Home Economics Ireland’s economy moves forward, and with it greenhouse gas emissions – The...

Ireland’s economy moves forward, and with it greenhouse gas emissions – The Irish Times

Ireland's economy moves forward, and with it greenhouse gas emissions - The Irish Times

The Irish economy is picking up, but growth remains linked to rising greenhouse gas emissions. New CSO data points to mounting pressure on the government to cut emissions as it grapples with the fallout from continued strong economic growth.

Analysis published Wednesday points to only modest decoupling from rising CO2 levels and increasing economic activity since 2010, with the latter continuing as emissions continue to rise. This contrasts with most EU countries which are reducing their carbon footprint in a sustainable pattern with green transition of their economies.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) greenhouse gas projections for Ireland for the period 2022-2040, to be released on Friday, are likely to confirm the magnitude of the problem, with emissions rising sharply since 2020 and no indication of a plateau at short-term .

Five sectors accounted for 78 percent of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, according to the latest CSO data, which focuses for the first time on the extent to which growth and emissions are linked. Agriculture (38 percent) and households (27 percent) were by far the sectors with the highest emissions.

Separate data for 2010-2020 confirm that strong growth in economic activity over much of the past decade has been linked to rising emissions, although growth has outpaced emissions. The ideal scenario is “green growth” while at the same time reducing emissions (decarbonisation) across the economy – a legally binding overall reduction of 51 percent by 2030 has been approved by the government with a baseline for 2018.

Census 2022 data released this week showing increased car use and decreased use of public transportation highlights the problem in an economy experiencing continued growth, with unemployment hitting an all-time low of 3.8 percent. The number of people who came to work by car increased by 4 percent to 1.2 million between 2016 and 2022, while 4 percent fewer people traveled to work by train, Luas or Dart.

The combined CSO data shows that the government is struggling to manage emissions cuts with economic growth set to continue for the next decade, on top of having the fastest growing economy in Europe for the past 10 years.

The CSO’s 2020 figures confirm that 39 percent of electricity was generated from renewable sources, while 20 percent of homes used electricity for heating – accounting for 46 percent of the sector’s emissions.

“The roadmap is clear for decarbonising households,” in line with government goals, by reducing fossil fuel use for heating while scaling up renewable electricity, said CSO statistician Clare O’Hara. But the likely trajectory for agriculture is less clear — despite some progress, she added.

UCC clean energy analyst Dr. Paul Deane said: “In Ireland our energy consumption and associated emissions are not as closely linked to the economy as in other countries. Our economy is based more on services than manufacturing, and the service sector typically has lower energy consumption per unit of value added and can increase the value of output without significantly increasing energy consumption or emissions.

“The exception to this is transport, which was and is strongly linked to economic activity. The more active the economy is, the more active we are in driving our cars around, and we have yet to successfully decouple this emissions trend from economic activity.”

Dr. Deane said he would add a warning to the 2020 CSO numbers “as economic growth, energy consumption and related emissions all grew in 2021, following a decline in 2020 due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic” .

Dr. O’Hara said the data shows Covid’s impact on household emissions, mainly due to increased heating in homes and reduced transport emissions, “but it had less of an impact than expected”.

A spokesman for Environment Secretary Eamon Ryan said the CSO figures “largely predate” the government’s program, which is backed by a commitment to tackle climate and reduce emissions.

“Since then we have passed the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, we have two climate action plans and we have set sectoral targets for our high impact sectors. This is being put into action every day – an adjustment program that meets all targets, one new nationwide bus route per week – for example, the number of passengers on local links has increased by 82 percent since last year – unprecedented funding for active travel, solar and wind development at scale, micro-generation, near zero-emission building standards just to name a few of the actions taking place.

The spokesperson added that the EPA 2030 emissions projections, due to be released soon, would provide a “more accurate picture of where we are in 2023.”

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