IRELAND WILL exceed its Kyoto Protocol limit on greenhouse gas emissions "even if all projected reductions from existing and planned policies and measures are delivered", according to projections by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The overshoot is put at 5 million tonnes per annum on average from now until 2012. "Additional domestic policies and measures and/or additional Government purchases [of emissions credits from developing countries] will be required to bridge this gap," it says.
"In the longer term to 2020, Ireland's unique position within the EU as the country with the highest national proportion of agricultural emissions, together with further projected growth in transport emissions, will present this country with major challenges."
Under the EU's "Climate Action and Renewable Energy Package", adopted this year, Ireland would be required to reduce its emissions by 20 per cent (based on 2005 levels) - or by as much as 30 per cent if agreement is reached in UN negotiations at the end of 2009.
"The magnitude of the challenge facing Ireland in trying to achieve these new targets should not be underestimated," the EPA warns in its State of the Environment report, which describes climate change as "the most significant and challenging issue currently facing humanity".
It says "large reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be required if dangerous and irreversible climate impacts are to be avoided". In Ireland's case, it will be "essential to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels" and develop other energy sources.
The report notes that our emissions "increased steadily" from 55.5 to 70.7 million tonnes between 1990 and 2001, and then "decreased slightly" to 69.8 million tonnes in 2006. "This represents just under 17 tonnes per capita, the second highest in the EU," it says.
"The agriculture, energy and transport sectors are the major sources of GHG emissions, with contributions of 27.7, 22.3 and 19.7 per cent respectively in 2006. The industrial and commercial sector accounted for 17.2 per cent, while the residential sector produced 10.4 per cent. CO2 emissions from transport sources, which are largely accounted for by road traffic in Ireland, increased by 170 per cent between 1990 and 2006, due to sustained growth in the numbers of cars and goods vehicles and in the associated consumption of automotive fuels."
Electricity demand rose steadily in the 1990s, increasing emissions in the energy sector by 53 per cent from 11.8 million tonnes in 1990 to 18.2 million in 2001, "reflecting the continued heavy reliance on carbon-intensive fuels for electricity generation in Ireland".
Significant gains were achieved since then through energy efficiency, replacement of peat-fired power plants and fuel switching as new electricity producers entered the market, with the result that CO2 emissions from the sector fell to 15.6 million tonnes in 2006.
The report notes that returns to date from the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, covering over 100 of Ireland's largest emitters (responsible for a third of national GHG total), show a reduction in the first three years - even though the EU total actually increased.
However, even with additional measures to reduce overall emissions, the EPA says the agriculture, energy and transport sectors are projected to be the major sources of national GHG emissions in 2020, with their contributions rising to 29, 27 and 22 per cent respectively.
"It is essential that Ireland reduces its dependence on fossil fuels while ensuring that very significant increases are achieved in the use of alternative energy sources (wind, ocean, biomass and others). Considerable improvements in energy efficiency will also be required." The report says the role of research "will be crucial, particularly with regard to examining all possible options to reduce GHG emissions from our current dependence on an agriculture sector which is extensively animal- based, but also in identifying new technology options."
Action will be needed nationally to prepare for "adverse impacts such as flooding, water management, sea-level rise and coastal erosion", along with efforts to "protect native species and manage changes in vulnerable natural and managed ecosystems".
The Irish Times