Ireland is not on track to become a low carbon society, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

It says we need a clear vision in Ireland for how we generate, how we supply and how we use clean energy if we are to play our part in lowering emissions of carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuels.

Laura Burke, Director General of the EPA was speaking at the annual MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co. Donegal. “Emissions of carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuels, are the big driver of climate change globally, and here in Ireland, where they make up 65% of our emissions. If we don’t move – and move with urgency – then we will face the consequences of increasingly negative impacts of climate change.”

She said Ireland needs to plan for and we need to move to zero fossil carbon energy in the next 30 years – by 2050 at the latest. “The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones. We now need to think the same way about fossil fuels – the fossil fuel age must end long before the supply runs out.”

The phasing out of fossil fuels has already begun in Ireland. Renewable energy reduced CO2 emissions by almost 2 million tonnes in 2012, replacing imported fossil fuels and saving an estimated €.25m in costs of fuel imports and emissions, according to the EPA. This is nowhere near enough progress Ms Burke said.

“We are not on track to a low carbon society. At this rate, we are not even on track to meet our targets under the EU Climate and Energy package for 2020. Missing these targets will entail costs for Ireland, and will also increase the difficulty and the cost of achieving a low carbon economy and society,” the EPA Director General said.

The impacts of climate change are already being felt in Ireland, according to the EPA, and in the coming years and decades, our coastline will come under ever greater threat because of rising sea levels and other changes in the ocean.

“Changes in the ocean and in sea levels will dominate our climate. We need to understand the impacts much better than we currently do. A repeat of this year’s storms, so devastating in parts of Cork and Limerick, would have been even more devastating if they came on top of an additional rise in sea level of 20 or 30cm. And even the most optimistic forecast shows our sea level rising by between 26 and 55cm before the end of the century.”