Monday 23 October 2017

Finger-pointing European Union countries are far ahead of Ireland in energy consumption

The latest EU energy intensity statistics were published last Tuesday, the second day of the UN climate change conference in Paris
The latest EU energy intensity statistics were published last Tuesday, the second day of the UN climate change conference in Paris
Dan White

Dan White

In 2013 Ireland consumed an average of 82.4 kilos of oil equivalent for every €1,000 of economic output, according to the EU's statistical agency Eurostat. This compares to an EU average of 141.6 kilos.

These latest EU energy intensity statistics were published last Tuesday, the second day of the UN climate change conference in Paris. Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the conference that Ireland would introduce new laws to help tackle climate change in the current Dail session - the Climate Bill was passed by the Dail on Thursday.

In his speech to the conference the Taoiseach criticised the EU's target of a 20pc cut in greenhouse gas emissions from their 2005 levels by 2020 as "unrealistic" and "unreachable". With the EU committed to a 40pc reduction in emissions by 2030, the Taoiseach said that Ireland would need "time and space" to meet these targets.

While the Taoiseach was criticised for his remarks to the conference, the Eurostat figures do lend some credence to his claim that, when it comes to emissions, Ireland constitutes a special case. It is not just the former Soviet bloc countries that have far more highly energy-intensive economies than we do.

All of the pre-2004 EU member countries also have much higher levels of energy-intensity than Ireland. These include France (140 kilos), Germany (130.6 kilos), Italy (117.2 kilos) and the UK (102.7 kilos). Only Denmark (86.6 kilos) came close to matching Ireland. Countries with lots of heavy industry, such as Germany and the UK, along with the post-2004 member countries in Central and Eastern Europe will find it much easier to meet the EU's emissions targets than countries such as Ireland, where agriculture accounts for 30pc of all emissions.

Neil Walker, IBEC's head of energy and environment policy, believes that Ireland is being asked to shoulder an excessive proportion of the EU's emissions burden. "The formula needs to be clearer and fairer. Business supports the EU's leading role [in reducing emissions] but why should Ireland be bearing more than its fair share of a very ambitious target"?

Dr Walker believes that the most effective way to reduce EU-wide emissions is to concentrate first on the cheapest-to-achieve reductions, regardless of location. The cheapest emissions reductions can be achieved by improving energy efficiency, followed by renewable energy, with the most expensive reductions coming from new technology.

"What is the cost of getting rid of the next ton? The atmosphere doesn't know where the carbon comes from. It makes more sense to do all of the cheap stuff first."

Other environmental specialists are less convinced that Ireland is getting a raw deal from the EU's system of emissions targets. Professor John Curtis of the ESRI points out that when one measures the energy-intensity of consumption rather than that of production, Ireland emerges less well - we may not have Germany's car plants or China's steel mills but we consume their products.

The upshot is likely to be that Ireland will fail to achieve the EU's 20pc emissions target for 2020 and will have to buy emissions credits, at a cost of several hundred million euro a year, from other member countries that have. Meeting the 2030 40pc target will be even harder.

"The big burden for us is agriculture. For that sector to expand others are going to have to reduce emissions", says Professor Curtis.

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