Environment Review 2012

This report, published today (Thursday, 7 June 2012), presents projections of environmental emissions such as greenhouse gases, waste generation, and nutrients from agriculture covering the period to 2030. The single biggest issue is climate change. Our assessment is that existing climate change policies will not be sufficient to achieve Ireland’s 2020 targets. A new action plan needs to be devised with responsibilities and burden sharing agreed, including the options and scope for buying offsetting allowances. Also in that context, Food Harvest 2020 should also be re-assessed for its impact on greenhouse gas emissions, as well as its potential to impact water quality via increased nutrients.

Key conclusions from the report are:
Greenhouse Gas Emissions:
  • Kyoto Protocol & EU 20-20-20: We expect that Ireland will comply with its Kyoto Protocol target covering the period 2008-2012 but compliance with longer term targets will be much more difficult. For the non-ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme) sector we expect that emissions could be as much as 5 per cent higher than 2005 levels in 2020. Ireland’s contribution to the EU’s 20-20-20 target is a 20 per cent reduction in non-ETS emissions compared to 2005. Without significant policy intervention we project actual emissions will substantially exceed the policy target.
  • Food Harvest 2020: Implementation of the Food Harvest 2020 strategy is projected to increase emissions from livestock by 1 million tonnes per annum in 2020. There is a case to be made at EU level that a special mechanism for managing agricultural emissions within Europe should be developed. If climate policies curtail Irish milk and beef production, production will move overseas to places like Brazil, without any global environmental benefit. Preserving emissions-efficient production within Europe would be preferable. Ireland has a comparative advantage in beef and dairy production and has the potential to expand output and employment; however, the current mechanism for managing emissions within the sector is a threat to realising those benefits.
  • Industrial Sector: Based on historical emission intensities, we project that emissions of so-called F-gases, which are particularly potent greenhouse gases emitted in industrial production processes, could increase from 1 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions at present to over 4 per cent within a decade. The current review of the European regulation on F-gas emissions is an opportune time to amend current controls and prevent substantial emissions growth from occurring.
  • Peat: Peat’s carbon dioxide emissions per unit energy are double the rate from gas and nearly 1.6 times higher compared to oil. Fuel switching away from peat offers scope for emissions reduction across both the ETS and non-ETS sectors. The phase out of peat in electricity generation would make a contribution to emissions reduction without significant negative impact on competitiveness (though this would not contribute to non-ETS emissions targets), whereas extending the carbon tax to peat would discourage its use in the residential sector. A phase out of peat as a fuel would also reduce particulate emissions, which have an adverse impact on health.
  • Renewables have the benefit of lower greenhouse gas emissions but are not without their environmental problems (e.g. particulates emissions from biomass fuels). Current schemes providing feed-in tariff support for renewable energy projects will support expansion, but beyond that the outlook will remain difficult given business, planning, financial and technological challenges. To achieve a dramatic increase in renewable energy, a wider review of renewable policy at EU level and its impact on competitiveness and environmental benefits is merited.
Water Quality:
  • Food Harvest 2020: We project that the expansion of dairy production by 50 per cent, one of the strategy’s aims, will lead to an additional 22,000 tonnes of excreted nitrogen per annum in 2020 compared to a no-strategy baseline. Many water bodies are already subject to high levels of nutrient enrichment under current levels of production. Therefore, existing nutrient management practices are likely to be inadequate to protect the environment from further harm under a scenario of expanding production. The establishment of a system to verify implementation of best practice for nutrient management within agriculture would assist expansion in the sector while protecting environmental quality.
Waste Management:
  • While waste generation is in decline since 2006/07, we project a reversal of this trend. With economic recovery, increased employment, as well as projected growth in the population, we anticipate waste generation to be substantially higher in the future than today. By 2030 we project that municipal waste generation will be 33 per cent or roughly 0.9 million tonnes higher than current levels; and 24 per cent higher for household waste. Growing waste streams will have an impact in terms of future collection and waste treatment capacity. Regional waste management plans, which are currently being reviewed, will need to reflect anticipated growth in waste streams.

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