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File image of turf being stacked and dried in Co Offaly.

Calls to allow commercial peat harvesting but expert says it would be a 'bad step' for climate

TDs Carol Nolan and Charlie Flanagan have said the government should look at the ban in light of energy insecurity issues.

TWO TDS HAVE recently called for the government to look at removing the ban on commercial extraction of peat from bogs, but an energy expert has said this would be “a really bad step” in climate action. 

Commercial peat harvesting in Ireland has been effectively banned since a landmark High Court ruling in 2019.

Fine Gael TD and former foreign affairs minister Charlie Flanagan said the government should review the ban “against the backdrop of war in Europe & consequent fuel & energy challenge”. 

Independent TD Carol Nolan called on the government to “at least temporarily” suspend the regulation around large-scale extraction.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed everything. It has up-ended global ‘priorities’ such as the frantic and disproportionate efforts to decarbonise societies against the express preferences of the majority of ordinary people,” the TD said. 

Government cannot and should not continue to maintain the prohibition of peat extraction for harvesting.  

Brian Ó Gallachóir, professor of energy engineering at UCC, said this would help Ireland’s energy security but would be a “really bad step in terms of what we’re trying to do on climate change”. 

“Most of the measures that we might want to undertake to improve our energy security also help us in reducing our emissions and they contribute to improved energy security and reducing our impact on climate change,” he told The Journal

“This one doesn’t, and that’s the problem with it.

What we need to do in the context of what’s happening in Ukraine with the Russian invasion is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

“We should use the resources we have, but not the fossil fuel resources,” he said. “Peat is very damaging in terms of its contribution to climate change.” 

Ó Gallachoir and his colleagues in UCC recently showed ten ways the country can reduce fossil fuel usage by 10%. The measures include reducing home heating to 18 degrees, cycling short trips instead of driving and washing clothes at a lower temperature. 

Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said yesterday that one “practical example” to reduce fuel costs is to drive slower on roads. 

The European Commission has proposed a plan to cut Europe’s dependence on Russia for fossil fuels by two-thirds before the end of this year.

Ireland doesn’t directly import a lot of natural gas or oil from Russia, but Britain and Europe both import a lot of gas and oil from the country. About 40% of European gas comes from Russia and 27% of its oil.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Eamon Ryan said: “The power of the fuels of the future are in the sun and in the wind. 

Burning peat, which is a hugely important resource to store carbon, two-thirds of the energy is just waste heat in the air.

By moving instead to renewable energy sources harnessed through wind turbines and solar panels, he said “we start to get a really efficient, really low cost, really secure system”. 

“No one would ever fight over renewable power,” he said. “You will never hold a country to ransom when they have access to renewable power.

Bogs are carbon sinks. Much like forests and oceans, they can store many tonnes of carbon.

Draining water from bogs causes the peat to dry, which results in it releasing carbon.

The 2019 High Court ruling made clear that companies engaged in large-scale peat extraction need planning permission and EPA licensing, both of which involve a thorough environmental assessment process required under EU law due to the climate and biodiversity impacts of peat extraction.

The Journal’s investigative platform Noteworthy reported last year that most major companies in the sector have neither planning permission or licenses.

The majority of peat harvesting for horticultural use has taken place in the Midlands which contains most of Ireland’s unique raised bogs that, today, account for half of Europe’s entire raised bog network.

The cutting of peat in Ireland’s active raised bog network was banned in 2011 to protect the internationally important sites listed as priority habitat for protection under EU law.

An independent report recently warned the government that the continued importation of peat to Ireland doesn’t make “environmental, economic or ethical sense”. 

The report recommended that the government end the importation of peat and indicated that peat production could be partially revived in a bid to address the challenges facing the horticulture sector. 

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