Ireland’s clean, fresh air, lush green landscapes and stunning coastlines are famous throughout the world.
However, we are now facing a global crisis that means our scenic environment is under threat, and can no longer be taken for granted.
Climate change is the greatest challenge of our times and urgent action is required to prevent irreversible damage to our planet that will cause biodiversity loss, coastal flooding, increased threats to health and numerous other consequences.
Tackling climate change is one of the European Commission’s top priorities and the European Green Deal is its ambitious plan to transform Europe into the first climate-neutral continent.
European Green Deal
The European Green Deal includes key policies aimed at cutting emissions, preserving Europe’s natural environment and investing in cutting-edge research and innovation to tackle climate change.
It sets out an achievable roadmap to ensure the EU's economy becomes sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all policy areas that will result in economic growth and jobs.
The Green Deal commits Europe to becoming a climate-neutral continent by 2050 while also transforming the EU into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive circular economy that’s fair and inclusive for every individual and region.
The Green Deal is playing a major role in leading the EU out of the financial consequences from the Covid-19 pandemic by kick-starting recovery, protecting jobs and creating sustainable growth.
It is also paving the way towards more affordable, secure and sustainable energy. Russia’s military attack on Ukraine has caused energy supply problems that highlight Europe’s need to rapidly transition to clean energy sources.
The European Commission’s REPowerEU plan includes measures to make Europe independent from Russian fossil fuels as quickly as possible.
The EU is a global leader in the fight against climate change and has put in place legislation covering all sectors of the economy to cut greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the Paris Agreement.
However, many challenges have to be overcome if Europe is to achieve its Green Deal goals, and each Member State has a role to play.
Latest Green Deal proposals
EU climate law based on the Commission’s Fit for 55 legislative proposals makes reaching the EU’s 2030 climate goal of reducing EU emissions by at least 55% compared to 1990 levels a legal obligation for Member States.
The Commission’s latest proposals include the Green Deal Industrial Plan, which is designed to scale up mass production of clean technologies in the EU. The plan will provide a range of supports for the net-zero innovations and products needed to meet Europe's ambitious climate targets.
“We have a once in a generation opportunity to show the way with speed, ambition and a sense of purpose to secure the EU's industrial lead in the fast-growing net-zero technology sector. Europe is determined to lead the clean tech revolution.
Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President
New rules to ensure cleaner air and water have also been proposed by the European Commission. While air quality in Ireland is generally good, the Irish Environmental Protection Agency’s Review of 2022 reports that particulate matter from burning solid fuel and nitrogen dioxide from traffic emissions are causing poor air quality in some areas.
According to the most recent data provided by the European Environment Agency, air pollution caused around 240,000 people to die prematurely in the EU in 2020.
The Commission’s proposed revision of Ambient Air Quality Directives will see regular reviews of air quality standards to reassess them in line with latest scientific evidence.
Interim 2030 air quality standards will be set, putting the EU on a trajectory to achieve zero pollution for air by 2050 at the latest.
The revision of Air Quality Directives will also ensure that people suffering health damage from air pollution will have the right to be compensated in the case of a violation of EU air quality rules.
The Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive is being revised too so Europeans can benefit from cleaner rivers, lakes, groundwaters and seas, while wastewater treatment will be more cost-effective.
The European Commission is also proposing rules to empower consumers in Ireland and throughout the EU for the green transition.
The rules will give citizens the right to details about the durability and reparability of products while so-called ‘greenwashing’ - where a company gives misleading information on how eco-friendly its products are – will be banned under the proposals.
New rules to make almost all physical goods on the EU market more environmentally friendly, recyclable and energy efficient throughout their lifecycle have been proposed as well.
On average, each European generates almost 180 kg of packaging waste per year so there are also proposals that will give consumers reusable packaging options, get rid of unnecessary packaging and provide clear labels to support recycling.
EU Actions in Ireland
The European Commission is working with Ireland to help achieve common climate change ambitions and has been instrumental in supporting and encouraging the Irish Government to take actions, such as protecting Irish peat bog habitats.
Ireland’s raised bogs are among the world’s oldest, but only 1% now remain after years of land reclamation and turf-cutting.
A number of measures to protect bogs have been introduced by the Irish authorities, including compensation to encourage peat and turf cutters to stop this damaging practice. However, cutting has continued and enforcement action appears to have stalled.
EU funding has supported several raised bog restoration projects but this work is not enough to reverse the damage still being done due to the precarious state of these priority habitats. Figures from the Irish Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage show that 330 plots in Special Areas of Conservation (SCAs) were cut in 2022, up from 290 in 2021.
The European Commission has called on Ireland to take action to stop the cutting of peat within Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). If Ireland fails to respond to the call, the Commission could decide to refer Ireland to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The European Commission is responsible for ensuring EU legislation is applied in each Member State and has previously launched infringement procedures against Ireland over breaches of environmental law.
For example, a landslide during excavation work for Derrybrien Wind Farm caused extensive environmental damage, resulting in the Commission taking Ireland to court in 2008.
The EU's Court of Justice found that Ireland had failed to carry out an environmental impact assessment for the wind farm and imposed a one-off financial sanction of €5 million and ordered that daily penalties of €15,000 be paid until such time as the breaches were rectified.
In September 2022 the Commission also called on Ireland and ten other Member States to introduce national legislation to prevent and reduce the impact of certain plastic products, as required by the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive.
In January 2023, the Commission referred Ireland to the Court of Justice of the European Union for failing to correctly transpose the Water Framework Directive into national law.
Ireland and five other Member States were also referred to the Court for failing to prevent invasive alien species damaging nature.
Funding Ireland's transition
Europe becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 requires significant investment from both the public and private sectors.
The European Green Deal Investment Plan creates a framework to facilitate this and stimulate sustainable investments of at least €1 trillion over the next decade.
The Just Transition Mechanism (JTM) is providing targeted support to regions and sectors that are most affected by the transition towards the green economy.
A European Commission assessment of Ireland’s National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) states that potential funding from EU sources to Ireland between 2021 and 2027 amounts up to €13.3 billion, much of which can help with the country’s transition to a low-carbon economy.
Ireland’s €989 million Recovery and Resilience Plan for responding to the Covid pandemic crisis will also help with the green transition. Almost 42% of the funding will support climate investments and reforms including €164 million for the upgrade of Cork commuter rail to encourage a shift from private car usage, and €155 million for energy efficiency measures in residential and public buildings throughout Ireland.
Funding through the Commission’s five EU Missions is another way of supporting the green transition. Dublin and Cork are among the cities participating in Mission Cities, which aims to create 100 climate-neutral and smart cities by 2030.
Mission Cities will receive €360 million of Horizon Europe funding covering the period 2022/23 to start innovation paths towards climate neutrality.
LIFE funding for Ireland
LIFE is the EU's flagship funding programme for nature, biodiversity protection and the fight against climate change. The €5.4 billion LIFE programme for 2021-2027 includes funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
Examples of LIFE funding in Ireland include:
- The Corncrake LIFE project that aims to improve the conservation status in Ireland of the Corncrake across eight sites;
- The LIFE EMERALD project to improve air quality information and raise awareness around the topic of Irish air quality;
- The WISER LIFE project that transformed an old 1960s civic heating building in Ballymun, Dublin, into a new educational and cultural centre that focuses on sustainability and recycling.
- The Living Bog project that saw restoration work taking place at 12 bogs across seven counties;
- The €20 million LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature, a 9-year EU-funded project to conserve and protect blanket bog habitat in the north west of Ireland;
- The 7-year €10 million LIFE Integrated Project, Peatlands and People, that’s making improvements across more than 9,900 hectares of peatlands in the midlands.
What Ireland is doing to tackle climate change
Nearly a third of Irish respondents (31%) to a Eurobarometer survey published in 2021 considered climate change to be the single most serious problem facing the world.
Over nine in ten respondents in Ireland (94%) also agreed that the EU economy should be climate-neutral by 2050.
However, the 2022 European Semester Country Report for Ireland stated that Ireland needs to make major progress this decade on meeting its climate objectives.
Ireland’s 2023 Climate Action Plan sets a roadmap for putting the country on a more sustainable path. The Action Plan feeds into the National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP).
All Member States have published NECPs to show how they intend to meet the EU’s climate targets for 2030 and put Europe on the road to climate neutrality by 2050.
- Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Ireland increased by 5.2% in 2021. The increase in emissions are reflected in most of the large sectors with the exception of decreases in residential, waste, commercial and public services sectors.
- Agriculture was responsible for 38% of Ireland's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2021.
- Transport emissions increased by 6.7% in 2021. The increase was largely caused by the partial lifting of COVID travel restrictions.
- In 2021, the residential sector was responsible for 11.1% of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions, a decrease of 6.0% compared to 2020.
- Ireland is one of 187 parties to have ratified the Paris Agreement which commits to limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.
Latest environment news
- News article
European Green Deal: Energy Efficiency Directive, FuelEU Maritime Regulation and Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Regulation adopted
The European Commission has welcomed the final approval of the revised Energy Efficiency Directive, FuelEU Maritime Regulation and Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR), as part of the ‘Fit for 55' package of legislation to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030.
- News article
The European Commission has adopted a package of measures for a sustainable use of key natural resources, which will also strengthen the resilience of EU food systems and farming.
- News article
Six schools perform with distinction during EU Model Council Debate on the EU’s Renewable Energy Transition
Scoil Muire agus Pádraig from Mayo has won first place at the 2023 Model Council of the European Union debating competition. Second place went to Christ King Secondary School from Cork, and third place to Deansrath Community College from Dublin.
- News article
The European Commission has adopted a new proposal on common rules promoting the repair of goods, which will result in savings for consumers and support the objectives of the European Green Deal by reducing waste, among others.