THE Government's targets for tackling global warming are impossible to achieve without huge increases in fuel prices and severe damage to the economy, a new study published by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) concludes.
The Government target is to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by 3pc a year to 2012.
"It is not clear where this target comes from," says Richard Tol, a researches with the ESRI. "It can only be achieved by drastic measures, such as a rapid reduction in the numbers of people or cattle."
He said a serious attempt to achieve such a 15pc reduction in the space of just five years would require the price of petrol to rise above €2 a litre and a threefold increase in the cost of electricity.
The resulting fall in demand would knock more than 2pc off economic growth by 2012, the research calculates.
"The Irish economy is currently projected to grow by 2.9pc. With climate policy this fall to 2.5-2.6pc; a reduction of one tenth to one fifth -- provided emission reduction is announced well in advance," the analysis says.
"In fact, the problem is more severe than this. In a five-year period, emissions are largely reduced on the demand side. This would imply that either one half of the population emigrates, or the average resident uses 50pc less energy.
"One would have to give up the television, the dishwasher, the washing machine and the refrigerator, and refrain from travelling by car four days a week," the report states.
Mr Tol said our models cannot find a way to get this reduction by 2012. "If one put the burden on agriculture, half the cattle in the country would have to be culled," he said.
"If it were industry, two-fifths of production would have to move overseas. And that would do nothing for global emissions -- just moving dairy farming or industry out of Ireland."
He said the problem is that nothing major can be done about the main sources of greenhouse gases over five, or even 10 years. There can be little change in the stock of power stations in five years, the housing stock will largely be the same as now, and public transport will increase marginally.
"The emission reduction target of the Irish Government can only be met by draconian measures. It would therefore be better abandoned," the analysis concludes.
The issue is serious because the Irish taxpayer could end up paying large sums to "buy" carbon if Ireland does not meet targets agreed at EU and international level.
Mr Tol favours a carbon tax which would rise slowly over time on emissions which are not covered by EU rules.