IRELAND must follow a pathway to decarbonising energy, transport and heating, declared Environmental Protection Agency director general Laura Burke, when commenting on figures released by the EPA, which indicate that the country is unlikely to meet its 2020 EU greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. This is a very disappointing revelation and the fact that we are not being seen to do our bit for the cause in the wake of the historic UN-brokered Climate Change Agreement in Paris last December calls into question the seriousness of the Irish government’s commitment to steer the country towards becoming a low-carbon economy.
The figures published last week project that, instead of meeting a reduction of 20% on our 2005 carbon emissions levels by 2020, it is more likely to be somewhere between 6% and 11%, which falls well short of the target and will leave us with a lot of catching up in the period between then and 2050 in order to achieve our hoped-for 80% reduction on 1990 levels by the middle of this century.
In fact, this year and next, our greenhouse gas emissions are expected to rise – not fall – in two key areas, transportation and agriculture, which is why Taoiseach Enda Kenny was at his disingenuous prevarication antics at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris at the end of last year, pleading that, considering the ‘lost decade’ of recession that Ireland had gone through, even the 2020 targets were unrealistic.
The welcome current economic recovery is, literally, fuelling an increase in emissions in the area of transportation, projected to be as much as 10% to 16% between 2014 and 2020. In agriculture, the ambitious food production expansion plans contained in the Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025 strategies are likely to cause a nett increase of 6% to 7% in emissions from the sector in the next five years.
The problem for Ireland – and indeed all countries – is to find that delicate balance between economic growth on the one hand and the reduction of harmful carbon emissions on the other, especially with the imminent legally-binding framework for global action on climate change, agreed in Paris last December, pending EU talks on emissions targets that are currently being negotiated for the decade from 2021 to 2030. We will be going in to that somewhat behind the curve to start with, so Ireland will need to take more radical action than others, especially regarding the reduction of our dependence on fossil fuels.
Finding the crucial ‘pathway to decarbonising energy, transport and heating,’ advocated by the EPA director general, can only stem from a willingness on the part of the new government – that it is hoped to have in place sooner rather than later – to be pro-active about tackling carbon emissions. The whole area of climate change hardly figured in the recent general election campaign, but the issue has not gone away and will need to be tackled more resolutely.
While the outgoing Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition government steered the welcome Climate Action and Low Carbon Bill 2015 through the Oireachtas and into law last autumn, there is a need for the new administration to urgently put in place the practical steps that are necessary to achieve the desired reductions in carbon emissions. Action rather than words is needed in order for us to make the difference and lots of relatively small but important interventions can contribute in the short, medium and long term.
For example, during National Tree Week, we had a most commendable initiative from West Cork’s premier agri business, the Carbery Group, which is making more than 26,000 trees available for planting on the 1,300 farms of its milk suppliers through the four dairy co-ops that own the company – Bandon, Barryroe, Drinagh and Lisavaird. The average tree can absorb around one tonne of CO2 when grown to maturity, so the Carbery Tree Project should help offset future carbon emissions caused by milk production and the manufacturing process in the dairy industry.
As Carbery CEO Dan MacSweeney commented: ‘Sustainability and social responsibility are central to our business strategy and growth. We understand that our success is dependent on our respect for the environment and the communities in which we operate.’
Achieving its own sustainability targets will also help the national effort and this initiative is certainly something that could be replicated throughout the country by responsible businesses like Carbery, which is demonstrating its commitment to continuously evaluating ways to offset carbon emissions, as it is also involved in an innovative project to measure the carbon footprint of its suppliers with a view towards carbon-neutral production in the long term.
Government agencies must also lead, preferably by practical example, if the quest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to have any hope of success.