I thank the Chairman and members for the invitation to the EPA to contribute to its analysis of how the targets in the Climate Action Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 will be met. I am the director of the office of environmental sustainability in the EPA. I am joined by my colleagues, Dr. Frank McGovern, chief climate scientist, and Mr. Stephen Treacy, senior manager with the emissions statistics team.
The EPA has a wide range of statutory responsibilities in the area of climate change and regards these responsibilities and their implementation to be a cornerstone of the both current and future climate action plans. These include: preparation of national greenhouse gas inventories and projections assessment and reporting; development and implementation of climate change research activities, including leading on co-ordination of national research on climate change in Ireland, provision of a five-year assessment report, engagement with the EU Horizon Europe programme and chairing the pan-European joint programme initiative on climate; implementation of flexible market mechanisms established at EU and UN levels, including the EU emissions trading scheme; state of the environment reporting and strategic environmental assessment; circular economy and food waste initiatives; advice and assistance to local authorities; industrial and chemical regulation. In addition, the EPA has responsibility for a number of other areas relevant to climate action including: the development and future hosting of the climate information portal Climate Ireland, which is to support the implementation of the national adaptation framework; raising public awareness of climate change issues through the national dialogue on climate change; providing expert support for engagement with EU and UN bodies dealing with climate change; representing Ireland at meetings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC; providing climate science support to the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications at meetings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC. We would be happy to provide the committee with further information about these responsibilities if required.
Moving to national policy, in 2020, the EPA published our state of the environment report, which found that the overall quality of Ireland’s environment is not what it should be, and the outlook is not optimistic unless we accelerate action. The report identified the need for national and sectoral action and full and early implementation of plans and programmes. It highlighted the need for an overarching national environmental policy position that integrates and delivers across multiple related strategies, plans and programmes. This recognises that environmental issues and challenges such as climate change, air quality, water quality and biodiversity cannot be looked at in isolation as they are complex, interconnected and need to be tackled in an integrated way.
The state of the environment report contains a dedicated chapter on agriculturewhich concludes that change is now required in the sector to ensure its environmental sustainability, particularly in view of the fact that the sector is responsible for approximately one third of national greenhouse gas emissions and more than 99% of national ammonia emissions, and has been identified as the largest significant pressure on our water resources. While the focus of today’s discussion is climate change and, therefore, greenhouse gas emissions, the negative trends in water quality, ammonia emissions and biodiversity must be considered in tandem.
The EPA is responsible for compiling inventories and projections of greenhouse gas emissions for Ireland and for reporting the resulting data to the EU and UN. The inventories and projections are subject to EU and UN expert review to ensure transparency, accuracy, completeness, consistency and comparability with those of other parties.
Preparing the EPA projections involves obtaining and processing key data sets such as energy projections, including, for example, projected fuel sales, animal numbers and emissions from industry, businesses and homes in Ireland. The EPA produced two scenarios in preparing these greenhouse gas emissions projections. Those were a with existing measures, WEM, scenario and a with additional measures, WAM, scenario. These scenarios forecast Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions in different ways. The WEM scenario assumes that no additional policies and measures beyond those already in place by the end of 2019, the year of the most recent national greenhouse gas emission inventory, will be implemented. The WAM scenario assumes that in addition to the existing measures, there will also be full implementation of planned Government policies and measures to reduce emissions such as those in the Climate Action Plan 2019.
Last week, the EPA published its greenhouse gas emissions projections for theperiod2020 to 2040, a copy of which was provided to the members of the committee in advance and which is also available on the EPA website. The projections show that Ireland is projected to have exceeded its 2013 to 2020 EU effort-sharing decision target by 12.2 Mt of CO2 equivalent, but that it can meet its current EU 2021 to 2030 target with full implementation of the measures in the Climate Action Plan 2019. This would result in a 2% per annum emissions reduction pathway from 2021 to 2030, and 24% less greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 than in 2018.
The projections show the impact of Covid-19 lockdown on emissions for 2020 and 2021 as a result of a dramatic decline in economic activity and travel in the short term. To avoid a surge in emissions as the economy recovers, as a minimum the full range of actions already committed to must be implemented without delay. It is projected that the sectors with the largest emissions in 2030 will be agriculture, transport and energy industries, with 39.7%, 19% and 13.3%, respectively, coming from these. For each of these main sectors, the measures which are included in the projections and will give rise to the reductions to bring us in line with our 2030 targets are as follows. In transport, almost 1 million electric vehicles, EVs, will be on our roads by 2030, including 840,000 passenger EVs and 95,000 electric vans and trucks. This will help achieve a projected additional emission saving from the sector of 13.2 Mt of CO2 equivalent over the period 2021 to 2030.
In energy, renewable energy will provide 70% of electricity generated. This will give rise to a 25% reduction in energy industries emissions by 2030 requiring both onshore and offshore wind energy projects.
In residential emissions, the installation of 600,000 heat pumps and the retrofitting of 500,000 homes for improved energy efficiency by 2030 is projected to reduce the energy used for space and water heating in our homes by 44% by 2030.
The agriculture sector contributed more than 35.4% of Ireland's total emissions in 2019. This is projected to rise to 40% by 2030 under the WAM scenario. Agriculture's dominant role within our economy contrasts with our European peers and is reflected in Ireland’s current and future emissions profile. Agriculture sector emissions arise from enteric fermentation, that is, methane emissions arising from the digestive process in livestock, manure management and nitrogen and urea application to soils. In addition, fuel combustion from agriculture, forestry and fishing is included under agriculture in our summary national reports.
In 2019, the emissions of greenhouse gases from agriculture comprised 67% methane, 31% nitrous oxide and 2% carbon dioxide, with this proportion remaining relatively stable over time due to the relative importance of ruminant livestock farming in Ireland.
The data underpinning the agriculture projections are based the latest analysis undertaken by Teagasc of the projected national herd population, crop areas and fertiliser use which takes into account Food Wise 2025 policy targets and reflects international food prices and trends in agricultural production at the time of preparing the projected activity data.
The WAM scenario assumes a total of 16.5 Mt of CO2 equivalent of mitigation over the period 2021 to 2030, attributable to measures in Ireland’s climate action plan, largely the implementation of those measures included in the Teagasc marginal abatement cost curve. Some of the key measures include nitrogen use efficiency, use of protected urea products, improved animal health, extended grazing, reducing crude protein in pigs, low-emission slurry spreading and the inclusion of clover in pasture swards.
As referenced earlier, EPA data show that economic growth in the agrifood sector in recent years is happening at the expense of the environment, as evidenced by trends in emissions, water quality and biodiversity all going in the wrong direction. Ireland’s reputation as a food producer with a low environmental footprint is at risk of being irreversibly damaged. Business-as-usual scenarios will not reverse these trends. New measures must go beyond improving efficiencies and focus on reducing total emissions by breaking the link between animal numbers, fertiliser use and deteriorating water quality.
Developments in farming practices, technologies and efficiencies, which present opportunities for greater profitability, cannot be and need not be a trade-off for the quality of Ireland’s environment, either now or in the future. The adoption of a more holistic farm and catchment-level approach, encompassing all environmental pressures, will be fundamental to progress towards more environmentally sustainable and carbon-neutral food production. Actions that can be adopted quickly and effectively to stabilise methane emissions should be underpinned by policy measures. Measurable, reportable and verifiable data and on-the-ground verificationof their use for inclusion in national emissions inventory and projection estimates is required and should be an action within the new climate action plan.
Ireland’s climate transition is about people, communities, businesses and regions. Moving towards a climate-neutral and resilient economy and society can be successful only when the barriers to transition are understood and accompanied by effective communication and engagement across sectors and society. This will facilitate the demonstration and realisation of the benefits and opportunities for the country as a whole.
We are happy to answer any questions that the Chairman or committee members have.