Photo by Caroline Brady

Dublin City Council will soon consider two new climate-change strategy documents, and councillors have a host of energy-conservation and transport-transformation ideas that could reduce the city’s carbon emissions.

Dublin’s energy agency, Codema, is putting together a climate-change strategy, and the city’s draft development plan for 2016-2022 features a new chapter entitled “Addressing Climate Change”.

Councillors have yet to vote on these documents, but councillors  are generally very supportive of activities meant to mitigate climate change, says Codema Director Gerry Wardell.

Recently, he sat in his bright office many storeys above the busy streets of Temple Bar and discussed the climate-change strategy he will present to councillors at their Environment Strategic Policy Committee meeting next Wednesday.

“The sea levels are rising all the time,” he said. “Flooding is becoming more of a regular occurrence.”

And for this reason, Codema’s strategy will have two aspects: mitigation, to reduce the carbon emissions that cause climate change, and adaptation, to protect Dublin from the effects of climate change.

Second Time Around

The first climate-change strategy Codema put together was for 2008-2012. It was completely focused on reducing emissions, says Wardell, “but it said nothing about what to do to face up to the reality that is coming”.

Many of the plans put forward in this strategy – for housing, waste and transport – became impossible after the downturn left the council short of cash. However, the following years still saw a drop in carbon emissions here, as people cut back and construction came to a halt.

Since 2008, it has become even more widely accepted that humans are affecting the climate.

A report on Ireland’s climate by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2012 showed that both the air temperature and rainfall have been increasing, and that the sea level is rising at roughly 1.7 cm every ten years.

This evidence – along with many incidents of flooding throughout Ireland – has allowed Codema to include adaptation measures in its newer plans to tackle climate change.

Dublin City Development Plan

A bill on climate change is proceeding through the Dáil, but Wardell says its targets have become watered down. National ambitions to reduce Ireland’s carbon footprint have generally abated.

Ireland committed to meet the EU’s “20-20-20” targets – reducing carbon-dioxide emissions by 20 percent, increasing energy efficiency by 20 percent and using renewable sources for 20 percent of the country’s energy needs. It’s unlikely Ireland will reach these targets by 2020, and which means it will likely have to pay penalties.

Still, Wardell hopes the new city development plan will have ambitious targets for addressing climate change. As it stands, the draft plan has some enthusiastic objectives and acknowledges the need for both mitigation and adaptation measures, including coastal and riverside works to prevent flooding.

“My own feeling is that it’s time to deal with it and just do it, rather than visualising. I mean there has to be a long-term vision, but I think we need to just get out and start doing a few things . . . rather than talking about it forever,” says Wardell.

Dublin City Council Leading by Example

Dublin is similar to London in terms of per-capita carbon-dioxide emissions, releasing approximately 5.6 tonnes per person per year. This is about the European average, according to Wardell.

Roughly €650 million is spent on energy in Dublin each year. And though the city council wants to tackle climate change by reducing carbon emissions, its influence is limited as it has no control over private companies or independent bodies like the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) or the National Transport Authority.

Still, it is doing what it can. Dublin City Council has been reducing its own energy consumption by around 3 percent every year since 2009. It is halfway towards its goal of reducing consumption by one third by 2020, which would save taxpayers €5 million annually.

“It’s a smaller sphere, but it’s a bigger, higher target so the public sector will lead by good leadership,” explains Wardell.

However, he says that reaching the goal will be a challenge, as little money is available for investments necessary to get there.

More Energy-Saving Ventures?

Dublin City Council and individual councillors have several ideas on how to save more energy.

The council has carried out a feasibility study for a citywide district-heating network, a way of heating Dublin’s buildings with waste heat produced while generating electricity. The council would like to see it go ahead, and now Codema is looking at the idea in more detail.

On a smaller scale, Fine Gael councillor Naoise O’Muirí, chair of the council’s Environment Strategic Policy Committee, sees a few practical actions the council can take that would make a real difference. For example, he suggests that the council invest in “low-carbon” cement when building. And he believes that older houses and, in particular, apartments could be made more energy-efficient.

Wardell says this issue has largely been addressed in the council’s own housing stock, but is still an issue in the private sector. Almost half of Dublin’s homes are rented, Wardell says, and most of these are private rentals. There’s little incentive for landlords to improve the energy efficiency of these homes, since they don’t live there or pay the electricity bills; and there’s little incentive for the tenant to do it, since they don’t own the residence.

Green Party councillor Ciarán Cuffe has ideas on how to save energy on lighting and transport.

He says all of the city’s streets should be lit with energy-efficient LEDs. Though this would require a substantial initial investment, Cuffe says it would save the council millions of euros each year going forward, and reduce the energy consumption of the city’s street lighting by 80 percent.

He acknowledges that the council is strapped for cash, but would still like to see it invest more in making the city more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly. He also believes more public transport would reduce carbon emissions. “We want to see the new Luas line,” he says.

If Dublin leads, other cities may follow. “Dublin city can do a lot to change the hearts and minds of others,” Cuffe says.

A Global Crisis

The way Wardell sees it, the EU set ambitious targets to tackle climate change, but as it has gotten weaker, it is up to individual nations to reduce carbon emissions and install flood defences.

The issue of climate change is like the issue of migration, he says: everyone agrees that something should be done, but everyone is reluctant to spend money on it.

Spending money on mitigating climate change is a smart investment, though, Wardell argues. The flows of refugees we’re seeing now are just a small taste of what’s to come when climate change takes hold around the world.

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