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Government must act to stop public bodies undermining Irish and international climate targets

7 Sep 2020

For Immediate Release

07 September 2020:12.30pm

The ESB, Gas Networks Ireland and their regulator could lock Ireland into fossil fuel use for decades.

Research published today [1] has found that the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), Gas Networks Ireland (GNI) and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) are undermining Irish and international climate targets. The ESB, GNI and CRU all address decarbonisation in their strategies or mission statements in the form of “low-carbon” commitments. However this new research demonstrates that their respective statutory authorisations (i.e. mandates) do not specify compliance with national and international climate law, are not fully aligned with Paris Agreement obligations and do not properly address principles of climate justice or sustainable development.

The mandates of ESB and GNI allow for continued and increasing investment in fossil gas infrastructure. Their current investment plans seek to expand fossil fuel infrastructure and continue to subsidise fossil gas investment and usage. These plans are likely to ‘lock-in’ carbon intensive high emissions and undermine investment in energy conservation and renewable generation.

Meaghan Carmody, Gas Campaign Lead at Friends of the Earth said:

"Public bodies should be acting in the best interests of the Irish people - not locking us into a future of ever-worsening climate impacts."

"The era of fossil gas is drawing to a close - fossil fuel investments are facing increasing risks as carbon budgets are further restricted. Ploughing money into these investments is not only fuelling the climate crisis - it’s also exposing public bodies to the risk of stranded assets at ultimate cost to taxpayers.”

“Instead of gambling precious public funds on risky fossil fuels we should be spending them on clean, secure and climate-safe energy systems that make our future brighter.”

Recent projections released from Eirgrid [2] show Ireland’s demand for energy is likely to grow by between 19 - 50%, largely driven by plans to build more energy guzzling data centres. The analysis shows that data centres and large energy users could account for approximately 27 per cent of all electricity demand in Ireland by 2028. The ESB plans to build more fossil gas power stations to meet this demand, in conflict with climate obligations.

Friends of the Earth and other climate groups are calling on the Government to revise the mandates of Ireland’s public bodies to ensure reliable, secure and climate-safe energy generation and distribution. The public bodies currently tasked with managing our energy system are offering no promises to reduce carbon emissions. Reducing carbon emissions from the energy sector can only happen by cutting out fossil fuels.

The 2015 Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act must be amended as part of the planned publication of a new Climate Amendment Bill within the first 100 days of the new Government coming into office. Public bodies should be required not merely to have regard to 2050 and interim targets, but to perform their functions in a manner consistent with such targets and associated carbon budgets.

Commenting, Sadhbh O’Neill, Policy Coordinator with Stop Climate Chaos, said:

"The new Climate Law must include a provision to reform the mandates of public bodies by 5th October at the latest when the Government’s first 100 days in office will have passed."

"It is ludicrous that, in 2020, public bodies are still able to undermine the country’s climate action efforts. A Climate Action Mandate for public bodies was promised in the 2019 Climate Action Plan - this must now be created with requirements and timelines to be in place by the end of 2020."

"Public bodies must also be mandated to produce climate stress tests, set out human rights and environmental due diligence procedures and report on environmental and social impacts."
State and semi-state companies should adopt a zero carbon investment strategy and align their mandates with the Paris Agreement:

  1. GNI should no longer be mandated to promote gas usage and network extensions.
  2. The ESB should have to reflect obligation(s) in accordance with Ireland’s climate obligations.
  3. The CRU’s mandate should be revised in order to give greater emphasis to decarbonisation objectives.

Countries providing international leadership on these issues, such as Scotland [3] , New Zealand [4],Bolivia [5] and Spain [6], are enshrining the principles of just transition into legislation, are planning for an orderly wind down of fossil fuel infrastructure, and are planning to decarbonise their energy systems by ensuring investments and subsidies no longer prop up fossil fuel industries.

ENDS

Notes

1.The full report is available here. The executive summary is available at http://bit.ly/MandatesExec

2.The Irish Times https://www.irishtimes.com/advertising-feature/eirgrid-group-report-finds-electricity-demand-continuing-to-grow-1.4332394

3.For Scotland’s work in this area see http://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2019/15/enacted/data.pdf

4.See New Zealand Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019, Subpart 5, 5ZN

5.Summary noted in the LSE and Grantham Research Institute Database of Climate Changes Laws https://climate-laws.org/

6.See https://www.climatechangenews.com/2020/05/18/spain-unveils-climate-law-cut-emissions-net-zero-2050/

 

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