The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said that Ireland will not meet its 2020 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets.

The EPA has today (Tuesday, June 22) published its GHG emissions projections to 2040, which will form part of the discussions at the EPA Climate Conference taking place tomorrow (Wednesday).

The figures show Ireland is projected to have exceeded its 2013-2020 EU Effort Sharing Decision target by 12.2 Mt CO2 eq, but that it can meet its current EU 2021-2030 target with full implementation of the measures in the 2019 Climate Action Plan.

This would result in a 2% per annum emissions reduction pathway from 2021 to 2030. 

Scale and pace of GHG emission reductions

Commenting on the figures, Laura Burke, director general of the EPA said these projections show that the next decade “needs to be one of major developments and advances”.

“Full implementation of all current policies and plans by all sectors would reduce Ireland’s GHG emissions by 2% per year, which is the minimum needed to meet our current 2030 EU targets,” Burke added.

“However, for Ireland to meet the more ambitious targets as presented in the European climate law and Ireland’s climate bill, and to transform to a climate-resilient, biodiversity-rich and climate-neutral economy by 2050, there needs to be a significant and immediate increase in the scale and pace of GHG emission reductions.

“A ‘green recovery’ will give Ireland an opportunity to rebuild our economy and generate new jobs while responding to this challenge.”

Agriculture projections

The projections show the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on emissions for 2020 and 2021 as a result of a dramatic decline in economic activity and travel in the short term.

To avoid a surge in emissions as the economy recovers, at a minimum, the “full range of actions already committed to must be implemented without delay”. These measures are projected to contribute to emissions savings of 58 Mt CO2 eq by 2030 when compared to existing measures.

For agriculture, the EPA estimates a reduction of at least 16.5Mt CO2 eq between 2021 and 2030 is achievable through accelerated uptake of measures, such as low emissions slurry spreading techniques and switching to stabilised urea fertilisers for crops and pasture.

Agriculture sector emissions arise from enteric fermentation (methane emissions arising from digestive process in livestock), manure management and nitrogen and urea application to soils, the EPA said in its report.

In addition, fuel combustion from agriculture/forestry/fishing is included. This sector contributed over 35.4% of Ireland’s total emissions in 2019 and is projected to rise to 40% by 2030 in the ‘With Additional Measures’ scenario, in which it is assumed that planned government policies after 2019 are implemented.

In the ‘With Existing Measures’ scenario, which would see no additional policies and measures beyond those already in place by the end of 2019 implemented, total emissions from agriculture are projected to increase by 2.7% over the period 2020-2030 to 21.9 Mt CO2 eq.

Under this scenario, dairy cow numbers are projected to increase by 13% in 2030 relative to 2019.

In contrast, beef cow numbers are projected to decrease by 20% by 2030. Total cattle in 2030 are projected to be 7.1 million, a 2% decrease relative to 2019.

As dairy cows “produce more methane per animal than other cattle, this overall decline in animal numbers doesn’t reduce methane emissions”, the EPA said.