EPA Greenhouse Gas report highlights a 'catalogue of State climate policy failures', says An Taisce
Today’s EPA report highlights, once again, a catalogue of State climate action policy failures, with soaring emissions from agriculture, transport and households(1), according to An Taisce.
At a time when Ireland is legally mandated to sharply reduce its carbon emissions, Ireland exceeds its annual EU emissions budget for the third year in a row, this time by a margin of over 5 million tonnes CO2eq, and a cumulative 8.4 million tonnes CO2eq over those three years. Given the numbers published today, it is surely impossible for any politician to credibly claim that we are anywhere near taking the appropriate action on emissions.
Much of the blame for the increased occurrence of extreme weather events around the globe must be placed at the doorstep of developed countries, such as Ireland, and our politicians’ capitulation time and again to vested interests and well-funded lobby groups behind these damaging emissions is hugely embarrassing.
Ireland’s national failure to even begin transitioning away from fossil fuels is starkly illustrated by the 7.9% increase in household emissions in 2018, largely as a result of a cold winter increasing home heating demand. This betrays the chronic lack of State action in improving the energy efficiency of older homes across the country.
Agricultural emissions(2) rose yet again, this time by 1.9%, reflecting reckless policy decisions to rapidly expand the dairy sector, with dairy cow numbers rising 2.7% last year and by 27% since the removal of milk quotas in 2015. This is driven by the ongoing, but often ignored, nitrogen crisis in Ireland, with an increase of 10% in nitrogen fertilisers last year alone (up 38% in total since 2012). Any claimed (and marginal) efficiency gains in this sector have been overwhelmed by soaring dairy output, with major increases not just in emissions but also in air and water pollution, according to the EPA.
To illustrate the scale of policy failure in this sector, agricultural emissions have now risen by 15% (or 2.7Mt CO2eq) since 2011, proving beyond doubt that claims by Agriculture Minister, Michael Creed about a ‘decoupling’ of emissions from output in this sector are without foundation. Agricultural emissions are almost half (46%) of all non-ETS emissions and to have any hope of meeting our 2030 targets, must be reduced aggressively. An immediate cap on chemical inputs and imported animal feeds is essential to arrest emission increases, and An Taisce calls on Teagasc, the state agricultural research agency, to be much more forthright in recommending and quantifying such limits.
Emissions from the transport sector increased by 1.7% in 2018. The EPA notes: ‘Reversing this trend will require the widespread transition to electric vehicles, increased use of public transport and reducing the number of car journeys’. However, politicians continue to support hugely expensive road and bypass-building projects, often for local political gains, such as the recently announced projects in Cork and Mayo, at the expense of modal shifts towards public transport. Also, the rapid rise in sales of SUVs may be helping wipe out any gains in fuel efficiency resulting from technological improvements, and underlines the need to alter the motor tax system to penalise heavier and less efficient vehicles. It is ironic that the biggest reduction in emissions from any sector in 2018 (energy industry emissions down 11.7%) occurred inadvertently, as a result of the coal-burning Moneypoint plant being offline for unplanned maintenance. The continued periods of closure of Moneypoint in 2019 are to be welcomed from an emissions perspective, but sorely missing is Government policy and an action plan to move away from fuel burning at this massively polluting plant altogether. We are also, incredibly, still operating peat-burning power plants, despite their inefficiency and despite the fact that peat bog destruction is a major source of carbon emissions.
The 14% increase in electricity generated from wind power is one major success in 2018. Almost one third of Ireland’s electricity in 2018 was produced from domestic renewables. While this is extremely encouraging, we need to be far more ambitious. In the first half of 2019, Scotland produced enough wind energy to power more than twice its entire home electrical needs. Ireland has the best wind speeds in western Europe and, with political vision and leadership, could be a world leader in clean energy both for domestic uses and as an export product.
(1) Chart: Irish GHG emissions by sector, 1990-2018 (prepared by An Taisce from EPA data). http://www.antaisce.org/sites/antaisce.org/files/ireland_ghg_provisional_data_1990-2018.pdf
(2) Chart: Total change in Irish GHG emissions, 2005-2018 (prepared by An Taisce from EPA data). http://www.antaisce.org/sites/antaisce.org/files/total_change_in_emissions_from_2005_to_2018_.pdf
John Gibbons, PRO (087-2332689)