Ireland faces 'significant challenge' in meeting climate change targets

Expansion in farming sector means it accounts for 33pc of our carbon emissions

Ireland will be 12.4pc off its emissions goal
Ireland will be 12.4pc off its emissions goal

Sarah Collins

Ireland is set to miss two of its three EU 2020 climate targets.

More than a decade ago, Ireland signed up to slash carbon emissions by 20pc from 2005 levels as part an over- arching EU goal.

But according to a European Commission report, Ireland will be 12.4pc off that goal.

In fact, Ireland is one of six EU countries where emissions have actually increased compared to 1990 levels. The others are Cyprus, Spain, Malta, Portugal and Austria.

"High per capita emissions in Ireland reflect the importance of the agricultural sector in the economy, but also the lack of public transport and the underutilisation of Ireland's renewable potential," the Commission report said.

Farming makes up 33pc of carbon emissions in Ireland, the highest in the EU.

A spokesperson for the Department of Climate Action said the shortfall was due to "constrained investment capacity over the decade between 2008 and 2019 due to the economic crisis, including the impact of the troika programme and the EU fiscal governance requirements".

"It now represents a significant challenge to be addressed," the Department said.

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Ireland is also one of four EU countries failing to meet its renewable energy goals, though by a lesser amount.

The Government signed up to get 16pc of its energy from renewables by 2020, but it's likely to be off by 0.5pc.

A Government spokesperson said Ireland was "committed to achieving its 16pc target by 2020" and that it had adopted a series of measures to make it happen.

The targets are part of an overall EU pledge to cut emissions by 20pc from 1990 levels and get 20pc of its energy from renewables such as wind, water or solar energy, by 2020.

The EU is on track to meet both targets, despite Ireland's performance.

Emissions in 2015 were down 22.4pc from 1990 levels, and renewable energy is estimated to be over 16pc, the EU said.

Ireland has also been criticised for winning generous offsets for farming and forestry under the EU's new 2030 goals.

Climate activists Carbon Market Watch and Transport & Environment say Ireland will get away with reducing emissions by only 1pc compared to a 30pc target because of the loopholes.

The Government will publish its first national climate change mitigation plan by mid-June.

The 2030 targets have yet to be finally agreed by EU parliamentarians and governments.

Peat and water

Ireland needs to do more to protect peat bogs and water supplies, the EU has said.

In its first ever environmental law review, the European Commission said Ireland needs to act now to avoid ending up in court for breaching EU water, waste, air and nature conservation rules.

Farming and a lack of clarity around water charges are putting pressure on Ireland's ability to comply with EU laws, the Commission said in the report.

The Government's planned 50pc boost in milk production by 2020, the review says, "represents an additional challenge" when it comes to controlling nitrate limits in water.

"The situation in Ireland as to pricing of water for domestic use is also not clear," the report says.

It urges the Government to clarify water pricing and ensure infrastructure upgrades are "properly financed".

It says "much more investments in infrastructure will be needed after 2016" to ensure Ireland is compliant with EU water rules.

And peat bogs - the centre of a long-running dispute between Ireland and the EU - also remain problematic.

Despite a 2011 ban on turf cutting in many raised bogs, "illegal activities have continued", the European Commission said in the report, the first of its kind.

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