Editorial

Sustaining emissions reductions

February 7th, 2021 5:05 PM

By Southern Star Team

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HERE in Ireland we spent 15 years trying to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 20% between 2005 and 2020 but fell well short of the EU target. However, fate intervened last year and an overall 5.9% reduction in emissions was achieved because of a huge drop-off in economic and other activities caused by the two lockdowns, the first one in particular from mid-March to mid-May where nearly everything ground to a halt and people were confined for a time to within 2km of their homes.

At that time, the schools were closed, as were most businesses and so many people were working from home that there was hardly any traffic on the roads, which resulted in emissions from the transport sector falling by almost 17% and proving the biggest contributor to the overall just under 6% drop in emissions. There wasn’t as much of a drop in traffic during the second lockdown from mid-October until the end of November, while in between times people took to the roads as if there was no pandemic.

The second-biggest contributor was the energy industry sector where emissions fell by 14% with the substitution of coal and peat by renewable energy playing a greater role. Reacting to the publication by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) of their joint report on Ireland’s total greenhouse gas emissions for 2020, Minister for the Environment, Climate, Communications and Transport Eamon Ryan was confident that: ‘In this sector (energy), we are on track to meet our goal of 70% renewables by 2030.’

However, the old chestnut of emissions from agriculture, which saw a small increase of 0.4%  in emissions during the past year, was commented on by Minister Ryan, who said, ‘it’s clear that this sector will have to do more to meet our revised national ambition.’ Unsurprisingly, this did not go down well in the farming community, which usually does not see eye to eye with the Green Party.

Speaking about climate change at the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) annual general meeting last week, its president, Tim Cullinan, argued that the science in this area is still developing. ‘Research by Oxford University, led by Myles Allen, has demonstrated how the current methodology used to calculate methane emissions is not appropriate.’

He said that this needs to be reflected in how inventories are developed: ‘We also need a clear picture of how much carbon is sequestered by farmers. Farmers need to be judged on net emissions.

‘We have and we will continue to step up to our responsibilities, but food production and managing the environment are mutually inclusive.’ And, Mr Cullinan warned: ‘IFA will oppose any attempt to cut production.’

Meanwhile, the European Committee of the Regions and the European Commission are joining forces to accelerate the retrofitting of public and private buildings in local and regional communities across the EU. The renovation of the EU’s building stock is key to reaching climate neutrality by 2050 and to boost employment in the post Covid-19 recovery.

While 75% of existing buildings in the EU are considered energy-inefficient, only 1% currently undergoes renovation each year. Buildings account for 40% of Europe’s energy consumption and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions. It is estimated that the ‘Renovation Wave’ could create an additional 160,000 jobs in the construction sector across the EU by 2030.

The Covid-19 health crisis has amplified the need to improve our buildings and to eradicate energy poverty, which still affects some 40 million citizens in the EU. Doing so will also hugely benefit the environment.

However, this can only be achieved by the collective efforts of member-states and Ireland has a huge challenge ahead in meeting its ambitious Programme for Government commitments of an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030 towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050. As Eamon Ryan stated in response to the EPA-SEAI figures for last year, ‘Just doing less than business-as-usual will not be enough; we must make fundamental changes to how we do business and how we live our lives.’

He said that the revised Climate Bill sets the framework for how we will make these changes, and will be followed by sectoral emissions targets, adding: ‘I am now leading the preparation of the next Climate Action Plan, which will set out actions that must be taken across every economic sector in order to ensure we deliver on our commitments.’

The current lockdown will help keep transport emissions down for a while, but because more people are at home in the dead of winter, residential emissions – which were up 9% in 2020 – may rise again, while industry, which achieved reductions last year, and agriculture continue apace. So, achieving an overall 7% reduction this year is a big ask.

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