Climate change is happening as a direct result of human activity (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPPC, 2015). Burning fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas and peat) releases greenhouse gases that cause climate change and the planet is struggling to cope with the huge amount of greenhouse gases that are being pumped into the atmosphere as a result. Out of all the gases, Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is one of the biggest offenders, because of the quantity in our atmosphere which is contributing to the Greenhouse Effect. This occurs when the sun’s rays travel through the atmosphere but, like a double-glazed window, the greenhouse gases trap the heat, thus leading to an increase of temperatures on earth which is causing climate change.
The planet is facing many serious environmental challenges which need to be addressed urgently; it is not just one single economy or sector that needs to deal with these challenges; countries, communities, households and individuals all need to change their environmental behaviour to help create a more sustainable way of living (IPPC, 2014). The way we heat our water, use electrical equipment and the way we drive our cars is all contributing to global warming.
The residential sector in Ireland is responsible for a large share of both primary and final energy use. This sector accounts for the second largest share of primary energy use at 27% (SEAI, 2014). Overall, there was almost a 19% growth in primary energy usage in households between 1990 and 2013 and residential final energy use grew by 22% between 1990 and 2013; when corrected for weather the growth was 12% (SEAI, 2014).
Final electricity consumption in the residential sector grew by 92% in the period between 1990 and 2013. The residential sector’s share of final electricity consumption was found to be 33%, second only to the industry sector’s share of 38%. Such growth was likely as a result of an increase in overall living standards and an increase in household appliances (SEAI, 2014).
The most recent emissions figures compiled show that in Ireland agriculture is the single largest contributor to the overall emissions, at 29.2% of the national total, followed by energy (power generation & oil refining) at 21% and transport at 21%. The remainder is made up by the residential sector at 12%, industry and commercial at 14.8%, and waste at 2%. For more on Ireland's most recent Green House gas emissions see the latest EPA report, click here
The latest report on emissions projections from the Environmental Protection Agency (2016) has warned that Ireland is failing to achieve its obligation to become a low carbon economy. It said it will not meet its greenhouse gas reductions targets for 2020. Such an outcome would leave Ireland open to prosecution before the European Court of Justice and ultimately to EU fines. Even under the best-case scenario, where all relevant policy measures in Government documents are adopted and fully implemented on time, Ireland will not reach the target of cutting its carbon emissions by 20% by 2020. The EPA said the best possible outcome Ireland can achieve is to bring its emissions down to 11% lower than they were in 2005. The changes required include the rapid decarbonisation of its energy and transport systems, and the adoption of sustainable food production, management and consumption systems.
New obligations for Ireland from 2021 to 2030 have yet to be determined by EU legislation. The national policy position has an aim to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 80% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2050 across the electricity generation, built environment and transport sectors, and an approach to carbon neutrality in the agriculture and land-use sector.
It is clear that Ireland faces significant challenges in meeting emission reduction targets for 2020 and beyond. In addition, climate change is expected to result in an overall warmer climate for Ireland, with an expected increase of 2-3 deg Celsius, with wetter winters and drier summers (Met Éireann, 2013).
The result of Ireland’s projected growing population with a large percentage of older people will create a heavy demand on energy resources. While there may be less of a demand for heating fuel in the winter months, this will likely be counteracted by the need for more air conditioning in warmer summer months, particularly with regard to preventing heat related deaths among an aging population (Met Éireann, 2013).