In December 2015, Ireland along with nearly 200 other nations signed up to its commitment to do our full and fair share to ensure carbon emissions are reduced in line with the advice from science so that global warming does not irreversibly destabilise the world’s climate system.
Actions, however, speak far louder than words. As data produced today by the Environment Protection Agency confirm, instead of the required sharp reductions, Irish greenhouse gas emissions instead climbed in 2016, to the equivalent of 61.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO₂), the highest level since before the economic crash.
In just the last two years, total national emissions have increased by 7.3% or 4.16 million tonnes of CO₂. Ireland is legally mandated by the EU to reduce national emissions by 20% by 2020. By comparison, Scotland has already achieved its far more ambitious 2020 emissions target cut of 42%, and achieved these five years ahead of target.
“There is no magic involved. The missing ingredient in Ireland is political will and the backbone to stand up to the special pleading of well-funded lobby groups”, according to John Gibbons, An Taisce’s Climate Change Committee spokesperson. He continued “Ireland has among the best average wind speeds in Europe, yet the share of wind energy on the grid actually declined by nearly 2% last year, while there was an overall increase of 3.8% in the emissions intensity of power generation.”
Ireland’s shambolic transport sector has recorded its fourth straight year of emissions growth, adding 3.7%, or nearly half a million tons of additional CO₂ in 2016 versus the previous year. The other price of this failure is ever-worsening traffic gridlock as the excessively car-dependent transport model inevitably leads to congestion, inefficiency and chaos. The ongoing neglect of cycling and public transport is fuelling this national transport debacle.
Agriculture and transport together accounted for almost three quarters of Ireland’s entire EU 2020 target sector non-ETS emissions in 2016. Since 2011 agricultural sector emissions have increased by +10.2%, contrary to the misleading media talking points being recently repeated by agri lobbyists. Last year, agricultural emissions rose by the equivalent of over half a million tonnes of CO₂. This followed a 6.2% increase in dairy cow numbers and a 4% increase in milk production. For 2017, the quantity of nitrogen fertiliser used is already known to be up by 12%, which will push agri-sector emissions even higher than in 2005, the reference year for a 20% ‘Non-ETS’ reduction by 2020.
Dairy and beef production are both highly emissions-intensive, and today’s EPA data proves that the industry spin about ‘efficiency’ and ‘carbon neutrality’ is all just hot air. There is no effective way of reducing Irish agriculture’s massive emissions profile without tackling the root cause of these emissions: ever more, fertiliser-boosted grass fed to ever more cattle results in ever more climate pollution. Controlling beef and dairy emissions requires a production cap or a price on agricultural emissions so that efficiencies can actually be realised.
This underlines the findings of an EU study published in April this year that found Irish agriculture to be the least ‘climate-efficient’ in the entire EU28. Ireland produced the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per euro of agricultural output, the study concluded.
“Governments come and governments go, but CO₂ lingers in the atmosphere for decades to centuries. Increasing agricultural methane and nitrous oxide emissions greatly increases Ireland’s responsibility for near-term climate warming. The decisions we take and fail to take today will have long-term implications for our children and their children. True sustainability means providing for our needs today without compromising the needs of future generations. Ireland is today stealing from the future, calling it growth and leaving a toxic legacy to all future generations”, according to John Gibbons.
He continued “We as a nation are better than this. The recent Citizens’ Assembly recommendations proved that the Irish public is prepared to back strong action to tackle climate change, but these shocking pollution figures from the EPA show Ireland’s citizens are being shamefully betrayed by its political and business classes for short term gain.”