Calling the tune on climate change

Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly on how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change is failing in its duty to represent all viable technologies, including nuclear energy, as it is only allowing argument supporting renewable technologies.

As a result, the process is not only flawed but it is doomed to fail as there is no credible path to success in tackling climate change – let alone lead in it – that deliberately excludes proven clean technologies.

The Irish government declared Climate Change to be one of the most important long-term challenges facing us and effective action is needed now that we know that climate damage is happening quicker than we thought.

Ireland is by far the worst EU performer at meeting our climate targets, as can be seen from this official EU graph showing we are projected to exceed our 2020 emissions targets by 12%.

Ireland is “Paddy last” of the EU 28 in hitting emissions targets

After over a decade of our best efforts, Irish emissions are again rising and are projected to rise further even if we fully implement all our current policies. The graph below (using EPA data) shows the non-ETS emissions (in blue) starting to exceed our 2020 emissions target. [Note: ETS emissions (in red), from large users such as power stations and cement works, are not part of our EU targets as they are regulated separately under the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).]

EPA graph showing our target emissions (Blue) exceeding our 2020 target line (Green)

During this period, we have had Ministers for the Environment from a variety of political parties (Fianna Fáil, Greens, Fine Gael, Labour and the Independent Alliance) tackle the issue earnestly – and with endeavour – but with limited success.

That is not to belittle the many successful initiatives that most people are aware of. Ireland now has the highest fraction of electricity from wind turbines per person of any European nation. We changed our motor tax scheme and now drive much more efficient vehicles. Our waste collection is streamed and there is a good degree of recycling carried out by most people in the State.

Many other, less well-known, initiatives are also underway. There is a state-of-the-art marine power testing facility on our west coast. Our electricity grid operator, EirGrid, has made huge changes to how our system operates to allow intermittent wind power reach global record-breaking levels. Building regulations are moving slowly towards achieving near-zero emissions standards. And there are a number of energy efficiency schemes, some grant-aided, operating effectively throughout the country.

Yet, our emissions still rise as our growth in energy use outpaces the efficiency gains being made.

Although Ireland will certainly miss our 2020 EU climate-related targets, and we are likely to miss those for 2030, we have set ourselves very ambitious targets for 2050. These aim at reducing emissions by at least 80% – and preferably by 95% – below 1990 levels by 2050. This will require fundamental societal change at every level in Irish society if the targets are to stand any chance of being met.

To engage with society, Government tasked the Citizens’ Assembly with coming up with recommendations on how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change. The Assembly, in turn, established an expert advisory group to help them prepare information and advice to help them in this task. The Terms of Reference for this advisory group include:

  • In the case of issues where expert views are contested (i.e. where experts can make credible arguments that directly conflict with one another,) the Expert Advisory Group will ensure that both sides of the argument will be represented.

Nuclear power is clearly one issue where expert views are contested and these different views are outlined in the Energy Green Paper from 2014, the last Government paper to address nuclear power’s potential for Ireland. [The subsequent Energy White Paper essentially ignored the issue, as in Clause 166: “Nuclear power generation in Ireland is currently prohibited by legislation“].

The Green Paper argued against nuclear power on the basis of cost and size – arguments that are strongly contested. For example, EirGrid published a study that showed that there was no means of supplying electricity in Ireland cheaper than using even a large nuclear plant. Regarding size, the Green Paper itself accepted that smaller reactors could be accommodated on the Irish grid (p 49).

The Green Paper also wanted it understood that nuclear is not a “zero carbon” technology. While there is no such thing as a ‘zero-carbon’ technology, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have assessed nuclear power as being a low-carbon energy source, as in this extract from Chapter 6 of the IPCC Assessment Report 5 (AR5):

As it is clear that there are credible arguments in favour of nuclear power, there is an onus on the advisory group to ensure that both sides of the argument are represented.

That this has not happened appears to be a significant breach of the Terms of Reference for the Advisory Group, and is a matter that should be rectified without delay. Fortunately, this is a relatively straight forward matter to rectify.

What is more significant is that even the Citizens’ Assembly advisory group do not appear to understand the extent of the challenge that is facing us in effectively tackling climate change. Worse, they appear to believe that we could lead in this area merely by reinforcing current energy policy.

Certainly, we need to engage with the Citizens to ensure that society takes all the small but important steps needed to tackle climate change, not only through the Citizens’ Assembly but through the National Dialogue to be chaired by Pat Gilroy.

But we also need to greatly expand our climate change efforts by considering all technologies that can help us in this regard. Denying the Citizens’ Assembly the opportunity to make an informed choice about the low-carbon options identified by the IPCC is wrong and is an early indication of our likely failure begin, let alone to lead in, tackling the causes of climate change.

We know who is paying the piper – but we can hardly be expected to call for a tune that we know little or nothing about!

BENE’s submission to the Citizen’s Assembly

We made a submission on 11 August 2017 to the Citizen’s Assembly who were asking for input on “How the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change”. Our submission is reproduced below. Comments are welcome, as always. Continue reading “BENE’s submission to the Citizen’s Assembly”

Why Nuclear; why now?

The 2014 Green Paper on Energy Policy questioned Ireland’s policy of ignoring the potential benefits of nuclear energy. The huge global threat posed by climate change and the threat to the national economy posed by volatile fossil fuel prices was acknowledged, while accepting the useful but limited role that renewables could play in our energy future.

But the 2015 Energy Policy has essentially kicked the can down the road – now the question may be addressed in a new National Energy Forum in mid-2016. Continue reading “Why Nuclear; why now?”

What was the Point of Carnsore?

Ireland rejected nuclear power in 1981. What was the environmental impact of that decision?

Carnsore Point, Co Wexford, was proposed as the location for Ireland’s first nuclear power plant. Many activists celebrated the decision not to pursue this option, but what were the impacts of that decision? Was this really a victory for our environment and our economy?

Continue reading “What was the Point of Carnsore?”

Ireland’s Energy: We need to debate the nuclear option honestly

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Fukushima nuclear power plant. The second-worst nuclear disaster in history killed no-one, while the tsunami that caused it killed more than 15,000 people. Photograph: Kimimasa Mayama/Reuters

There are pros and cons to nuclear energy, but the debate is often acrimonious and too often falls back to rhetoric instead of facts

The world’s traditional means of generating energy have been intensely polluting, expelling millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere with scant regard for the consequences. Ireland has been complicit in this: Moneypoint, the coal-powered station in Co Clare, releases 3.12 million tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere annually.

But as Moneypoint comes to the end of its operational life cycle, it is time to have a serious discussion about Ireland’s energy future, and nuclear power needs to be part of that discussion.

Continue reading “Ireland’s Energy: We need to debate the nuclear option honestly”

Nuclear solution still best for Ireland’s energy needs

OPINION: Fukushima frightens us all but mankind has never walked away from a technology, no matter how hard it is to master, write DAVID SOWBY and FRANK TURVEY 

EVER SINCE a human being first lit a fire, humankind has striven to harness the forces of nature in ways that yielded benefits but which also carried risks. As civilisation progressed, the benefits of any particular advance became more substantial but, by and large, so also did the risks.

But from the boiler explosions of the 19th century, through hydroelectric dam collapses, mining and oil-rig disasters, train and air crashes, Bhopal and Chernobyl, the response of humanity has never been to abandon a technology, but to derive lessons from what has happened so as to make the benefits available more safely in the future.

Thus will it be also with nuclear power in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident.

Continue reading “Nuclear solution still best for Ireland’s energy needs”

Minister calls for a nuclear debate

Ireland took an important step towards addressing its future energy needs with Eamon Ryan’s recent call for an Oireachtas committee discussion about nuclear power, writes Tom O’Flaherty.

It is becoming widely accepted that the greatest challenge facing human society over the next few decades is to arrest the onset of climate change, while there is still time to avert its more devastating effects.  A parallel challenge is to meet the world’s energy needs, and to safeguard national competitiveness, against a background of the diminishing supply and increasing cost of oil and gas.

Clearly these challenges have to be met on two fronts: by curtailing growth in energy demand, and by major development of non-fossil sources of energy. It is BENE’s belief that nuclear energy has a vital contribution to make to the latter objective.

Continue reading “Minister calls for a nuclear debate”