New GHG Emission Reduction Targets
Proposals for binding greenhouse gas reduction targets for EU member states, including Ireland, have been announced in Brussels by the European Commission
The proposals indicate that by 2030 Ireland will be required to reduce its emissions by 30% relative to the 2005 level. Emissions from Irish agriculture currently constitute 30% of total national emissions.
Proposals for binding greenhouse gas reduction targets for EU member states, including Ireland, have been announced in Brussels by the European Commission. These targets will apply to greenhouse gas emissions produced by sectors such as transport and agriculture, which fall outside of the EU’s Emission Trading Scheme (ETS).
The proposed reductions targets, to be achieved over the period 2021-2030, represent the most important EU climate change policy development since reduction targets for 2020 were agreed back in 2007. Overall, by 2030 the EU is seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% compared to 1990 emissions. To do this each member state will be required to make a contribution to the overall reduction as part of a so called Effort Sharing process.
The size of member state greenhouse gas targets largely relate to their level of wealth. The smallest percentage reductions are to be achieved by the less affluent countries of Eastern Europe, with the largest percentage reductions to be achieved by the richer Northern European countries.
The proposals indicate that by 2030 Ireland will be required to reduce its emissions by 30% relative to the 2005 level. Some leeway around this figure will be possible due to provisions that allow for the use of emissions trading and carbon sequestration associated with changes in land use.
There is no doubting that the 30% reduction is an ambitious target for Ireland. Emissions from Irish agriculture currently constitute 30% of total national emissions and 47% of emissions from the non-traded sector. This is much higher than any other EU member state.
Agriculture produces two principal greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide. The profile of these emissions is Ireland is unique in terms of the large share which comes from enteric methane (59%), which to date has proved intractable to reduction via new technologies.
However, when it comes to reducing emissions of nitrous oxide, the scientific progress looks more promising. Recent Teagasc research into new fertiliser formulations and nutrient use strategies indicate that nitrous oxide emissions could be reduced by up to 20%.
Another positive development is the continuous progress in reducing the carbon footprint of Irish milk and meat, due to gains in farm level efficiency and the adoption of technologies such as a longer grazing season, better animal genetics, and better utilization of animal manures. However, achieving significant additional reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will require continued research, and represents a major challenge for the agriculture sector.
Commenting on the EU announcement, Teagasc Director of Research, Dr Frank O’ Mara said: “One of the significant developments reflected in this announcement is the integration of the land-use sector with agriculture from the point of view of counting greenhouse gas emissions. The integration of land use with agriculture allows carbon sequestered in forests, or soils, to be offset against emissions produced by agriculture. This policy development provides an opportunity to develop new strategies to address the emissions challenge, but much research is needed to quantify both the rate of carbon storage in our soils and the management practices that can increase it.”