Irish sustainable energy challenge assessed

Government sets out options for reducing energy-related carbon dioxide emissions

"Radical steps" must be taken now to achieve more sustainable energy use if Ireland is to have any hope of meeting its greenhouse gas limitation targets under the UN Kyoto protocol, the government has warned.

A green paper published this week by the enterprise ministry stresses that Irish greenhouse gas emissions are expected to be 13% above their 1990 levels - the country's target for 2008-12 - by next year. On a business as usual scenario, they will be over 25% above 1990 levels by 2010. Within this overall increase, energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are projected to increase by 63% over the same period, while the business-as-usual increase in transport CO2 emissions is projected at a massive 157%.

Designed to complement a forthcoming general greenhouse gas abatement strategy to be released soon by the environment ministry, the green paper asserts that Ireland must tackle growing energy-related CO2 emissions by decoupling CO2 from energy growth and decoupling energy from economic growth. "Exceptionally rapid" economic growth has led to a 58% increase in energy consumption since 1980, it notes, with a further 37% increase projected by 2010.

Correcting the "non-pricing of environmental damage" from energy consumption through the use of economic instruments is "a major objective of Irish energy policy," the green paper states. It goes on to recommend research into "options for a planned and steady rise in energy taxes".

For consumers, the government pledges to "negotiate changes...between now and 2008" aimed at introducing economic instruments such as energy taxes and levies on energy supported by information campaigns. Energy efficiency standards for buildings are to be raised and improved insulation encouraged.

Economic instruments are also foreseen to restrain industrial CO2 emissions, though in this case the green paper suggests that tradable permits might be introduced in an "appropriate mix" with energy taxes, which could be "supported by the use of voluntary agreements for energy intensive industries". The paper suggests introducing an obligation on companies to include energy efficiency information in annual reports.

Turning to transport, the paper warns that new technologies able to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions may not achieve significant market penetration until after the first Kyoto commitment period of 2008-12. It suggests road pricing as an interim policy option, along with vehicle efficiency standards and promotion of cheap public transport.

Other policies put forward include strengthening the existing Irish Energy Centre as an advisory body on sustainable energy, removing barriers to greater use of combined heat and power, or cogeneration, and increasing the use of renewable energy by setting a new target for 500 MW of renewables capacity to be installed during the period 2000-5.

Follow Up:
Irish enterprise ministry, tel: +353 1 670 7444. References: Green paper on sustainable energy.

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