Ireland ‘completely off course’ for climate emission targets

Irish greenhouse gas emissions are rising rather than falling, meaning the country is completely off course in its efforts to achieve 2020 and 2030 emissions reduction targets, according to the Climate Change Advisory Council.

This was stated bluntly in its annual review for 2018, submitted to Government last week (Tuesday, July 17).

According to the council, without urgent action that leads to tangible and substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, Ireland is unlikely to deliver on national, EU and international obligations.

It will “drift further from a pathway that is consistent with transition to a low-carbon economy and society”.

Instead of achieving the required reduction of 1 million tonnes per year in carbon dioxide emissions – consistent with the National Policy Position – Ireland is currently increasing emissions at a rate of 2 million tonnes per year, according to the report.

The council welcomes the National Planning Framework and the National Development Plan as “potentially significant contributions to transition”.

However, it warns that the plan’s “robust implementation and monitoring” will be key to achieving progress in the transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and sustainable economy and society.

It was found that an increase in greenhouse gas emissions is evident across all sectors, with the largest increases in energy industries – up 0.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent – followed by transport and agriculture, both up 0.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Agriculture

In sections of the report focusing on agriculture, it warned that increased output in agriculture also leads to increased emissions – despite efficiency gains.

Annual agriculture emissions increased by 2.7% in 2016, and increased by 4.5% relative to 2014. Emissions are projected to increase further.

This has largely been driven by the industry taking advantage of market opportunities arising from the removal of quotas on dairy production, in line with Food Wise 2025, the council said.

Animal numbers, animal types and farm management are fundamental drivers of emissions within the sector. In addition, much of our agricultural land is managed to produce fodder for the animals, leading to emissions associated with nutrient management and the use of nitrogen fertilisers.

The number of dairy animals has seen a significant increase in recent years, with an annual increase in 2016 of 79,000 animals (6.2%) and a total increase of 270,000 animals since 2011 (up 25.1%).

Non-dairy cattle saw an annual increase in numbers in 2016 of 168,000 animals (3.9%). The trend in non-dairy cattle in recent years is not as evident in the dairy sector, but has still recorded an increase of 475,000 animals since 2011 (up 8.9%), according to the report.

Although there is evidence of improvements in efficiency of production, these have not been sufficient to avoid an increase in absolute emissions.

Land use

The European Commission published legislative proposals for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy post-2020 on June 1, 2018. This proposed reform, says the climate change group, is an opportunity to enable more effective supports and incentives for agriculture to maintain and enhance carbon stocks within the rural landscape- including in biomass and soils.

This should be consistent with other environmental objectives, including enhancing the nature value of agricultural land and improving water and air quality.

Current estimates of the change in carbon stocks on agricultural soils indicate a large net source of emissions due to the drainage of peat for use as grazing lands.

Activities on non-agricultural peatlands continue to represent a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, with a steady increase in drained organic soils reported.

The increase is largely driven by ongoing peat extraction for domestic heating, electricity generation and horticultural use and drainage to enable grassland and forestry activities.

The council considers that the development of a comprehensive land-use strategy, including all land-use types, is essential.

Efforts to improve emission performance through GLAS and the Smart Farming initiative were acknowledged, but further data analysis and monitoring is reportedly required.

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