Last week we discussed the impact of greenhouse gas emissions (carbon from burning fossil fuels and methane from cattle). They are causing an increase in global temperatures and we are witnessing the correlating catastrophic results. This week, Transition Monaghan’s Dearbhla Lenehan takes a look at what we in Ireland need to do in tackling the greatest challenge facing us, our children and grandchildren.
Ireland releases 160,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every day! This equates to over 58 million tonnes a year! Our agriculture sector contributes to over one third of these emissions, which is the largest contribution from any sector, followed by energy (22%), transport (19%), industry and commercial (15%), residential (10%) and waste (2%). In Paris last December, Ireland along with 194 other countries signed an agreement to reduce their emissions, ensuring a less than 2°C increase in global temperature by the end of this century. Under an existing EU agreement, Ireland must, by 2020 reduce our carbon emissions by 20% compared to 2005 levels or else face massive fines. If we and other high emitting countries don’t take radical action to cut our emissions, we are passing the death sentence on millions of people living in the developing world, whose suffering will only intensify through extreme droughts and other severe weather events.
Ireland won’t achieve 2020 targets
The Environmental Protection Agency has stated that Ireland won’t reach our 2020 target and realistically will only reduce our emissions by 6-11% rather than 20%. Instead of the sharp reductions we are legally mandated to achieve, transport is set to increase its emissions by up to 16% and agricultural emissions will climb 7% higher than 2014 levels. This will result in massive fines for Ireland of between €600,000 million and €1 billion. Wouldn’t it make more sense to invest this into our transport system, energy efficiency and reducing our agriculture emissions instead?
Can we achieve the 2030 targets?
Following on from our 2020 targets the EU Commission stated that we must further reduce our emissions by 30% compared to 2005 levels by 2030. Seeing as we are already falling well behind in our targets for 2020 it seems inevitable that there will be a continuation of this trend for 2030.
Dr Barry McMullin of DCU says we must reduce our transport emissions by 30%, to do this we need to reduce commuting by non-electric cars occupied by only one person from 5 days to 3.5 days per week. Of course the Government needs to incentivise and promote carpooling, electric cars and using public transport, cycling and walking, but we too must take it upon ourselves to instigate our own change, big or small.
The reduction of cars on our roads would also have a dramatic effect in reducing air pollution around our neighbourhoods, towns and cities. Air pollution is linked to various respiratory diseases such as; emphysema, bronchitis and asthma. According to the World Health Organisation, reducing air pollution can also reduce the risk of strokes, heart disease and lung cancer.
Challenge for Irish agriculture
Globally, the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture is 10-12%, however, here in
Ireland due to our large beef and dairy herds our emissions are over 30%. In Ireland we are proud of our beef and dairy produce. However, it comes at a cost; farmers’ incomes are under pressure and so they are aiming to produce more dairy and beef and therefore, release more emissions.
Nevertheless, there are small changes farmers can make that would drastically reduce their emissions such as; lengthening grazing season, applying slurry in cooler conditions and low sunlight, improving nitrogen efficiency on farms and planting forests. Actions to reduce agricultural emissions are contained in a new report entitled ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’ (see noticeboard for details).
Environmental groups ‘Stop Climate Chaos’ and the ‘Environmental Pillar’ have responded in a another report entitled ‘Not so Green’. They rebut “the often-misleading array of claims made in relation to the supposed climate, social and ecological sustainability of the Irish agri-food sector”. They also challenge the argument that afforestation presents a viable option to offset emissions from agriculture. Greater emphasis they say should be placed on protecting our peatlands than promoting afforestation in areas that are already good carbon sinks and important for biodiversity. However, with Minister Heather Humphreys recently publishing legislation to de-designate 46 raised bogs, allowing these bogs to be cut for turf further shows that the Government is not tackling our emissions and biodiversity crisis.
A Zero Carbon County Monaghan?
All of us in County Monaghan have a role to play in reducing emissions. We could improve insulation levels in our homes and buildings to save energy and money. We could cut back on our driving and flying and use buses more often as well as buying fewer products which had a lot of carbon used in their production and transportation.
Local communities and local authorities such as Monaghan County Council can lead the way in emissions reduction by developing action plans now so as to ensure that we in Monaghan become a zero carbon county before it’s too late.
A new short documentary (30 mins) from Trocaire explores the links between the current drought in Africa and fossil fuel consumption in the West. The film is available on YouTube. For a link to it see http://www.trocaire.org/getinvolved/climate-justice.