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Drop in greenhouse gas emissions but Ireland still off target to meet climate change obligations


More to be done: Laura Burke of the Environmental Protection Agency

More to be done: Laura Burke of the Environmental Protection Agency

More to be done: Laura Burke of the Environmental Protection Agency

GREENHOUSE gas emissions have reduced in Ireland, reversing the trend of the last four years.

The country has still overshot its EU target by 18pc, however, and there is little indication that the gap will be bridged any time soon.

The drop in emissions occurred during 2019 and was 4.5pc down on 2018.

Phasing out coal and peat for electricity generation contributed heavily to the turnaround. Coal use dropped 69pc and peat 8pc.

Farmers also got their emissions down by 3.9pc by reducing chemical fertiliser use.

Another positive reading of the figures points to the reductions being achieved while the economy grew by 1.7pc.

Up to now Ireland has struggled to break the link between economic growth and rising emissions.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warned, however, that even with the reduction in emissions, and a further anticipated cut this year because of the lull in activity during coronavirus restrictions, Ireland was still too far off target.

Total emissions of carbon, methane and other greenhouse gases last year came to 59.897 million tonnes.

Part of that is from large energy and manufacturing installations whose emissions are regulated separately and excluded when the EU sets targets for countries under the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) arrangement.

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Ireland’s ESD emissions were 45.707m tonnes or 6.978m tonnes more than allowed by the EU. That allowance tightens each year and Ireland’s overshoot has grown for the past four years.

Laura Burke, EPA director general, said the overall drop was welcome as it showed reductions could be achieved.

“This much needed reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is a welcome step in the right direction,” she said.

“However if the 2020s are to be the decade of climate action then this level of emission reductions, at a minimum, will be required annually,” she added.

Last year’s cuts came mainly from an 11.2pc drop in emissions from energy production, due to the phasing out of coal and peat and a 16pc rise in wind powered electricity.

A mild winter, with reduced demand for heating, helped the residential sector cut emissions by 7.3pc but this can not be counted on to be repeated.

Farming’s reduction was due to a 10pc cut in fertiliser use and a 25pc cut in lime spreading but, the environment agency warned, other drivers of agricultural emissions, such as the number of dairy cows, continued to rise.

Emissions from transport dipped only slightly which was the result of a greater blend of biofuels in petrol and diesel but the proportion of biofuels can not be increased further without affecting the performance of vehicle engines.

All of this means that while the reduction last year is positive, and is set to be repeated or bettered this year, serious challenges lie ahead.

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