Jim Scheer, Programme Manager at SEAI talks to us about his thoughts on climate action.
I was talking with a friend of mine about why people don’t act on climate change. As a society we have a huge challenge to save ourselves from ourselves. So why aren’t we all doing all we can to solve the problem? Clearly there is no one answer. We are all different creatures.Then he said something that really clicked for me. We often refer to the place where we live as ‘our planet’ or 'the earth’. But he has a different take on it. “This is my planet, Jim”, he said “Its where I live. My place.” It was a subtle but powerful distinction. A simple reframing that gives a much more empowering view, a stronger call to action, a real sense of personal responsibility.
The bad news is; the kind of economic growth we are busy pursuing globally is not compatible with my planet.
Our latest report, Energy Related Emissions in Ireland, paints the picture for Ireland. Since 2011 the economy has returned to growth. Between 2010 and 2014 our energy -related emissions continued to decline, despite this growth. However, as economic growth continued, we have observed the gains made over that period all but wiped out by increases in emissions in 2015 and 2016. There are more recent signs that our energy system is heading in the right direction – after a windy year in 2017 emissions decreased. However, if we are to meet our national climate and energy targets and honour the Paris Agreement on climate action we must maintain a trajectory of decreasing emissions. Anything else just doesn’t work.
Of course this challenge is not unique to Ireland. In fact, evidence from the International Energy Agency in Paris shows that having remained flat for a couple of year’s global trends of greenhouse gas emissions are heading in the wrong direction as economies continue to grow.
So, what's working and what can we do to decouple economic growth from emissions. Unfortunately, there is not one answer – but many good ideas.
When energy prices are high, especially for long periods of time, we are more likely to see a reduction in energy demand and emissions. However, these prices are volatile. Four years ago, prices were over $100USD per barrel. In 2016 they were below $30USD. At the time of writing had risen to around $75USD. It’s clear they can’t be relied upon to drive the necessary change. Carbon pricing, an additional charge that must be paid for the right to emit one tonne of CO2 into the atmosphere can be effective. If done right, price signals provide more market certainty and encourage low carbon investments. They can be implemented in an equitable way when complimentary polices are in place to mitigate unwanted consequences of such tax increases. One such example is SEAI’s services for energy poor homes, providing free energy upgrades to the most vulnerable homes, who could be hardest hit by carbon taxes on heating fuels.
Improvements in energy efficiency have reduced energy wastage and cut energy bills for Irish homes and businesses by €1 billion annually. Homes are warmer, more comfortable and cheaper to run. Businesses are more competitive, with savings going straight to the bottom-line. The obvious challenge here is scale. The economics stack up, and we have the technical solutions for improving efficiency, but not the required level of action.
Our latest line of enquiry into what’s missing is focussed on consumer decision making. What barriers, beyond the more obvious economic and technical ones, exist for business and householders? You may know what they are for you. The upfront investment is too high and you don’t want to borrow? Maybe you aren’t sufficiently convinced of the benefits of a warmer and healthier home? Or, perhaps you just don’t know where to start. If that’s the case, we hope the SEAI home energy grants section will be of help to you. Recent SEAI reports ‘Behavioural insights on energy efficiency in the residential sector’ and ‘Policy insights for encouraging energy efficiency in the home’ explore these barriers in more detail. Our behavioural economics team are trialling several ideas to drive wider uptake of existing schemes. You can read a recent blog from the team called ‘Watt do you think?’
Using renewable energy for heat, electricity and transport is currently reducing Ireland’s national emissions by 4.2 million tonnes, or one tenth of energy related emissions. That’s the equivalent amount of emissions from 70% of our entire car stock - 1.4 million cars. Recent improvements in the way we generate electricity mean that every kettle of water you boil emits 30% less emissions than it did 10 years ago.
The scope for much deeper use of renewables is recognised by the recent National Development Plan announcements. SEAI’s upcoming National Energy Projections report will point at key actions that will make a difference. Some actions with high potential include:
Increasing the level of renewable electricity sources, including off-shore wind and solar PV
Increasing the biofuel blend in transport fuels
increasing the use of renewable heat sources to eliminate use of oil for space and process heating
It’s clear we have made some gains. But the pace of adoption of sustainable energy technologies and practices is too slow. My planet feels the weight of cumulative emissions - and it doesn’t care where they come from. To meet our long-term targets, total national emissions will need to reduce by at least 10% every year compared to our current path. That’s a step change compared to current trajectories.
So, what can you do?
Many of the solutions are already known to us. Here I highlight but a few. We have a huge amount of technology available – from the simplest forms of material that provide high levels of insulation to very hi-tech smart heating controls, for example. In most cases the solutions save more than they cost, so it makes perfect sense on paper.
We can all begin our journey with some simple things. For example, installing some draft stripping around a leaky door, and changing old light bulbs out for LEDs. Insulating the loft could make a big difference if you haven’t done it already. For a super-efficient and warm home that costs very little to heat, SEAI support homeowners to undertake a deep retrofit. Visit our Deep Retrofit page for more information on how you can get involved.
There are government schemes that pay the full cost of upgrades for qualifying low-income households too. Visit our Warmer Homes page for more detail on this scheme. And there are lots of avenues for community involvement. It can be easier, cheaper and more fun to start the journey with friends and neighbours.
But perhaps I am talking to the converted. Maybe you have already considered your options, or maybe even acted. So what’s left to do? Think about sharing your experience with friends and family. Don’t just follow the movement become part of the movement.
Taking some action, however small, would be a great start. Very quickly however, we need to move to a world where we are connected to the impact of our individual actions and lifestyles. A world where taking sustainable energy and climate actions personally is the norm, not the exception.
If any of this has landed as me sounding a little on the selfish side - 'my' planet and all that - I invite you to try it on. This is your place. This is your time. It's personal. Now, standing in 'this is my place', what will you do?