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Targets ‘stepping stone’ to net zero

The European Commission’s recommendation that the European Union slash net greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2040 is “just another stepping stone on the way to net zero,” according to a senior climate adviser to Friends of the Earth Ireland.

Sadhbh O’Neill, who is also lecturer in energy and climate law at TU Dublin, said that at the moment this is a non-binding recommendation, but it will have to be met.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, she said that “none of this should come as any surprise”.

“It’s not something that the Commission has just plucked out of the air,” Ms O’Neill said.

“In fact, the advisory board recommended a target of between 90% and 95% by 2040, so this has been somewhat, whittled down by the Commission in its recommendation.

“But it won’t be the basis for any legal changes to the other directives and the climate and energy package until after the European elections. At the moment, this is a non-binding recommendation.”

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She added that “the science is telling us very clearly that we have to slash our emissions well before 2030 and get to net zero before the middle of the century, and developed countries have to take the lead in that”.

While the overall target was within the range recommended by the EU’s official climate science advisers, the EU executive weakened part of the recommendation concerning agriculture, in response to weeks of protests by farmers angry about EU green rules, among other complaints.

Ms O’Neill added that the international climate regime requires countries, including blocs like the EU, to come forward with new proposals by 2025 to ensure that the emission reductions are on track.

“So legally speaking and scientific speaking, it’s absolutely necessary that we follow this trajectory to net zero,” she said.

The Commission, when it was making its recommendation, also produced an impact assessment, Ms O’Neill said, which was looking at the feasibility, the economic benefits of early action and they concluded that the higher target that they considered was more cost effective than the less ambitious targets.

If Ireland does not meet these targets “we bear the brunt of accelerating climate change,” she added.

“We already have something in the order of 60,000 deaths annually as a result of heat stress in the European Union.

“An unbelievable figure of 196,000 potential deaths from air pollution, so the benefits of early action in terms of eliminating the burden of air pollution and the cost of that on wider society and the environment greatly outweigh the cost of action.”

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