Irish levels will rise by 28% `unless policy changes'


Without changes in Government policy, Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions will be 28 per cent above their 1990 levels in the year 2010, according to a recent estimate by the Economic and Social Research Institute. This would be nearly double the level agreed with the EU. Under the EU "burden-sharing" package agreed last March for the Kyoto climate change negotiations, Ireland pledged to cap the increase in its emissions at 15 per cent. But the ESRI believes that this target will be greatly exceeded because of continuing strong economic growth.

In the absence of further measures to restrain them, it warned that carbon dioxide emissions from traffic will rise by 115 per cent on 1990 levels to 10.5 million tonnes in 2010, while emissions from electricity generating stations will increase by 74 per cent to 18.5 million tonnes.

The ESRI's forecast is considerably higher than previous official estimates by the Department of the Environment, which maintain that the overall 15 per cent target can be met. The discrepancy is due to the Department's assumption that economic growth will be much lower.

The projected 28 per cent increase in emissions, in a "do-nothing" scenario, is based on the ESRI's forecast that Ireland's GDP will increase by 5 per cent a year until 2010. This means that GDP in 13 years' time would be nearly three times as high as it was in 1990. The institute says the 15 per cent target increase could be met without slowing down economic growth, providing that the burden is spread over all sectors of the economy - including agriculture, where Ireland's methane emissions are much higher than the European average.

It has proposed that a "greenhouse gas tax" should be levied on all polluters - industry, agriculture and transport - preferably on an EU-wide basis. It also cautioned against voluntary agreements, saying they were unlikely to reduce emissions to the required target level. Dealing with traffic, the institute advocated "greatly increased" investment in public transport, especially in urban areas. But it said this would need to be matched by some form of "road pricing" - such as taxing car commuters for the congestion they create in cities.

In its report, The Cost to Ireland of Greenhouse Gas Abatement, the ESRI suggested that the Government may have to consider a 5 per cent across-the-board increase in energy prices, including electricity charges, if it is to meet EU targets for a cut in greenhouse gas emissions.

But it warned that replacing existing solid fuel power stations, such as Moneypoint, with more efficient gas turbine generators would mean installing a second gas pipeline from Britain, while still leaving Ireland "very exposed" to disturbances in the European gas market.

Earthwatch has accused the ESRI of "attempting to postpone the day when we will have to opt for sustainable energy choices" and said its report represented "a mere reshuffling of the front bench of the energy sector, while ignoring the huge potential for renewable energy".

Ms Sadhbh O'Neill, of Earthwatch, said that if Ireland was serious about sustainable development, it should adopt a 20 per cent target for renewable energy by 2010 and impose this on all entrants into a deregulated electricity market to make it more competitive.

However, both Earthwatch and the ESRI agree on the central issue: without taking firm action, the Government cannot expect to meet its obligations under the current EU target, which is based on a 15 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 for the EU as a whole.

The Minister for the Environment, Mr Dempsey, has said that a major study of ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be published soon.

But this study, by British consultants ERM, is precluded from examining "eco-taxes" or the proposed Europeat-1 power station. In the Dail last week Mr John Gormley TD (Greens) failed to get an answer from Mr Dempsey explaining why these two important issues had been excluded from ERM's brief. This rendered the Government's stance on climate change laughable, Mr Gormley said later.