On 20 July 2016, the European Commission presented a legislative proposal, the "Effort Sharing Regulation" (ESR), setting out binding annual greenhouse gas emission targets for Member States for the period 2021 to 2030. The targets cover sectors of the economy that fall outside the scope of the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). These sectors, including the built-environment, transport and agriculture, account for almost 55% of total EU-28 emissions and 71% of Irish emissions. The proposal is the successor to the Effort Sharing Decision, which established national emissions targets for Member States in the non-ETS sectors between 2013 and 2020.
For the ESR, targets have been proposed for Member States based on GDP per capita and the cost-effectiveness of domestic emissions reductions within individual Member States. The final agreement sets a target of 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 for Ireland. Mitigation options built into the ESR agreement include land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF), and the possibility to transfer credits from the EU ETS.
The ESR was provisionally agreed on 21 December 2017 by the Council and the European Parliament, and following final approval and formal adoption by the Council, it will enter into force.
During the ESR negotiations, I emphasised the need to prioritise a successful conclusion which retains a high environmental ambition for the EU, but provides each Member State with the capacity to contribute to that ambition in a cost-effective and fair manner. I am satisfied that the provisional agreed text provides appropriate recognition of different Member State circumstances, and the need to provide flexibility to reduce emissions as cost-effectively as possible in the context of the overall EU target.
In terms of emissions, the EPA develops national projections on an annual basis, in collaboration with relevant State and other bodies. In addition to this, they also produce emission projections for each sector.
The latest EPA projections were published in April 2017. Greenhouse gas emissions were projected to 2035 using two scenarios: a ‘With Existing Measures’ scenario and a ‘With Additional Measures’ scenario. The With Existing Measures scenario assumes that no additional policies and measures, beyond those already in place by the end of 2015, are implemented. The With Additional Measures scenario assumes implementation of the With Existing Measures scenario in addition to further implementation of Government renewable and energy efficiency targets for 2020, as set out in the National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP) and the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan (NEEAP).
Emissions from Agriculture are projected to reduce by 2.4% between 2020 and 2035 under both scenarios. For 2035, it is estimated that fertiliser nitrogen use will reduce from 401,000 tonnes in 2020 to 395,000 tonnes in 2035. The beef herd is forecasted to contract by 11% between 2020 and 2035 from 5.6 million to 4.9 million. These agriculture emissions projections are based on data from Teagasc’s FAPRI-Ireland model which were provided to the EPA in December 2015.
In terms of addressing the significant challenge to reduce emissions, I published Ireland’s first statutory National Mitigation Plan last July. It provides a framework to guide investment decisions by Government in domestic measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A key objective of the Plan is to prepare for the emissions targets that Ireland will take on for 2030. The Plan sets out over 70 individual mitigation measures and 106 related actions to reduce emissions in the four sectors with the most significant contribution to national emissions (Electricity Generation; the Built Environment; Transport; and Agriculture, Forestry and Land Use). Action across all sectors will be paramount to building the foundations for Ireland’s low carbon transformation, considering the cross-cutting nature of the climate challenge.
The National Mitigation Plan highlights a number of measures that are already contributing to emission reductions in the agriculture sector, including: the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP); Knowledge Transfer Programme; Green, Low Carbon, Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS); Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Schemes (TAMS II); Organic Farming Scheme; Smart Farming Programme; Business, Environment and Technology through Training Extension and Research (BETTER) Farms Programme.
Although the Plan does not provide a complete roadmap to achieve either Ireland’s proposed 2030 target or the 2050 transition objective, it begins the process of developing medium-to-long-term policy options so as to achieve progressive emissions reductions in each of the four key sectors, and to ensure that we are well positioned to take the necessary actions in the next and future decades.
It is important to note that the National Mitigation Plan is a living document that will be updated as on-going analysis, dialogue and technological innovation generate more and more cost-effective sectoral mitigation options. This continuous review process reflects the broad and evolving nature of the sectoral challenges outlined in the Plan, coupled with the continued development and deployment of emerging low carbon and cost effective technologies across different sectors of the economy.
The Government will also publish a new National Development Plan soon and this will provide an opportunity for further prioritisation of expenditure required to implement the National Mitigation Plan.