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Greenhouse Gases

Ireland's emissions rose last year as 'significant gap' remains between ambition and action

Ireland’s overall emissions are estimated to have increased by 6% in 2021 after a drop in 2020.

LAST UPDATE | Jun 1st 2022, 4:05 PM

GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS rose by an estimated 6% last year following a pandemic-linked decrease in 2020.

The Environmental Protection Agency today published its greenhouse gas emissions projections for Ireland between 2021-2040. 

The report said that urgent implementation of existing climate plans and policies, alongside further measures, are needed for Ireland to meet its 2030 and 2050 emissions targets. 

Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan described the findings as a “clear indication that we need to double down on implementation of climate action measures”.

There are a number of targets Ireland has to reach in the decades ahead when it comes to slashing emissions – which is crucial to limiting the worst effects of climate change. 

The main target is to cut overall emissions by 51% by 2030 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

But this EPA report highlights that a lot more action and implementation is needed in order to hit these marks. 

Emissions had previously decreased by 3.6% in 2020 compared to the previous year. Emissions had also decreased by 4.5% in 2019. 

EPA projections said Ireland’s emissions will decrease from 2023 onwards due to the impact of emission reduction measures. 

It said the planned policies and measures, if they are fully implemented, could lead to a 28% reduction in emissions by 2030. 

Urgent implementation of all climate plans and policies, alongside further measures, will be needed for Ireland to meet its 51% reduction target. 

The report also sets out that every sector needs to do “significantly more” to reach their individual emissions reduction targets.

In a statement, Minister Ryan said that climate targets “may seem daunting”, but that people “may overestimate what we can do in a year but underestimate what we can do in a decade”.

“Achieving our climate targets will provide numerous benefits to the country in terms of health, competitiveness, employment opportunities, biodiversity and climate impact, but will require changes across all sectors of our society and economy,” Ryan said.

These changes will require a collaborative effort by Government, business, communities, and individuals – to implement new and ambitious policies, technological innovations, systems and infrastructures.

“This will also require changes in individual behaviours, including how we work, heat our homes, travel, consume goods and services, and manage our waste.”

Agriculture and methane  

The EPA’s projections indicate that Ireland has returned to pre-pandemic levels in terms of transport and other activities, resulting in higher carbon emissions.

The report said this is also likely to be exacerbated by a return to higher coal use in electricity generation to meet energy demands. 

Laura Burke, director general of the EPA, said there is a “significant gap” between ambition in legislation and the realisation of the actions needed to deliver these goals. 

“All sectors have work to do, in particular the agriculture sector,” Burke is expected to say at an EPA conference later today.

As the largest contributor of national emissions, more clarity is needed on how and when it will implement actions to reduce methane within the ever-shortening timeframe to 2030.

Agriculture was a key sticking point in this report. Around 37% of Ireland’s emissions come from agriculture.

Emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, need to reduce by up to 30% to meet the lower range of the reduction target set out for the agriculture sector, the EPA report said. 

The agriculture sector is responsible for most of Ireland’s methane emissions.

The report said the agriculture sector needs to “clearly set out” how these reductions will be achieved in order to address uncertainty around its ability to hit these targets by 2030. 

Ireland’s agri-food strategy Food Vision 2030 sets out a target to reduce Ireland’s methane emissions by at least 10% by 2030.

Tom Arnold, Ireland’s special envoy for food systems and former chair of the committee behind the Food Vision 2030 strategy, said when this target was agreed it was “clear that was going to have to be adjusted upwards” down the line. 

He said this report “puts more pressure” on the agricultural sector to increase plans in place to cut emissions. 

“The days of rapid production of dairy I think are over, at least for the moment,” he told The Journal

“I think we’re getting to the point now where, particularly in the dairy sector, probably the best that can be done is to get to a steady state.”

Today’s report is “very much a wake-up call that there’s a huge amount ahead” for the agricultural sector more generally when it comes to action on climate change, he added.

The projections in the EPA report are based on a number of data sets and can be split into two scenarios – one with more optimistic figures for emissions reductions and one with lower reduction figures. 

One scenario projected future emissions by taking into account the policies and measures implemented by the end of 2020. 

And the other scenario considered future emissions based on the measures outlined in the latest government plans published more recently – including the Climate Action Plan 2021 which was released at the end of last year. 

This put more stringent targets in place but with many not yet implemented. 

Different sectors and their impacts

Transport also played a key role in emissions increasing in 2021. Transport emissions are projected to increase by 18-19% between 2020 and 2022 due to the end of Covid travel restrictions. 

But emissions from the sector are projected to reduce by 39% by 2030 if extra measures set out last year are put into action.

This includes putting hundreds of thousands more electric vehicles on the road and more measures to support sustainable transport methods. 

The report said there are concerns about increased coal use last year but that increased renewable energy generation as planned can reduce emissions from energy by 10% each year between 2021 and 2030.

This would result in almost 80% of electricity being generated by renewable means by 2030.

It said that people spending more time at home due to lockdowns and working from home, along with the increasing cost of fossil fuels has “highlighted a need for improvements in home heating efficiency and better insulation”.

Senior Manager at the EPA Stephen Treacy said: “The message from the authors of the recent IPCC report on climate mitigation was clear – it’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.

“In Ireland, implementation of measures has consistently lagged far behind planning. It is important that all planned actions are implemented as soon as possible while, in parallel, identifying actions to address the remaining gap to meet carbon budget limits.”

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