Communications Energy and Natural Resources, Dáil Issues

Obligations regarding reduction of emissions is not to the forefront of government policy.  Ireland has little chance of reaching its 2020 target and there is no real commitment apart from lip service to address it.

To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the implications for the State’s emissions targets and broader obligations in regard to addressing climate change of potential expansion of energy intensive industry here, particularly if same is incentivised by government, as for example in plans to expand the number of data centres located here. – Clare Daly.

REPLY

The 2014 National Policy Position on Climate Change and 2015 Energy White Paper include ambitious long-term commitments, respectively, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80% compared to 1990 levels and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the sector by between 80% and 95%  by 2050. As energy use and greenhouse gas emissions are inextricably linked, meeting this objective will require a radical transformation of Ireland’s energy system from being predominantly fossil-fuel based to a clean, low carbon energy system.

The level of interest from energy intensive industry, such as data centres, in Ireland has increased in recent years and has the potential to drive growth in electricity demand.  Significantly, one of key reasons cited for this increased level of interest is Ireland’s positive record in the area of renewable energy deployment. Ireland is also seen as having a number of additional advantages as a location for data centre development including: climate; fibre internet connectivity; energy supply; and its business environment.  In recognition of the economic benefits that data centres can bring to Ireland, the Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, in conjunction with other relevant Ministers, is leading inter-Departmental work to develop a national policy statement on the strategic importance of data centres as part of Ireland’s Enterprise Strategy, with a first draft expected later this year.

This strategic policy approach is expected to include proposed amendments to the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act, 2006, and to take account of wider energy and climate policy perspectives. I am firmly of the view that the development of data centres must be in areas where there is strong grid and energy supply. The policy statement must set out a clear and balanced approach to the development of the sector, one that will take account of a variety of elements including regional development, costs and benefits, and the impact on Ireland’s electricity grid.

As Minister with responsibility for both climate action and energy policy, I am mindful that an increase in energy demand may have implications for both our climate and renewable energy targets. In light of economic growth indicators and energy demand growth forecasts, which include projected data centre growth, my Department is working to support and encourage the development of additional levels of renewable generation technologies via a new Renewable Energy Support Scheme which is currently under development. My Department received 1,250 submissions to the final consultation on the RESS which closed in early November. I am keen that this new Scheme encourages the diversification of renewable energy technologies in Ireland, while mindful of the need to minimise the costs on the consumers through the Public Service Obligation.

I am committed to further exploring opportunities for supporting micro generation, including at data centre sites, as I believe that micro-generation could have an important role in Ireland’s transition to a carbon free economy, in assisting Ireland meet its renewable electricity targets, increasing social acceptance of, and helping to offset, any potential growth in emissions from a future increase in energy demand.

To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if his attention has been drawn to the publication of a warning letter by a group (details supplied) highlighting the lack of adequate steps being taken by governments to safeguard the biosphere and prevent catastrophic climate change; his plans to review the national mitigation plan in order to address these concerns; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Clare Daly.

REPLY

I understand that the research studies referred to are ‘Natural Gas and Climate Change,’ published by Manchester, Uppsala and Teesside Universities and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research; and a report by the Global Carbon Project with input from the Norwegian Centre for International Climate Research (CICERO), which was published at an event organised to coincide with the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties COP23 in Bonn on 13 November 2017. I am also aware of the letter published by the Union of Concerned Scientists referred to in the Question from Deputy Daly. The common theme in all of the referenced documents is that more urgent action needs to be undertaken by the international community to ensure the goals set out in the Paris Agreement can be met.

The Government’s commitment to reduce Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions over the longer term is set out in the 2014 National Policy Position on Climate Change and in the 2015 Energy White Paper. These include ambitious long-term commitments, respectively, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80% compared to 1990 levels and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector by between 80% and 95% by 2050. As energy use and greenhouse gas emissions are inextricably linked, meeting this objective will require a radical transformation of Ireland’s energy system from being predominately fossil fuel based to a clean, low carbon energy system.

I published Ireland’s first statutory National Mitigation Plan in July. This represents an important initial step to enable the transition in Ireland to a low carbon economy and society. The Plan identifies over 70 mitigation measures and 106 related actions to address the immediate challenge to 2020 and to prepare for the EU targets that Ireland will take on for 2030. Although the Plan does not provide a complete roadmap to achieve the national transition objective to 2050, it begins the process of development of medium- to long-term options to ensure that we are well positioned to take the necessary actions in the next and future decades.

The National Mitigation Plan will be subject to formal review at least once every five years and will also become a living document, accessible on my Department’s website, which will be updated on an on-going basis as analysis, dialogue and technological innovation generate further cost-effective sectoral mitigation options.  This continuous review process reflects the broad and evolving nature of the sectoral challenges outlined in the Plan, coupled with the continued development and deployment of emerging low carbon and cost effective technologies across different sectors of the economy. As this first Plan moves into the implementation phase, this process will enable it to be amended, refined and strengthened over time and assist in keeping Ireland on target to meet our obligations.

The Paris Agreement, which entered into force in November 2016, aims to hold the global average temperature increase to well below 2 °C, and to pursue efforts to limit this to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. The Agreement is designed to meet this objective through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted by all parties to the agreement. Ireland will contribute to the Paris Agreement via the Nationally Determined Contribution submitted by the EU on behalf of its Member States, and which commits the EU to a 40% reduction in EU-wide emissions by 2030 compared to 1990. This is based on EU-wide reductions in the emissions trading system (ETS) sector of 43%, and in the non-ETS sector of 30%. Ireland’s contribution to this overall EU effort for the non-ETS sector will be set out in the EU Effort Sharing Regulation, which is currently under negotiation.