds with the urgency described in the Plan for Government.”
Dr. Diarmuid Torney, Associate Professor, School of Law and Government, Dublin City University said:
“Grading is a core part of the job of an academic and I have spent countless hours grading students’ work, but this was my first time grading the work of a government. I was reassured to find that there was a high degree of agreement among the three academic experts involved in the process, and that there were only marginal differences in our individual scoring that we completed in advance of meeting to finalise our collective scores. Overall we found there was some good progress in some areas but patchy progress elsewhere, particularly in terms of detailed sectoral implementation of climate and environmental commitments”.
Comments by Friends of the Earth
Reacting to the independent assessment, Oisín Coghlan, Director of Friends of the Earth, who commissioned the study, said:
“I would sum up this assessment as ‘Some done, a lot more to do’. The Government has laid the foundations for better climate and environmental performance in a number of areas but the pace of change is still too slow.
For me the report highlights how essential it is that people and communities stay engaged in campaigning. Civil society pressure helped to secure the progressive commitments in the Programme for Government and only sustained engagement with our elected representatives will ensure they are delivered.
“As the Government moves from the planning to the implementation phase of climate action there will be ever more desperate calls from vocal lobby groups for special treatment, delays or exemptions. Only people power can counterbalance that and ensure Ireland does its fair share of climate action, that every sector pulls its weight and that the affected workers and communities get the support they need for the transition to a safer, cleaner, healthier future.”