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Greenhouse Gases

Ireland responsible for more emissions globally than national figures show - study

The global carbon footprint of Irish consumption is higher than what is reflected in current calculations.

IRELAND’S EMISSIONS BASED on the goods the country consumes are 74% higher than the emissions directly produced within the state.

A new working paper from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has found that the global carbon footprint of Irish consumption is higher than what is reflected in the current calculation based on emissions produced in the country.

It means that the volume of emissions it takes to make the goods around the world that Ireland uses is significantly higher than the emissions officially attributed to it.

The production-based approach, which looks only at the greenhouse gas emissions created in Ireland, is the one used internationally for measuring and comparing between countries, but a growing body of research is investigating the impact of emissions from the goods that countries import and consume.

In Ireland, consumption-based emissions are estimated to be 107 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent, 74% higher than the estimated production-based emissions.

Speaking to The Journal, ESRI Senior Research Officer Dr Kelly de Bruin explained that “generally when we measure emissions, we look at the total amount of emissions that are emitted within a country”.

“So in Ireland, we look at how many emissions actually go into the air and that’s considered to be Irish emissions. That’s called the production-based approach,” Dr de Bruin outlined.

“But then you also have another approach, which is based on consumption. Instead of saying how much greenhouse gases are emitted within a country, we say how much greenhouse gases are emitted to produce the goods that are consumed by that country.

“In the case of Ireland, we look at all the goods that we import from abroad for own use, such as cars, clothing, all of these things – how much emissions are needed to produce those goods for us.

“We compare those two different ways of looking at it and we see that if you only look at the Irish emissions, it’s 61 million tonnes, and if you look at the emissions needed to support Irish consumption, it’s 106 million tonnes, so it’s 74% more.”

The research identified that the most emission-intensive imported goods were chemicals, rubber, other mining products, trade, transportation equipment, high technological products, food, beverage and tobacco and textiles.

The highest absolute levels of imported emissions were found for mining products, chemicals, high-technological products, public services, crops, trade and transportation equipment.

For some goods, the amount of production-based emissions in Ireland is negligible but very significant under a consumption approach, such as textiles, construction, and other manufacturing.

Dr De Bruin described the figure as “concerning”, particularly given that policies are “focused on the national emissions because that’s what we are held accountable for, that’s what a lot of targets are based on”.

“But if we care about the climate and the global impact, we also need to consider the impacts of our consumption and the emissions we are creating abroad.”

Currently, countries that have signed the Paris Agreement agreed to reduce their national emissions, which is what climate policies are then based on.

“However, because of the inequality in the world, what’s happening is that poorer nations are producing goods for us to consume, and hence emitting on their emissions budgets,” Dr de Bruin said.

“It’s not per se the fault of our initial policies but it is something that we need to consider. I think as global consumers, we need to think about the consequences of our consumption.

“One of the reasons we don’t use this method is because it’s very hard to calculate and it’s very hard to compare, but it is something that is being talked about a lot more.”

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