Saturday 8 August 2009

Irish grasslands may assist in addressing climate change

Irish grasslands are potentially an important sink for carbon dioxide, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research report Celticflux.

Carbon dioxide is the most important greenhouse gas (GHG) considered to be causing climate change. Policy-makers worldwide are working to achieve an international agreement to reduce GHG emissions under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol.

The report results are based on analysis of intensive measurements, carried out by University College Cork and Teagasc over a five-year period, at sites in the south-east and south-west of the country. The report indicates that grasslands can take up between 11 tonnes and 18 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air, per hectare per year.

The work was largely carried out at grassland sites in County Cork and County Wexford. The study also included a natural peatland site in Co Kerry, which was shown to be a small sink for carbon dioxide(CO2). The EPA has also funded studies on croplands, which will be published shortly.

Most of the carbon dioxide is recycled as animal feed, but it is estimated that 10 to 15 per cent of the carbon is sequestered into the soil, where it can reside for much longer time periods, with a positive environmental benefit.

Commenting on the report, EPA Director Laura Burke said - “These are important results from research which the EPA has funded. Grassland is the dominant land use in Ireland and these results show that management of Irish grassland can have an important role in addressing climate change”

She added - “The outcome of this research is an important step-up in our understanding. Ireland has more than three million hectares of managed grassland. If this result were replicated across this area, it would amount to a considerable sink. However, some other land uses are likely to be a source of carbon dioxide, so a simple scaling up of these data can be misleading.

"Overall, the main message is positive and we need to use these results to inform decisions on the future use of grassland and other land.”

The EPA is working with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and others on assessment of how best to account for these results in the context of future development of national actions on climate change.

Frank McGovern, Senior Scientific Officer, EPA said - “These are complex issues and we need to insure that their full scope is understood when decisions are being made on land use and management - and particularly in accounting for these under future actions on climate change. These issues are being considered at EU and UN levels.”

The results need to be cross-checked and other land and soil types explored, along with land management regimes. A better understanding of the dynamics of soil carbon - as well as future climate conditions that will impact on soil - is also a requirement. This work is a key part of the current EPA research programme.

Addressing climate change is the key challenge of this century. There is no one solution, but the EPA considers that land management is one of the tools that could be used. This work helps to inform our thinking in the context of the various - and sometimes competing - demands. A holistic assessment is required to identify the best pathway to achieve climate objectives as well as economic and sustainability goals.

Further information -

Niamh Leahy, EPA Media Relations Office, 053-9170770 (24 hours)

Professor Ger Kiely, Hydromet Group, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, University College Cork -
Tel: 021-4902965


The next UNFCCC meeting in Copenhagen in December is expected to progress international actions to address climate change. This is likely to include commitments by developed countries to significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases - including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

The European Union (EU) considers that international actions to address climate change should aim to insure that the average global temperature increase is kept below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The non-EU members of the G8 - including the USA and Japan - have recently endorsed this position.

Analysis provided by the IPCC indicated that meeting the EU climate protection goal means that emissions of GHGs from developed countries must be reduced by 25 to 40 per cent by 2020 - with a 50 per cent global reduction by 2050.

The report presents its analysis in terms of carbon, rather than carbon-dioxide. The carbon to carbon-dioxide conversion is: 1 tonne Carbon = 3.6 tonne Carbon Dioxide.

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