Ireland blows its budget for emissions on dairy cows and burning coal

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The country is blowing its carbon budget on dairy cows and coal – as latest data shows greenhouse gas emissions growing instead of falling.

n increase in dairy cow numbers for the 11th year in a row, and a return to heavy reliance on burning coal and oil to produce electricity, have pushed emissions up again.

There is now more CO2 and methane going into the atmosphere than before Covid ­curtailed economic activity.

The situation breaches government policy, national law and international agreements, all of which demand substantial emissions cuts.

Ireland is now in breach of binding EU targets for 2021-2030 and will have to avail of “flexibilities” or buying carbon credits to achieve compliance.

The new figures are published today as the Government struggles to finalise sectoral emissions ceilings to set out the cuts that must be made in each area.

The chances of staying within the safe limit of emissions set out in the carbon budget for 2021-2025 have now dramatically dwindled.

Aiming for a 4.8pc annual average emissions reduction as envisaged by the budget will no longer be adequate.

Instead, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says: “An average annual emissions reduction of 8.4pc per year would be required from 2022-2025 to stay within the budget.”

Stephen Treacy, EPA senior manager, said the situation was “a cause for concern”, with “deep emission cuts” of more than five million tons of carbon a year now needed.

That is the equivalent of taking half the country’s vehicles off the road this year and finding an equivalent drastic measure in each of the years to follow until 2025.

The next budget, covering 2026-2030, is equally demanding, requiring an 8.3pc annual average cut in emissions.

Even greater cuts could be needed as a result of the poor start to the current budget.

The rise in emissions in 2021 was 4.7pc compared to 2020 but because activity was reduced in 2020, a more ­pertinent comparison is with pre-Covid 2019.

Emissions in 2021 were 1.1pc higher than then, the EPA says. While the gap is smaller, it is still a move in the opposite of the required direction in a trend that shows no sign of reversing.

Agriculture emissions, which increased rather than reduced during Covid, grew further last year, rising by 3pc.

“The most significant drivers for the rise in emissions in 2021 were increased use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser of 5.2pc and higher dairy cow numbers of 2.8pc,” the EPA said.

“This is the 11th consecutive year that dairy cow numbers rose.”

Emissions from electricity generation jumped 17.6pc last year or 8.8pc above 2019.

That is due to a tripling of coal and oil used in generation, largely because of increased production at the coal-burning Moneypoint plant, which is meant to be in phase-out mode.

It was put back into full production and activity at oil-burning plants was increased as several cleaner gas-burning plants were out of action for repairs, and because winds and rain for wind-­powered and hydropowered electricity were low.

Emissions from household power and heating were 2.8pc higher than in 2019, attributed to people continuing to work from home.

The figure might have been higher, but the EPA says warmer weather and rising fuel prices reduced the amount of coal, peat and kerosene used for home heating so the increase was mainly due to increased home electricity use.

Transport emissions rose last year when journey numbers rebounded after the Covid slump but they were still 10.5pc lower than in 2019.

Overall, the country emitted just over 61.5 million tonnes (mt) of greenhouse gases last year, excluding emissions from degraded and drained peatlands and grasslands.

They are excluded for international comparisons but when included for national targets, emissions hit 69.3mt.

Comparing contributions, agriculture was the biggest, producing 23mt, followed by transport at 10.9mt, electricity at 10.3mt, land use at 7.8mt, and households at 7mt.

Laura Burke, director general of the EPA, said: “The data shows the scale of change needed to make sustained progress in reversing this trend and to meet our EU commitments and greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.”

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