October 26, 2021

COP26: The need to focus on luxury emissions in Ireland

Industry analysts in Ireland have pinpointed consumption by unnecessary SUV’s, the second biggest contributor to current global emissions increases, must be viewed differently to other forms of emissions like heating our homes.

The end of October represents the beginning of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, or COP26 in Glasgow, with mounting pressure on all nations to commit and deliver on their targets. The COP is the first stage of the core mechanisms in the Paris agreement. The commitments made for national contributions in the initial 2015 deal are not adequate enough to reach today’s targets. The conference will focus on driving bigger emission cuts for everyone.

The research is clear regarding the necessity to take decisive action in order to prevent a climate catastrophe. The political landscape has transformed in recent years and climate action which was previously considered as a separate concern is now a core focus of most countries worldwide.

According to a recent UN study, the existing global pledges would result in emissions increasing by 16% over 2010 levels by 2030, and would put the world on a path towards 2.7C of global warming. Without significant efforts to reduce emissions, millions of people will inevitably experience life-changing weather events by the 2030s.

The World Health Organisations suggests that temperature increases would impact global food systems, overall stability and lead to new outbreaks of diseases.

The EU, a signatory representing Ireland recently increased its commitments to 55% emission reductions compared to 1990 levels by the decade. The conference represents the first time Ireland is involved at a COP with binding targets for emission reductions. The Government’s upcoming plan regarding carbon budgets should provide further details to reduce emissions by more than a half by the end of the decade.

Reports from the Environmental Protection Agency suggest, however, despite the impact of Covid restrictions, emissions reduced by only 3.6% in 2020, approximately half the figure required for Ireland to achieve its legally binding goal for the end of the decade.

Plans need to consider that a large majority of increasing emissions in the global south correspond to outsourced pollutants from manufacturing businesses in developed nations, resulting in higher targets for many countries. This highlights the need for additional support for decarbonisation in developing countries.

As a member state of the EU, Ireland has the capacity to manage activity in the coal industry. Studies have suggested that enabling more coal facilities to open would significantly damage the existing carbon budget. Ireland should be cautious in supporting or developing further infrastructure that is connected to the fossil fuel industry. Certain sectors such as natural gas may be a clean alternative to other fuels, but they could hinder net zero targets for 2050, as considerable investment requires returns.

There is also the consideration to understand the fragmented contributions to climate issues across various countries. Based on a report by Oxfam, the richest 1% of Ireland consist of a carbon footprint 13 times larger than the bottom half of the Irish population. Luxury emissions i.e. emissions from SUVs is the second largest contributor to rising emissions worldwide. 

Climate measures in Ireland and overseas must be capable of managing the structure of the economy, particularly agriculture in Ireland, which represents the biggest emitter by sector. Managing the climate challenge will require decisive and ambitious transitional plans. The upcoming COP26 must involve action and not just words.