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Society must accelerate its response to climate change

Ireland leads the way in adopting clean energy

The country is moving quickly to meet ambitious net-zero targets, writes Huawei’s David Trevitt

Ireland’s Climate Action Plan 2023 reiterates the ambitious but essential goal of halving Ireland’s carbon emissions by 2030 and achieving Net Zero by 2050 (Net Zero refers to the process of reducing carbon emissions such that the quantity of greenhouse gases removed from the atmosphere each year equals the quantity produced).  

Power generation accounts for about 55% of the world’s CO2 emissions. For that reason, achieving Net Zero requires a global transition to renewable, clean power. Ireland is doing its part by committing to a 75% reduction in emissions from power generation by 2030. 

Globally, renewables provided 28.7% of energy generation in 2021 (mainly solar, wind, hydroelectric power, biofuels, and geothermal). Even so, that same year, renewables accounted for just 13% of Ireland’s total energy requirements (electricity, transportation, and heat). 

But by 2030, the Irish government plans to accelerate the delivery of renewable energy, including both on- and off-shore wind power as well as solar. Earlier this year, it abolished a value-added tax on the supply and installation of solar panels in homes, shaving roughly €1,000 off the cost of installing solar panels in the average home.  

The government also plans to install solar panels in all schools. This will have the three-fold benefit of saving money on school budgets, reducing Ireland’s carbon emissions, and educating the country’s young people on how to address the climate crisis. And it’s great to see Ireland anticipating the EU’s mandatory requirement for the installation of solar panels on all public buildings larger than 250 square meters by 2027. 

“On a highway to hell” 
But to achieve Net Zero by 2050, governments will need to work with enterprises and consumers. By using energy to make things, heat buildings, and transport people and goods, companies generate about 60% of global emissions, so their response to the climate crisis is critically important. 

Many large enterprises have publicly committed to reducing their carbon emissions and those of their customers and suppliers. In Ireland, Eir, a telecom operator, has incorporated environmental and sustainability measures into its business. Eir converted its entire vehicle fleet to fully electric or hybrid and is turning 180 old phone boxes into rapid charging points.

The 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change set a long-term goal of limiting global temperature increase this century to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels. Unfortunately, only about 16% of leading companies are on track to meet this goal. According to a “climate action index” published last year by MSCI, an international investment research firm, listed companies are likely to instead warm the planet by 2.9oC. By one estimate, such a large spike in global temperatures could cause sea levels to rise so dramatically that it could threaten 12% of the earth’s human population.

This prediction of 2.9oC global warming is not an outlier. There’s an emerging scientific consensus that, unless we rapidly cut CO2 emissions, we’re on track to reach 2.8-2.9oC during this century. Between the 1970s and the 2010s, weather-related disasters have become five times more frequent, and it has been estimated that between 3.3 billion and 3.6 billion people live in settings vulnerable to climate change.  

In the words of UN Secretary General António Guterres, “We are on a highway to climate hell, with our foot still on the accelerator.”

Carbon reporting is no longer optional 
Many countries have begun requiring organizations to disclose their annual carbon emissions using a standardized reporting methodology. For instance, the EU has proposed a Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) requiring all large EU companies to report their carbon emissions by 2026. This requirement will extend to large non-EU companies operating in the EU in 2028.

The move from fossil fuels to clean energy will not happen overnight. Collaboration between the public and private sectors will be necessary if the transition is to happen successfully. 

For example, in 2020, the Irish government launched the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) to support the development of solar and other forms of renewable energy. Two years later, it committed additional resources for solar and off-shore wind generation. This year, one of the first RESS-funded solar farms was connected to the national grid. The Irish arm of French energy giant EDF began operating its first three solar farms in Wexford and Kilkenny with a combined capacity of 17 megawatts (MW), capable of powering 6,600 homes. 

At the EU level, the European Parliament passed the Renewable Energy Directive (REDII), authorizing the investment of 201 billion euros in clean and renewable energy systems by 2027. The EU’s total installed photovoltaic solar capacity will reach 320 GW by 2025, twice that of 2021. Installing an additional 15 GW of rooftop solar PV panels could save an estimated 2.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas each year.

Every part of society must accelerate its response to climate change. The Irish government and the EU’s response to the climate crisis brings hope, as does the response of some leading companies that are helping to reduce carbon emissions by investing in renewable power, electric vehicles, and the circular economy. As consumers and businesses, we should support those companies that are helping deliver a better future for us all.

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