THE economic recovery and our growing population will make it difficult for the Government to meet 2020 climate change targets, officials have warned.
Ireland's efforts to meet EU targets in the fight against global warming are set to be hindered by an anticipated increase of up to 23pc in emissions as more cars and lorries take to our roads over the next six years.
Difficulties developing more public transport in rural areas will also increase the difficulty of reaching the targets.
Officials from the Department of Transport's sustainable transport division said projections made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "reinforce the economic reality of the challenge".
Ireland has been set a target of reducing transport, household, industry and agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by 20pc come 2020.
It is the joint highest reduction target in the EU, with only Denmark and Luxembourg having to hit the same levels.
In a briefing document for new Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe, the officials described the targets set for Ireland as "very ambitious" and warned there was "a significant risk of a material shortfall in emissions reductions and renewable energy targets by 2020".
The analysis prepared for the minister said: "Transport emissions are closely coupled to economic growth and the EPA's projections reflect this with transport emissions projected to show strong growth over the period to 2020 with a 15pc to 23pc increase on current levels."
It said the percentage rise in emissions would depend on how far the Government pushes with green policies, such as incentivising the purchase of lower emissions vehicles, developing biofuels, and imposing additional carbon taxes. But it warned such measures "can carry significant economic costs".
The EPA has predicted emissions from the growth in transport rising by 36pc by 2030.
It anticipates the national car fleet, which currently stands at 2.2 million, will rise to at least 2.4 million and the country's population will have risen from 4.6 million to 5.2 million.
"In terms of emission abatement, Ireland's dispersed settlement patterns and lack of urban areas with the critical mass to support efficient public transport systems present a particular challenge," officials warned.
"Despite the implementation of measures to reduce emissions, the private car will remain the predominant mode of transport in Ireland and currently contributes to an estimated 60pc of overall transport emissions," the briefing document adds.
The Government has developed a long-promised Climate Change and Low Carbon Development Bill, which will be published by the end of the year.
However, it is not on the priority list of legislation being moved by the Coalition and its introduction is some time off.
The bill will set out targets different sectors have to reach to achieve an environmentally sustainable economy by 2050.