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Public Sector and Climate Action: Leading by Example

Published: 19 December 2019
From: Department of the Taoiseach

1. Introduction

Engaged and empowered public bodies can achieve more than just reducing their own emissions, they can stimulate and inspire action across wider society. The public sector must act as exemplars of best practice in taking climate action across all sectors and use their capacities to lead a wider transition.

There is also a need for public sector champions, who in addition to achieving their own ambitious climate action objectives, engage, motivate and empower businesses, industry, communities and individuals to act to mitigate climate change.

Although public sector buildings accounted for only 1.5% of our greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 , the broader leadership role of public bodies means that their actions can act as a catalyst for more ambitious climate action across society and must not be overlooked.

Annual public sector purchasing accounts up to 12% of Ireland’s GDP, a large part of overall economic activity and demand. This provides Ireland’s public sector with significant influence to stimulate the provision of more resource-efficient, less polluting goods, services and works within the marketplace.

Our Local Authorities occupy a pivotal role in their respective local communities and can act to demonstrate public sector leadership on climate action in their areas as well as key mobilisers of action at a local and community level.

2. Ambitions and targets

Key measures set out in the Climate Action Plan for the public sector to lead by example, include:

  • Development of a Green Procurement Strategy
  • Targets of 50% Energy Efficiency and 30% greenhouse gas emissions reduction
  • Every public body will adopt a Mandate for Climate Action in 2019
  • Enable the deployment of electric vehicles in public sector fleets
  • Support the development of Local Authority climate action leadership and capacities
  • Offset the climate effects of official air travel, through the travel agency contract for central Government departments.

3. Actions completed to date

Redesigned Model for Green Public Procurement

While a policy on Green Procurement was published in 2012 which sought to incorporate green procurement into 50% of the number at the value of public contract, this has not achieved its intended impact, and a new approach is being developed as part of this plan.

Incorporating green criteria into public purchasing provides an opportunity to convert environmental policy objectives on carbon reduction, air and water quality, and waste reduction into delivered actions. The Climate Action Plan outlines a number of steps which will be taken to achieve this.

The first of these was implemented in October 2019 when new rules were introduced to promote the use of Environmental and Social Considerations in Public Procurement. This will mean that €12bn of state investment each year will be invested sustainably.

Public sector energy efficiency

The public sector has a target of improving its energy efficiency by 33% by 2020. This target is essential for our economy, our environment and the country. The Public Sector Energy Efficiency Programme supports public bodies in achieving a 33% energy efficiency target by 2020, including through an annual monitoring and reporting system where all public bodies are required to submit their energy consumption data so as to track progress of the sector. By the end of 2017, energy efficiency improvements of 24% were achieved by the sector overall, with a cumulative CO2eq. emissions saving of 3.6 Mt.

Key supports include:

  • Pathfinder Programmes are helping to identify scalable models for public sector buildings and school retrofits that can be expanded under Project Ireland 2040
  • The Energy in Education Programme supports our schools in undertaking audits and implementing energy projects. Participating schools reduced their energy bills by 5-10% through energy management, and by up to 40% through energy efficiency retrofits
  • The Office of Public Works runs a behavioural and energy targeting campaign called Optimising Power @ Work
  • Under Project Ireland 2040 we have committed to an energy performance improvement programme to upgrade all public buildings to BER ‘B’ level.
Offsetting climate effects of air travel

The Climate Action Plan commits to the offsetting of the climate effects of official air travel. In January 2020 details of the new programme for the offsetting of emissions associated with official air travel, were published . It requires all Government Departments and Offices to calculate and record the carbon emissions associated with every flight they take. They are then required to value every tonne of carbon emissions the air travel gives rise to at the carbon tax rate, which for 2020 is €26 per tonne. These funds will then be taken from each Department’s travel budget and allocated to the Government’s Climate Action Fund, where the funds will be used to boost activity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Public fleets

The Climate Action Plan committed to stimulating the deployment of electric vehicles in the Small Public Service Vehicle (SPSV) sector, taking account of other requirements for this sector, including wheelchair accessibility. In October increased purchase grants were announced including up to €12,500 for Wheelchair Accessible battery electric vehicles.

Local government leadership

A Climate Action Charter for Local Authorities has been developed with all 31 local authorities. This commits Local Authorities to several actions that will ensure that they play a key leadership role locally and nationally in delivering effective climate action. Among other commitments, all local authorities will:

  • Put in place a process for carbon proofing major decisions, programmes and projects on a systematic basis, including investments in transport and energy infrastructure
  • Deliver a 50% improvement in energy efficiency by 2030
  • Ensure all suppliers provide information on their carbon footprint and steps they plan to reduce its impact
  • Build local citizen engagement, particularly with young people
  • Partner and collaborate on climate action initiatives with local community groups, local enterprise and local schools and higher level institutions
  • Monitor, evaluate and report annually on the implementation of activities under the Charter.

In addition to this, through the Climate Action Regional Offices training of local authority staff has already begun to develop climate action leadership and capacities.

Please click here to return to the main climate action page.