EPA projections highlight scale of challenge on Irish emissions

Analysis confirms Covid-19 lockdown translated to short-term emissions reductions

Having almost a million electric vehicles on Irish roads by 2030 “will help achieve a projected decrease in emissions from the sector of 38 per cent over the period to 2030”, the EPA said. Photograph: David Parry/PA Wire

Having almost a million electric vehicles on Irish roads by 2030 “will help achieve a projected decrease in emissions from the sector of 38 per cent over the period to 2030”, the EPA said. Photograph: David Parry/PA Wire

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“Full and early implementation” of the 2019 climate action plan is needed if greenhouse gas reduction targets of 3 per cent per year up to 2030 are to be realised, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In its projections of emissions for the period 2019-2040 published on Wednesday, the agency highlights the scale of decarbonisation needed for Ireland to meet its targets over the next decade across all sectors of the economy.

The analysis does not factor in the more ambitious targets in the programme for government agreed by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party – including a 7 per cent emissions cut annualised up to 2030. Its impact will be included in future projections once specific decarbonisation measures are known.

The analysis confirms the Covid-19 lockdown and dramatic decline in economic activity and travel will translate into short-term emissions reductions.

“Early indications are transport and electricity demand has declined since the beginning of the lockdown with diesel sales down over 20 per cent in the year to end May, and petrol sales down over 30 per cent.”

While the coalition has committed to more than double the emissions-reduction targets of the previous government, the EPA underlines the extent of what is required with the less-demanding figure of 3 per cent.

“The scale and pace of the changes needed are significant, requiring much greater reliance on renewables, cross-cutting measures such as an €80 per tonne of CO2 carbon tax by 2030 and further ambitious measures in sectors such as transport, agriculture and power generation.”

The projections show Ireland can meet its current European Union target to reduce emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. The Government, however, has committed to a 51 per cent reduction over the decade in line with the European Green Deal.

EPA director general Laura Burke said: “These latest projections demonstrate that if we implement the actions that are planned, and if all sectors get behind these, then we can reduce our greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions. This is only the first step, however, and for Ireland to become the low-carbon and climate-resilient society and economy that we aspire to, systemic change is required.

“Focusing on climate action as part of a ‘green’ recovery stimulus offers the opportunity to rebuild our economy, generate new jobs and respond to climate change.”

Covid-19 may have resulted short-term GHG reductions, but “long-term improvements can only be achieved with targeted climate and environmental actions that change consumption and production systems in a sustainable and lasting manner”, Ms Burke added.

Savings of 79 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 equivalent by 2030 are envisaged across a number of sectors.

In agriculture, a reduction of at least 16.5 Mt CO2 is forecast by implementing measures including low-emissions slurry-spreading techniques and switching to “stabilised urea fertilisers” for crops and pasture.

This amounts to a 12 per cent cut by 2030. More extensive cuts in transport, energy production and heating buildings will mean agriculture will then be responsible 39 per cent of Irish emissions.

Electric vehicles

In transport, having almost a million electric vehicles (EVs) on Irish roads by 2030, including 840,000 passenger EVs and 95,000 electric vans and trucks, “will help achieve a projected decrease in emissions from the sector of 38 per cent over the period to 2030”.

Targets in the energy sector include 70 per cent renewable-energy use in electricity generation; the installation of 600,000 heat pumps and retrofitting 500,000 homes for improved energy efficiency.

These are projected to deliver by 2030 a 34 per cent reduction in energy industry emissions; a 53 per cent reduction in residential emissions and a 36 per cent reduction in “commercial and public services” emissions.

Increased ambition at national and EU level to keep global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees will, however, necessitate a further step-up, additional to the climate plan, “in the pace and scale of emission reductions”, the EPA says.

This requires maximising CO2 removal of from the atmosphere through improved land management, especially of forestry, grasslands and wetlands.

EPA senior manager Stephen Treacy emphasised the need for appropriate land management. “Where land management is providing a store of carbon, this should be maintained or enhanced. Where land management is resulting in emissions of CO2, this source should be reduced or eliminated, and where land is degraded or has lost its ability to absorb or store CO2, it should be restored.”