Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 29 June 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action
Reduction of Carbon Emissions of 51% by 2030: Discussion (Resumed).
On behalf of the committee, I welcome Ms Sharon Finegan, director, Dr. Frank McGovern, chief climate scientist, and Mr. Stephen Treacy, senior manager of emissions statistics, from the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and thank them for attending the meeting to share their expertise.
I will begin with a note on privilege. I remind witnesses of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity, by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or to otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if a witness’s statements are potentially defamatory with regard to an identifiable person or entity, he or she will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that witnesses comply with any such direction. All the witnesses are attending remotely from outside the Leinster House campus, so there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege. As such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as does a witness who is physically present.
Members of the committee are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind members that they are only allowed to participate in this meeting if they are physically located on the Leinster House complex. In this regard, I ask all members to confirm that they are on the grounds of the Leinster House campus prior to making their contributions to the meeting. For anyone watching this meeting online, Members of the Oireachtas and witnesses are accessing this meeting remotely. Only I, as Chair, and the necessary staff essential to the running of the meeting are physically present in the committee room. Due to these circumstances, and the large number of people attending the meeting remotely, I ask that everyone bear with us should any technical issues arise.
I call on Ms Finegan to make her opening statement.
Ms Sharon Finegan:
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 which 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 to 2a 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 CO2equivalent, 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 CO2equivalent 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 CO2equivalent 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.
I thank Ms Finegan. This meeting, as members may know, is confined to a maximum of two hours so I am proposing that each member will be given two minutes to address their questions to the witnesses in order to ensure that all members get an opportunity to pose their questions. Is that agreed? Agreed. I ask members to raise their hands and indicate they wish to come in. In the meantime, I will ask Ms Finegan or her colleagues to take us through the two scenarios, WEM and WAM. Ms Finegan can correct me if I am wrong, but I am mindful that the EPA is looking at the measures in the Climate Action Plan 2019. Has modelling been done commensurate with the new ambition, namely, the 51% reduction in emissions compared with 2018 levels as per the programme for Government commitment and the climate action Bill?
Ms Sharon Finegan:
I thank the Chairman. I will ask my colleague, Mr. Treacy, to talk the committee through the WAM and the WEM in a moment. I will, as an opening position, respond to the Chairman's question about increased ambition. The projections do not look at the targets but at the measures that have been identified to achieve those targets. The process for the delivery of the projections is identifying and working through those measures and then quantifying the emissions reductions that are likely to be achieved.
We have not yet worked through that piece regarding the step up to 51% because we do not have the measures. The measures have not been identified by the Government. I will ask Mr. Treacy to talk the committee through the WAM and WEM.
Mr. Stephen Treacy:
In the two scenarios that we are presenting, as correctly identified, the with additional measures scenario takes on board all the measures in the Climate Action Plan 2019 up to a total emissions saving of 16.5 million tonnes over the period 2021 to 2030. These measures include combined animal-related measures such as the economic breeding index, EBI, beef genomics, etc., amounting to close to 14 million tonnes, and then measures on the nitrogen side such as a ban on urea fertiliser and increased use of inhibited urea and proposed fertiliser sales targets identified in the Ag Climatise strategy. The combined fertilising measures add anything up to almost 5 million tonnes. There are a number of other measures in relation to what is in Ag Climatise and the climate action plan such as liming and crude protein reduction in dairy cow and pig feed rations.
The existing measures scenario does not assume any of these measures so it is essentially a without measures for agriculture except for those elements which are already taking place and are in the inventory. As Ms Finegan pointed out, the 51% reduction is not factored into any of these scenarios yet because the measures have not been identified to date.
Ms Sharon Finegan:
That is an important distinction because what the additional measures scenario does is that it identifies policies that have already been identified to bring about the savings, but not necessarily realised. This would be a key message, and was a key message for the agency last week in publishing those projections, that in order to realise those benefits we need to see full implementation. It is important to set the target and to identify the measures through which we are going to achieve those targets, but it is the implementation that will realise the savings, which will then be seen in the inventories. The inventories is the historic piece. The projections is looking ahead to what we have quantified will be the outworking of the policy once it has been implemented. Implementation is the key piece and that is an important distinction between the with existing measures and with additional measures. The with additional measures have identified the steps the Government is going to take but they have not yet been implemented. That is important when you consider the step up to 51%.
I thank Ms Finegan and the team for a really interesting presentation. There was lots of grave information in it and I suppose it is only scratching the surface of the different scenarios and the situation that we find ourselves in. If it is okay, I would like to focus on the agriculture element, and I know the witnesses touched on transport and energy. I would like more information on some of the potential measures that could be used in order for agriculture to achieve reductions in emissions. For many people, it is a very difficult conversation to have, that is, how we decarbonise agriculture and how we reduce emissions. It is not helped by false information about what needs to happen. What the witnesses outlined there seem like very achievable measures that can be taken and that would not necessarily severely impact farmers' income or the viability of farming. Could the witnesses touch on them individually? The ones mentioned were nitrogen use efficiency and the use of protected urea products. Extended grazing was also mentioned. What is meant by that and how would that contribute to a reduction in emissions? The witnesses mentioned the reduction in crude protein in pigs but I assume there is cattle feed as well that can be amended or developed that would reduce emissions of biogenic methane. I refer to low emissions slurry-spreading. We often hear these terms but what do they mean? How much is current slurry spreading contributing to emissions and how can the technologies change it to ensure that it has less of an impact?
I have not heard a full explanation about how inclusion of clover in swards, and mixed species swards, will contribute to a reduction of emissions. If at all possible, I would like a bit more detail on those issues, as it would really help the conversation on how we form future climate action plans.
Ms Sharon Finegan:
I thank the Deputy. There were some great questions there. What I might do, just to break the answer to this question down, is give some overall detail about what some of those measures might look like. Then I might ask my colleague, Mr. Treacy, to give a sense of the contribution that each of these aspects make to our emissions inventories currently and to give a sense of the scale and the quantum. I might ask Mr. Treacy or Dr. McGovern to mention the feed additives piece because that is a complex piece.
I should say at the outset that Teagasc is the real expert in this area and really understands how each of these measures will interact with the inventories and the greenhouse gas emission impact. On the use of protected urea, a key measure which will also enhance improved air and water quality is the use of protected urea in place of other less environmentally sustainable fertilisers. The research from Teagasc shows that using urea nitrogen fertiliser offers the single largest emission reduction potential to Irish farmers. Protected urea is reported by Teagasc as a cost-effective option so it is a win-win for the industry and its use is further supported by the marginal abatement cost curve by Teagasc. It is essentially using a fertiliser which will have a less damaging impact on the environment. We have already seen some benefits from that particular policy.
Measures for nutrient management add multiple environmental benefits. Around that is education and training in conjunction with the national agricultural sustainability support and advisory programme. Soil at optimum fertility at soil pH status recycles nutrients more effectively, which should lead to a reduction in inputs for the same or increased levels of grass and crop production, while also reducing nutrient loss. There are wide-ranging positive impacts of this for environmental pressures and again a win-win solution from both the environmental and the economic standpoint and from the point of view of farmers.
In catchments with well-known nitrogen pollution, which is causing nitrogen emissions to water, it is essential that measures are implemented immediately and that reductions in nitrogen take place. These measures go beyond improving efficiencies and must be focused on reducing the total emissions through breaking the link between animal numbers, fertiliser use and deteriorating water quality.
Feed additives comes under the heading of nutrient management. I will ask Mr. Treacy to explain the numbers relating to some of those measures, and then we can return to the cattle feed piece. Mr. Treacy or Dr. McGovern might talk about the clover in swards also. It is down to the nutrient element. I will pass over to Mr. Treacy.
Mr. Stephen Treacy:
I have a few numbers here, but I will stress that this is building on Teagasc's work on its marginal abatement cost curve, MACC, as well as on the work that was put into the Ag Climatise strategy. We take their information. We work closely with Teagasc to understand the impacts and to incorporate them into the projections and, ultimately, into the inventory.
In terms of the structure of agriculture, agricultural emissions are made up of: 65% methane, 30% N2O and about 5% carbon dioxide. That number includes combustion emissions associated with use of tractors. Therefore, one can see the measures needed to target those emissions. Methane is the biggest part of it. Enteric fermentation is just under 60% of the total emissions. Manure management is about 10%. Soil emissions are approximately 27%. It is a combination of nitrogen and methane impacting measures. We do not yet have full detail on the methane measures. The 16.5 million tonnes saving identified in the Climate Action Plan is made up of approximately 14 million tonnes of methane measures. The remainder comes from nitrogen, with some offsets for liming. There are emissions associated with liming, but that will go the opposite direction. However, liming has a net-positive benefit in adjusting soil pH and in allowing fertiliser take-up.
In terms of beef genomics, the breeder index and all of these things listed in the climate action plan and in the strategy for the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, that is about 14 million tonnes.
The urea fertiliser ban, increased use of inhibited urea and the level of the sales target limit proposed in Ag Climatise altogether add up to about 6.4 million tonnes over the 2021 to 2030 period. Offset against that is the slight increase in emissions where stabilised urea is used instead of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, NPK, or other fertilisers that have a lower greenhouse gas impact. There is an offset of approximately 1.5 million tonnes. That is where I got about 5 million tonnes from fertiliser measures.
The Deputy mentioned other measures, such as slurry spreading. Some of these measures are important from an ammonia perspective, and even more for greenhouse gases. By slurry spreading, we do not mean splash-plate spreading. We mean shoe trailing, slurry injection, or other methods that do not create the same level of emissions as the traditional splash-plate slurry spreaders. Many of these are already happening. In our 2019 inventory, we saw that low emission slurry spreading made up 16% of slurry being spread. We also saw a fourfold increase in protected urea uptake. These measures are beginning to happen. We need to see them accelerate in the future so that the vast majority of slurry is spread that way, similarly with the uptake in urea.
Clover reduces the need for fertiliser because it fixes nitrogen itself. That is where it comes in. Some of these measures do not have a huge impact individually. However, the targets for 2030 are challenging in nature and-----
Mr. Stephen Treacy:
We do not have that analysis in the EPA. Productivity implications are a question for Teagasc.
The crude protein question is about dairy and pigs. Crude protein in dairy concentrates has reduced from 19% about ten years ago to about 16.6% now. In terms of dairy, the expectation in regard to this projection is that it will go down by approximately another percentage point from that figure.
I have one more question and then I will be done. On changing feed, amending feed and putting technology and science into it, how much emissions savings can be expected from those types of technologies?
Mr. Stephen Treacy:
The impact of crude protein in dairy is small. Some of these measures are small. It is about 13 kilotonnes in 2030 and 88 kilotonnes over the 2021 to 2030. That figure includes both dairy and pig feed. There are fewer than 100 kilotonnes in total for those two. It is not one of the bigger measures but, given how challenging the targets are, all measures are important.
Dr. Frank McGovern:
I thank members for their interesting questions. There is much active research in Ireland, Europe, and globally on food additives. They can reduce emissions of methane from enteric fermentation. Historically, the EPA has funded research in this area, but that research has been taken over by the likes of Teagasc as well as by commercial activities. The key issues include the added costs of certain additives, and some additives are prohibited for food, health, and safety issues; the impacts on the flavour of food products; and the overall health of the animal. Certainly, this is an active area of research. Hopefully solutions will come from those investments.
I thank our guests for their presentation. It was stated that agricultural expansion is happening at the expense of the environment. I would be interested to hear the witnesses elaborate on that. The case has been made that Ireland has grass-based production and, as such, is environmentally superior to many of the alternatives, certainly within Europe.
It was also stated that there need not be a conflict and argued that we can break the link between the herd and the environment. Again, I would like to hear more about that. Last week, we heard from Professor Alan Matthews, who said that if the herd stabilised, there would be a 3% decline per decade in methane. There seem to be differences in opinion on the exact implications for the herd on methane. There are conflicting arguments on the short life of methane, as well as the implications that has. As the experts in this area, could the witnesses shed light on this biogenic methane discussion?
The EPA argues for a measurable, reportable and verifiable holistic and catchment approach. What new tools might this involve? I know of the ones it has talked about, namely, fertiliser and the Teagasc MACC. However, are the witnesses saying that we can entirely break the link through this holistic and catchment approach? What exactly are we talking about here? Are we talking about, as we heard last week, pricing, carbon, paying farmers to farm carbon and developing policy tools that pay for carbon sequestration? Are these what they have in mind?
Can the EPA point to any countries where agriculture has managed the sort of transition that it describes, which we could perhaps model. Ultimately, we want to see farmers having a good family farm income. If farmers' incomes from traditional methods of agricultural expansion are to be curtailed, they will ask where new sources of farm income will come from. It would be helpful to the committee to understand where the EPA sees new sources of farm income coming from.
Ms Sharon Finegan:
I thank Deputy Bruton for those questions. The overall message is what evidence is showing us. We made clear points about this in the state of the environment reports.
These suggest that the impact of current practices around agriculture are having this significant effect on greenhouse gas emissions but also across other markers for the environment in Ireland, whether that be water quality, air quality or biodiversity loss. The key message from the agency in that regard is that what we need to see, at a very minimum, is full implementation of all current policies and plans, which is crucial. The focus of today's meeting is thinking about that step up to the 51% but, from the point of view of the analysis that the agency has done, it is very much around the existing measures. What we need to see there is the full measures that are identified both in the Climate Action Plan of 2019 but also in the Ag Climatise strategy, which really turned the Teagasc MACC from that sort of paper-based exercise to see what measures are needed into a suite of measures for which there was significant stakeholder engagement and engagement with the farming community about what was possible.
Another key point is that we cannot meet our overall contribution across the economy without agriculture playing its part. An important message is that it is not an either-or, and we are not going to take measures in one sector at the expense of another. The scale of the transition that is required is required across all sectors. There has to be significant step change in what is done, and agriculture is no different.
I might ask Dr. McGovern to talk about biogenic methane. What the catchment approach essentially recognises is that environmental issues are complex and interwoven. We cannot look at them in isolation and we need to look at them in that interconnected way, and come up with policies which address that fact, such as some of the measures that Mr. Treacy was outlining in the last series of questions around nitrogen use, low emissions slurry spreading and so on. Changes in those farm practices do and can realise very real benefits for improvements in regard to drinking water quality, for example, so the benefits could be derived across not just greenhouse gas emissions but those other markers as well.
In terms of the new tools and what else can be done, I will make the point again – I am sorry if I keep making it - that it is that full implementation of the additional measures in our analysis. That is the basic first principle to get us to where we need to be for 2030. A message there would be that the measures are known and have been identified to get us to 2030. We know what they are, and Mr. Treacy has just talked us through some of the numbers around those. We are not going into this challenge to deal with some of these issues in a space which is unknown and is not well understood by the farming community. As I said, the Ag Climatise strategy came about, as I understand it, following extensive stakeholder engagement, so the farming community understands what needs to be done and they are taking steps.
In terms of that step up beyond where we are, our current level of ambition is to 2030. We have to see the evidence of those solutions that have been identified in the climate action plan and those other proposals being fully implemented and verified. That is very important because they will address those ongoing unsustainable air and water emissions. Any further expansion beyond that would be difficult to sustain if we are not seeing and realising the benefits from those measures that have been identified in the MACC.
One point is around the question of the current model of subsidies and payments to farmers. The agency would previously have articulated a view that perhaps the current model of subsidies and payments to farmers does not adequately support the addressing of environmental issues. This is a point that was highlighted at European level by the recent Court of Auditors report which highlighted that measures supported by the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, have a low climate mitigation potential and that CAP does not incentivise the use of effective climate-friendly practices. Therefore, it may be appropriate that direct payments are linked to land use and management activities that focus on co-benefits and ecosystem services, and that would encourage increased ambition. If we were to do that, I think we would see a situation where we see farm incomes protected, provide that environmental protection and also foster appropriate land use.
Actions that can be developed quickly need to have that underpinning of policy education and awareness. I spoke previously about the importance of the educational piece but also of financial incentives that provide the same certainty to farmers as those that are currently supporting sectoral expansion, or have done in the past. I do not know if that fully answers the Deputy’s question. I will ask Dr. McGovern to cover the point on biogenic methane.
Dr. Frank McGovern:
I thank Deputy Bruton for the question. Obviously, the EPA is aware of the ongoing discussions and debates that are happening around methane. It is a complex issue. Methane is a relatively short-lived gas and has an atmospheric lifetime of approximately 12 years. What matters for global warming is the amount of the gas that stays in the atmosphere because, by staying in the atmosphere, it traps more energy, causing the heating effects that are seen in Ireland and elsewhere around the world. Given that it is a short-lived gas, on first principles, one would say that if we stabilise emissions to the atmosphere, then the concentration would stabilise after a period of a number of decades. However, what does not stabilise is the climate impact of that concentration in the atmosphere, which takes time to work through the climate system. It is a bit like boiling a kettle or a large container of water in that it does not reach the boiling point until a certain time. Therefore, in order to address that latency effect, the science would suggest that in order to stabilise the warming contribution of methane, we would need to reduce emissions by about 3% per decade for at least three decades in order to stabilise its contribution to global warming. I hope that clarifies the point.
Mr. Stephen Treacy:
In regard to the emissions question, since 2011, we have seen a 3% increase in enteric fermentation emissions per dairy cow. I want to make the point that even with the same number of animals, the animals themselves are more efficient at producing milk, for example, and that also means they produce more methane. As a result, herd number stabilisation itself does not necessarily stabilise methane emissions if there is growth in those emissions.
I thank the witnesses. I have a couple of questions. Do the witnesses see an expanded role for the EPA in the time ahead and a growth in the importance its work?
In that regard, does the EPA have any asks of the Government in respect of that expanded role, its budget, staffing, the staff mix and the projection into the future?
To what extent are inventories and projections self-declared? I ask because in my constituency, there is a concentration of waste industries. There is a sense from the local communities that licences are in place but there is a question regarding oversight and the level of scrutiny. What assurance can the EPA give to local communities located right beside the limited and very heavy industry we have for waste, incinerators, landfill and waste-to-energy plants? What level of oversight, scrutiny and accountability is in place in regard to adherence to the terms and conditions of licences? Are our guests satisfied that the EPA is sufficiently resourced in that regard for now and into the future? We appreciate that this will be a role of growing importance in light of our climate obligations.
A related point concerns the assessment of agriculture admissions. Notwithstanding the fact that every sector has to do its share of lifting, which is accepted by everybody, there is an argument from the agricultural sector that the equation is not being fully assessed and that the important work the sector does on sequestration and carbon sinks is not being appropriately assessed. What is the EPA's opinion on that? Is there a fair assessment with international comparisons at this time? When might there be a better assessment of the overall contribution of the sector?
I am not sure our guests will be best placed to answer the question on the waste issue, given that they are here to talk about emissions and the report on greenhouse gas emissions through to 2040 published last week, although they can decide that for themselves. If they feel they can answer, so be it. To be fair to them, however, it may not be their area.
The question is one of oversight and the measurement of emissions. If our guests are not able to answer specifically, they might apply the principle which obtains in respect of the waste sector as well as to other sectors and answer in that context more generally.
Ms Sharon Finegan:
I am happy to answer the question on emissions limits relating to licensing in broad terms. The Deputy asked whether we see an expanded role for the EPA. I earlier gave a sense of the areas for which the EPA is currently responsible in this space. There are many spaces in which there is a significant role for us, whether with the team I have with me today in the context of the preparation of inventories and projections or through the work we are doing on climate science. More broadly, as the Deputy mentioned, the operation of the consenting regime for licensing throughout the State is in itself a mechanism for the reducing emissions within agreed and statutory boundaries. Significant elements of the EPA's core function have meaningful and tangible impacts in this space. As for an expanded role for the EPA, a number of measures have been identified for us under the existing climate action plan. I see a role for us in terms of communicating with the public and encouraging an understanding that the national dialogue on climate action is important. As we talk through the transition and what will be required from the State, its organs and at an individual level, the EPA sees itself has having a role in how we communicate with the public and understand the best structures for doing what I have outlined.
The Deputy asked whether we have any specific asks of the Government. I do not think we do at the moment. We have a well-established process for engaging with our two parent Departments in respect of both funding and staffing. Discussions on those issues are ongoing.
I might ask Mr. Treacy to comment in a moment on inventories and projections and how we can take assurance from the methodologies we employ to determine whether the inventories are accurate. In the reporting the agency does, we are the competent authority and we report at both EU and UN level. As a result, we are required to have those methodologies reviewed and so on. That external analysis and checking provides significant comfort throughout the agency. In addition, the inputs that come in to the inventories come from a broad range of actors, including, for example, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, and Teagasc regarding agriculture. There is a wealth of knowledge and expertise throughout the system that the agency taps into for the preparation of these documents.
On oversight more generally and licensing, I do not have any specific information about waste. Under the licensing regime, the specific conditions placed on any licenser are done with regard to the best available technology and emission limit values. Those issues are considered when a licence is granted and it operates to the best available science to support decision-making for those involved in the decision-making process.
On the question about the assessment of agriculture and whether the equation is assessed correctly, I think the Deputy was referring to some of the features of Irish agricultural life that may not be evident in other countries, such as hedgerows and so on, and our capacity to account properly for the sequestration potential of Ireland's unique landscape. The agency has invested significant time and effort to try to understand that better. It is an area where the science is developing and where there is a considerable building up of knowledge and development of research. Nevertheless, we recognise there is much room for improvement and it is an area of focus for us. We would support having a land-use map for the country, for example. We recognise that there is more work to be done in this regard.
I will pass over to Mr. Treacy on the question about inventories and projections. He might mention some of the parameters relating to the considerations of how we might count hedgerows, for example.
Mr. Stephen Treacy:
The national inventory report, which is the full detailed report of how we produce and compile the greenhouse gas inventory, runs to more than 500 pages. It is subject to review by the UN and EU on an annual basis. At intervals of a number of years we have country reviews whereby expert review teams from around the world come to look at our methods and assess them. We have always been found to be compliant with the process and with the IPCC guidelines for producing inventories. We also have reviews on an annual basis for the projections and air pollutant inventory and projections under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe process and the national emission ceilings directive. The data and methods we use are reviewed annually by international experts to assess compliance with international best practice.
On the question of land use, we report emissions and sequestration on an annual basis to the UN. To date, we have not published this information in our summary projections report because it has not been relevant to effort sharing. We will do so in future, however, because it will be relevant to credits. The land use, land-use change and forestry, LULUCF, regulation covers the six top-level land categories. These are forest land, cropland, grassland, wetlands, settlements and harvestable wood products. Overall, land use is estimated to be a net source of emissions in Ireland. This is based on application of the international methodology. Just less than 4.3 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent was emitted in the past inventory year. While we have a substantial sink from forestry, we also have a large area of grasslands on organic soils. Overall, our grasslands cover approximately 4.3 million ha, of which 350,000 ha are on organic soils. This is a form of peatland that has been drained. While we have a sink of approximately 2 million tonnes from the 3.8 million ha of grass on mineral soils there is a source of approximately 8 million tonnes annually from the 350,000 ha of grassland on organic soils. This has a huge impact. There is also the fact that our wetlands or peatlands are a net source in that the horticultural extraction is greater than what might be taken up on managed peat areas. We report this information but I acknowledge that there is room for improvement in the context of the information provided.
The Chair mentioned hedgerows. This matter has been very much in the media recently. The EPA has funded two projects on hedgerows and more are under way to identify the biomass in hedgerows and the extent to which it might soak up carbon. The land where hedgerows are located is captured under grassland and cropland areas. The whole land area is covered. What we have to identify are the management regimes and the various types of hedgerows and various amounts of carbon they can soak up. The second part of the research is ongoing. This is on the various amounts of carbon taken up by various management types. In overall terms, hedgerows are likely to sequester. There is quite a broad element of uncertainty at present. It is somewhere between 300,000 tonnes and 1.4 million tonnes per annum of carbon. This is quite an uncertain range. These research projects will narrow down the gap.
The question was probably also aimed at credits under the LULUCF regulation. In this sense what is important is the impact of actions taken by people. What matters is how much hedgerow is there now compared to what was there in the reference period. The research we have to date suggests there is less hedgerow than there was in the reference period. This would lead to a net emission in the regulation accounting. This is something to be aware of. With regard to the actions and credits available under the LULUCF regulation, it is action relative to reference periods that is important.
I thank our guests for joining us. As I understand it, the EPA is awaiting the passage of the climate action Bill and the measures provided for in it, including the plans and the carbon budget, in order to be able to make the relevant projections. It is important to state that because there has been some confusion. The Chair asked a question on this at the outset, but the point is being missed because the term "additional measures" does not mean just the additional measures that this Government is taking now. Quite apart from the passing of the climate action Bill and the provisions it contains, there are also all of the measures that have been put in place by the Government over the past year. These are also not necessarily taken into account in these projections because they are based on the Climate Action Plan 2019. Some of the measures are based on that plan but others are not. It is important to state this so there is no confusion about it. I certainly feel that we need to see projections based on the measures that are being implemented and that will be put in place under these new plans.
Ms Finnegan mentioned Ireland's reputation as a green food producer being in jeopardy. This is a very important point. It shows that we need to support farmers. This plan is not about penalising farmers but supporting them. Last week, Macra na Feirme called for support from ecologists, for instance, which shows willingness to move. I may have missed a point with regard to some of the measures outlined, particularly on change in land use or diversification, at the very least, through the use of mixed swards and clover. Is our land use quantified in actual square miles? Are we speaking about converting to be able to reach targets? Do the witnesses know this?
Some of the measures suggested are based on the Climate Action Plan 2019. These include moving to 1 million EVs. Interconnectedness was mentioned. When the EPA looks at its emissions projections does it look at simple emissions from vehicles and convert them? Does it look at other things associated with car culture such as sprawl? Not everybody will purchase an EV. A model based on a simple conversion from one to the other probably would not take into account that everybody will not convert or the potential for urban sprawl. This can have other knock-on impacts on health and well-being. Has the EPA examined the matter in this broader sense?
Ms Sharon Finegan:
I agree completely with Senator O'Reilly. With regard to the distinction between existing measures and additional measures, in some ways these phrases are confusing in themselves.
Additional measures give the sense of being forward-looking or future-oriented, whereas it is just a quantification of existing Government policy, albeit out to 2030. Nonetheless, it does not reference that greater level of ambition. For anybody dipping their toe into the climate area, trying to understand the distinction between existing measures and additional measures is not simple but I hope we have given a good explanation of it.
The Senator said that the projections have not yet covered the ambition in the Bill. I wish to make clear how we do our business methodologically speaking. That will not happen until we have a suite of measures that are intended to support a reduction to that level. At that point, they would be factored into the projection process. It is not the setting of the ambition that triggers the work from our perspective. It is the articulation of the measures and policies that the Government identifies as bringing us to it. Those are two important distinctions and I thank the Senator for raising them.
The Senator had a question about diversification, whether land use is being quantified and how much is being converted to reach our targets. She also spoke about Ireland's reputation. I made a point in this regard in the opening statement. It is a message that the EPA has been reiterating for some time. I would also mention the opportunities that exist for the sector. A more diverse and resilient sector based on some of the principles which are central to decarbonisation, such as circular economy principles and reductions in food waste, will bring positive opportunities with the transition we envisage. The potential expansion into nature-based production systems, tillage, horticulture and organic production all offer opportunities to access new markets, create new jobs and so on. While the outlook for the performance indicators for the environment, if I could describe them as such, is not optimistic currently, with the introduction of the new policies that are identified in the climate action plan, we expect to see that dial shifting. Full implementation is key, however.
Mr. Treacy might be able to talk us through diversification and land use quantification. The Senator may be talking about how much land is required to create the sink that will address the imbalance that exists. I think that is what she was getting at. This comes back to the point about land-use change in forestry being very complex and interconnected. Measures such as converting a number of hectares from one use to another does not necessarily produce a right answer because of the interconnectedness of it. Mr. Treacy may be able to expand on some of the methodological issues there.
The Senator spoke about the 1 million EVs and the issues associated with car culture and the urban sprawl. This is a methodological question when thinking about some of the policy measures that might give a bang for our buck in terms of transport-oriented design and thinking about how the planning system interacts. Those types of measures are more challenging to put into a system to quantify where we are likely to get to. Mr. Treacy can talk through the methodology relating to the 1 million EVs. It assumes that we have 1 million cars that have switched from being fossil-fuel based. We look at the measures that have been given by Government and we work them through the model, using the types of parameters that are set out at EU level. I ask Mr. Treacy to pick up some of those more tactical points.
Mr. Stephen Treacy:
Analysis off what kind of area would be needed for those measures would be done by Teagasc rather than us in devising the policies and measures. Teagasc has modelled on the basis of the inclusion of 25% clover on beef farms and 15% on dairy farms.
I can give some more information on land area use. The information is in our inventory report. There are approximately 800,000 ha of forest, just over 700,000 ha of cropland, 4.3 million ha of grassland, about 1.1 million ha of unmanaged wetlands, in the region of 70,000 ha of managed wetlands and 125,000 ha of settlements. That gives some sense of the land make-up.
Regarding land measures, the Senator is probably aware that the climate action plan contains the measure on water table management on agricultural land and organic soils. Approximately 40,000 ha was identified there. Teagasc is working on the more detailed elements of this and it has not reached our stage yet.
We produce the inventory for transport based on fuels sold. In a sense it takes account of everything that happens. Any measure affecting demand, usage or switching of vehicles is captured by the use of either less or more fuel. We pick up the impacts of all those measures. That approach means it is very difficult to identify directly from the inventory sources the impact of those individual measures.
That is why we rely on our suppliers, such as the SEAI and the Departments of Transport and the Environment, Climate and Communications to get an analysis of the expected delivery of measures for the future. We then subtract that from the projection of fuel used with the current basket of measures. That is how that process works.
In a sense, the inventory is very agnostic about the measures used. If the fuel is burned, the emissions are recorded and if not, they are not. It does not rely on a bottom-up calculation of what we think particular measures are doing. It looks at the end of the pipe and what was actually done. It means we need to use other modelling approaches in conjunction to understand the projected impact of these kinds of measures.
I thank the witnesses for their presentation. I want to ask about the environmental impact of the 1 million EVs beyond carbon both at home and overseas. We are all anxious to think globally and avoid any sense of thinking of the State only. The production of batteries in countries such as China is thought to give rise to a heavy carbon footprint. Some say that the latter is up to 60%. I recently read that this could be reduced if China adopted a European or an American model. There is also the issue of sourcing electricity for these.
I also wish to inquire about the bigger push away from individual transport to public transport, the retrofitting of homes and the introduction of heat pumps. Just transition is critical not just physically and financially but also psychologically for people's well-being and in the context of the sense of inclusion in the transition. Do the witnesses see a real heart-and-soul commitment from the State to recognising these realities and ensuring the people can transition urgently?
I want to touch on food production. It seems counterintuitive that while we have marketed ourselves as this clean, green food island, much of that has been achieved at the expense of the environment.
The addiction to efficiency seems to be trumping imagination and transformation. Small family farmers are doing their best on shrinking incomes. We really need to support these farmers because it is on their backs that we created this clean, green food island status. I ask the witnesses to outline the way forward here.
Ms Sharon Finegan:
I might ask Mr. Treacy to respond on the issue of the life-cycle impact of EVs. I do not have a response off the top of my head, but I recall that Mr. Treacy mentioned a life-cycle analysis in respect of EVs at an event we spoke at last week. I ask him to reference that in his response. There is some evidence available in that regard.
On homes, heat pumps and inclusion in the transition, the figures that are in the climate action plan, and which are therefore included in the projections to 2030 in the context of the retrofitting of homes and installing heat pumps, are extremely ambitious. There is no other way to describe them. The numbers are absolutely huge. Deputy Cronin mentioned hard times and bringing people with you. It is really important that people are supported. If people are interested in retrofitting their homes, it is important that they are supported to do so and are convinced of the benefits. On retrofitting the heat source in a home, for example, we can clearly see the impact that burning from fossil fuels, and particularly certain types of fossil fuels, has on air quality, both within the home and outside it. A public information campaign is needed to help people better understand the benefits that would be derived from the transition away from using fossil fuels to heat homes. This is not just around that air quality piece, it is also about comfort, having a better quality of life and being more comfortable in your home. It is a point that is well made.
I ask Mr. Treacy, if he does not mind, to respond to question on the target of 1 million EVs and the life-cycle impact. I will come back in on the wider point about food production.
Mr. Stephen Treacy:
To address that question, in a sense, a life-cycle analysis is a complicated process. It is almost done on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis, depending on where things are produced and used. In a country like Ireland, where almost 40% of our electricity is already generated from renewable sources, in comparison with a country where there might be double the emissions per unit of electricity produced if coal is a major part of the fuel mix, it does seem that the analysis is already in favour of EVs in terms of lower emissions on a life-cycle basis. It varies from vehicle to vehicle and depends on who is producing it and where it is being produced.
The Deputy made an important point in relation to the global environmental impact and the need for everyone in all countries to be aware of where the materials are being sourced. In particular, issues have been raised in respect of cobalt. As the Deputy pointed out in respect of newer battery technologies, it is a combination of trying to source cobalt sustainably but also reducing the amount of cobalt being used in batteries. There are batteries available that do not use cobalt at all. There are other batteries that do not use lithium. There are numerous strands of research and development going on in the automotive industry to make batteries longer range, more efficient, more energy-dense in nature and cheaper for the manufacturers to produce. There is huge development going on there. The key point is that, on a global level, the environmental impact needs to be at the forefront of everyone's mind in making the transition.
It also important to say that in the past, the alternative - the fossil fuel extraction, production and transmission industry - has not always necessarily been good for the environment either. There are trade-offs. Moving from one system to another, we must not lose sight of that.
Ms Sharon Finegan:
On that point, the EPA generally supports the principle of avoid, shift, improve. Avoiding car journeys in the first place is the most important aspect. The shifting away from individual car use to public transport is optimal, but if you are going to remain in your car, the idea is that you improve the means by which you undertake your transport. I know that the committee would have considered this when it carried its in-depth analysis of transport. The EPA is supportive of that methodology for viewing how we shift our transport emissions.
On food production, the Deputy described it as an addiction to efficiency. As I said in my opening statement, it is almost a mathematical principle that you will not drive the requisite level of savings while expansion is also happening through efficiencies. That does not just apply to the agriculture sector. There are issues around that, such as, for example, if demand for energy increases. The point is relevant across a number of sectors in relation to the climate space.
Ms Sharon Finegan:
Through the Ag Climatise strategy, there are measures which, if fully implemented, should serve to at least ensure that those efficiencies that are identified and some of the measures to impact on the other areas that we have described will bring about change. A key message we highlight is that before any further expansion can be contemplated, it is important to ensure that those efficiencies are being fully realised and that they are quantifiable and verifiable.
I thank the witnesses for the report, which is most interesting. I am very struck by Ms Finegan's point that you cannot derive the savings while you are also in an expansion phase. There is an element of that in terms of agriculture but also, perhaps, in energy production. We have talked about the share of energy that is renewable. A concern is arising, however, in respect of data centres, whereby we might be looking at expanded energy demand, even as we try to transition. I would be interested in hearing the witnesses' thoughts on that.
In terms of emissions, I note that in respect of the 2020 targets, there is talk of Ireland having to use credits and purchase annual emission allocations from other countries. That would not be ideal in terms of the global picture, because it is effectively something that could be a pure reduction in another place being added to our reduction. It is replacement.
On the 2030 targets, the EPA has stated that Ireland needs to use flexibilities to achieve the current 2030 targets. However, those 2030 targets are approximately half of what we are likely to have in a couple of weeks' time when the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill is passed. The EPA had projected a 20% reduction in emissions, but we will be looking for the 51% reduction. I ask the witnesses to comment on the care that needs to be taken in the use of flexibilities. What is an appropriate way of delimiting the use of flexibilities? When we consider the escalation that will be needed in the context of the new targets, it will involve a jump from 20% to 51%.
Ms Sharon Finegan: In relation to the lifecycle impact of EVs, I will turn to Mr. Treacy on the issue. I do not know, off the top of my head, but I heard Mr. Treacy mention a lifecycle analysis in relation to EVs at another event we attended last wee
Looking to the UN and the EU, there are new laws coming through from the EU. Is there potential that the 51% target, as a point of ambition, is likely to rise? In terms of what is required under the common but differentiated responsibilities from the UN level or our fair share within the EU model do the witnesses believe that is likely? I would welcome a comment on the potential direction of travel, which makes the case for the front-loading of action in the next five years in case our ten-year target ends up rising further.
On front-loading, the witnesses have provided detailed information already but I would welcome a comment on nitrogen and methane, particularly on nitrogen in terms of fertiliser, which is one aspect on which the report focuses. The witnesses will be aware that the nitrates directive has been a subject of discussion at this committee. In terms of methane, as I understand it from Dr. McGovern and others, it is not a matter of the long-term, the concern is the impact methane has in this 12-year period when we need to be doing everything we can to lower emissions. This is our bridging period - the period within which we have to act. I would welcome a comment on the importance of action in that period. While the long-term impact may be lesser, the short-term impact of methane seems to be higher. Is that part of the logic of why action needs to be front-loaded in that regard?
Ms Sharon Finegan:
I thank Senator Higgins. She posed some fairly technical questions which it would be helpful for my colleagues to answer. I will ask Mr. Treacy to answer on the 2020 targets and the use of credits and flexibilities and how that is structured and Dr. McGovern to answer the question on methane and the importance of acting now.
On energy, energy use and energy demand, it might be helpful to give the committee a sense of the scenario which is built into the projections for our future electricity demand. This projection is underpinned by EirGrid's analysis. EirGrid states that as we approach 2030, 27% of all electricity on the grid will be used by data centres. I am referring to EirGrid's All-Island Generation Capacity Statement 2020-2029. The question of demand is a significant one in that there is a major level of demand coming from one source. In addition, as mentioned in our responses to Deputy Cronin, the electrification of our transport system will also put demands on the system. However, the level of demand that you can expect from the transport system, as I understand it, is easier to manage in that it is not at peak times, it can be drawn down from the grid overnight and so on. Issues around energy demand arise at peak hours. The grid has a contingency to deal with those issues. These are not areas of expertise for the EPA. but that point is woven into our projections.
On the escalation of a need for new targets and what is happening at EU level, the current Commission, under President Ursula von der Leyen, has made clear that its target is a 55% reduction. What that means for Ireland will come down to what percentage of the target will be from the emissions trading system, ETS, the percentage from non-ETS, how individual country targets will be determined through an effort-sharing decision in the case of non-ETS and what will be in and what will be out. All of these have yet to work their way through. The figures are attractive in that they are easy to understand. The target we have is 51%, but the Commission target is 55%. The complexity of that is such that one is not always necessarily comparing like with like.
Dr. McGovern may wish to comment on the ambition at UN level, which is where his expertise lies. I will hand over to Mr. Treacy to answer the question on flexibilities.
Mr. Stephen Treacy:
To follow up on the point relating to energy, the projections in both scenarios project a significant increase in energy demand. Despite that, emissions from the energy industries, which is mostly power generation, will decrease by 25% by 2030. Towards the end of the projection, in 2028, 2029 and 2030, emissions are projected to start to uptick again. The demand increase is catching up and surpassing the measures there at the moment. When it comes to calculating the measures needed to meet the 51%, that will be one of the areas on which there will be focus for more action. This puts pressure on. A combination of data centres, heat pumps and so on creates a challenge in terms of meeting that target. This is not to suggest that it cannot be done. It is all about numbers at the moment. As I said, there is a 25% reduction in emissions built into EirGrid's median scenario.
In terms of credits and flexibilities, for the 2013-2020 compliance period, we have estimated that we will have exceeded our combined limit by around 12 million tonnes. If one adds up the individual annual emissions allocated for each year, which is a substantial amount at about one fifth of our annual emissions or, for example, the entire emissions from the transport sector, that is a substantial overshoot. To ensure compliance, Ireland has to have credits or annual emission allocations to meet those numbers. In that sense, it is a combination of eligible credits that have existed previously from investments Ireland has made abroad but also bilaterally purchasing credits from other countries that are meeting their targets and have a surplus of allowances they can sell to us. That trading is allowed for under the scheme.
In the context of 2030, which I think is what the Senator was referring to in regard to the flexibilities, the flexibilities available to Ireland are intended to reflect the extent to which, for example, agriculture is a big part of our emissions profile. In that sense, in per capitaterms, Ireland got a substantial portion of those flexibilities. Ireland is allowed 26.8 million tonnes flexibility in regard to accounting for credits from the LULUCF sector and approximately 19 million tonnes in respect of a flexibility around the numbers being transferred from the ETS to the non-ETS, which allows for an additional 19 million tonnes of emissions in the non-ETS sector. Those are the flexibilities available to us. The reasoning behind those was in regard to the portion of our agriculture in our emissions primarily. That was done post the cost-effectiveness analysis. That is the rationale.
In terms of the future, I cannot comment. There is nothing we know yet regarding what the future levels will be.
Dr. Frank McGovern:
I would like to make a few points. There was a lot packed into the Senator's questions, but I do not think we have time to go into all of the detail. Internationally, the Paris Agreement has set the framework by which we are going to achieve the required ambition to protect our climate. That is articulated as a temperature goal in the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to well below 2oC and to make efforts to limit warming to 1.5oC. As part of that process, we are to balance greenhouse gas emissions and removals during the second half of this century. That ambition will be expressed through the global stock take process. As committee members will probably know, the first stock take under the Paris Agreement will take place in 2023. It will look at the new science from the IPCC as well as the various contributions made by parties under their nationally determined contributions, NDCs. Ireland's NDC is under the EU, and so we are part of that overall ambition in the EU package. We also have the long-term strategies, which are really important in achieving the climate stabilisation that is necessary in order to avoid the large-scale impacts.
The various gasses and the pathways to 2030 are important. The Senator is correct in that action in respect of 2030 is essential to ensure that we are on the right pathway to stay below those targets. The IPCC was tasked with looking specifically at the pathways for achievement of the 1.5°C warming and that special report was published in 2019. I will try to scan the document to confirm the figures that were mentioned. The key message that the IPCC has been giving for some time is that we need to get to net zero CO2 as soon as possible. Emissions of CO2 that accumulate in the atmosphere will largely determine long-term global warming. They commit us to warming for centuries and millennia, and that is a message that was clear from this assessment report. It is also clear from the 1.5°C report and the UN report provided in advance of the Paris Agreement in terms of the long-term global goal. The IPCC will update those analyses in the sixth assessment report. We hope that the first volume of that will be published in the first week in August this year. Due to Covid, it has been delayed. The subsequent volumes on impacts, adaptation and mitigation will be published in early 2022.
In terms of some specific numbers for various gases, as I said the IPCC report made it clear that getting to net zero CO2 by 2050 would be really important and we then need to have negative emissions to offset emissions of gases that we cannot bring to zero. In terms of the other gases, methane reductions of well above 50% at a global level are required. Nitrous oxide is slightly more complicated because some models use more fertiliser for growing bioenergy crops. There is a lot of uncertainty around nitrous oxide levels.
In terms of methane emissions globally, approximately 50% are from fossil fuel industry releases, fracking, pipelines, etc. Standard production also causes leaks. They are considered the low-hanging fruit, so to speak. Immediate action to reduce those emissions would be very significant in terms of the global picture. For Ireland our main focus has been on methane from food production. In terms of the figures for a reduction in methane at a global level from agriculture for 2030, they ranged from -11% to -30% relative to emissions in 2010. For CO2, the figure is -58% 2-40% relative to the 2010 figure for 2030. If I have missed something, I ask the Senator to remind me. Those are the figures we are working with at a global level.
It is important that we do not suddenly say that the global figures immediately map onto every individual country. Every individual country, under the Paris Agreement, needs to find its own pathway to climate neutrality. I will stop there.
I will keep going. We will have a short second round. There are others ahead of Senator Higgins.
I have quite a concern around the modelling piece, in particular transport but less so for agriculture. Mr. Treacy mentioned that he leans on the likes of Teagasc for that element of the work the EPA is doing. At a pervious meeting, we were informed that the National Transport Authority was not yet ready with its detailed model. We did not get the sense from it that it had figured this out and how transport can change. It seems to me that a complex approach does not underpin the one million EV target.
Perhaps the witnesses can tell me if a zero carbon value is ascribed to an EV. Does the modelling take into account that our energy system, by that point, will be 70% renewable but still probably 30% fossil fuel? There is also the issue of where EVs are purchased and by whom. Those in certain demographics will drive more than others. If the balance of EV parts are in Dublin, for example, that will not need to a significant emissions saving as opposed to the majority of EVs being purchased in, for example, rural areas. I am not sure the modelling captures that and I have a concern about it. My concern is not about what the EPA has said, but rather what others have highlighted. The witnesses might comment on that.
Senator O'Reilly mentioned the modelling around the national planning framework, NPF, and the induced effects of policies like sprawl. Is that being captured in the projection analysis? It seems to me that a carbon reduction analysis for the NPF is required, and the compact growth that goes along with that. I am not sure that has been quantified properly. It seems that it needs to be if we are to be serious about reducing emissions.
Air quality has been mentioned a few times. The greenhouse gas reductions associated with EVs still leave significant issues relating to air quality as a result of brake dust, tyre wear and so on. I would be interested in hearing about the EPA's monitoring regime in respect of air quality at local level.
I know we do not have too much time, but perhaps the witnesses could get to the crux of what is driving the deterioration of the water quality in our river system across the country. I appreciate that I have asked a lot of questions. I am keen to bring in Deputy Bruton, who has been waiting quite a while. Perhaps the witnesses could address my questions as best they can in the time we have.
Mr. Stephen Treacy:
On modelling for transport, it is a complex area and one that I touched on briefly earlier. Our modelling is primarily around energy demand. It is macroeconomic modelling. However, we do not just leave it there, as such; we work with others who do modelling for other reasons, such as Transport Infrastructure Ireland. We have also spoken to the NTA. It is something that we expect to do much of in the future.
The basic question the Chair asked was about a zero value for EVs. They do not produce any emissions in our projections for the transport sector, but the impact of their electricity demand is captured in the energy sector. That is modelled.
The Chair also asked about air quality. We model for air pollutant emissions. We use a system of emissions modelling called COPERT that factors in on-road and off-road emissions, including tyre and brake wear, which the Chair mentioned. That data is captured.
The Chair mentioned regional modelling, which is not something we do currently. Our modelling is done on a national basis. I do not have any real answers for him at the moment. EVs are most efficient where internal combustion engine vehicles are least efficient, which is in urban areas.
It is not necessarily clear-cut as to exactly where the greatest benefit will be achieved. It also depends on vehicle types and the size and weight of the vehicles that are being substituted. We are, therefore, working on many issues with the other actors in the transport sector that have other models, and particularly the NTA, which, from our discussions with it, is modelling the elements of the NPF where it can project forward the future employment and housing locations and future journeys that will be needed. We do engage with the other actors. This is to inform and adjust our model, which is primarily an energy model we take from the SEAI and Economic and Social Research Institute's way to remodel. Many of us are involved in it. As the Chair said, it does not represent the answer to all the questions. Other models have a better answer to some questions.
Ms Sharon Finegan:
The Chair's question was on what is driving the deterioration of water quality. Nitrogen losses to water really is the key issue. Those losses constitute the most significant concern and our estuaries are in the poorest condition overall. Only 38% of those meet water quality targets. The concept of nitrogen loss is where nitrogen applied to the ground seeps through the soil and into the water table. Those losses have been increasing since 2013, which means that we are seeing an increasing negative trend in that regard. They come mainly from agriculture, as a result of the use of chemical fertiliser and organic manures, but also, to a lesser extent, from urban wastewater. The key areas in which we see those water issues are in the south and south east, which are the areas with the highest levels of intensive farming practices. We can see the impact on a catchment basis. This comes back to the point I made earlier about a catchment-based approach. These are the areas in which we can see the biggest impact on water quality.
I thank the Chairman. I would like to go back to some of the points relating to agriculture. Mr. Treacy said that 350,000 ha of drained organic soil generate 8 million tonnes. That is a little over 5% of our land area generating this very large amount. Are there policy tools we could use in order to start to turn that negative into a positive? That would constitute a significant element of an agricultural policy, both by paying farmers to do it and also by abatement, in this regard. What should we be talking about doing in terms of biogenic methane consistent with a policy of reaching net zero emissions. In New Zealand, they are talking along the lines of a reduction of between 24% and 47%. Where do we get the offsets in Ireland to achieve that lower target?
In what area do the witnesses reckon we can most easily make progress as we seek to move from the climate plan of 2019, which, as they indicated, will deliver the previous target, to the target of 51% that we have now adopted? On what areas should our committee be focusing in the context of seeking to achieve that?
Mr. Stephen Treacy:
With regard to organic soils and the 8 million tonnes, this is clearly an area where action can be targeted. As we pointed out, however, there is great uncertainty with regard to exactly where those 350,000 ha are and exactly what measures to re-wet that land or raise or manage the water table on it will achieve. Research in that regard is ongoing. It is in the Teagasc plan to re-wet approximately 40,000 ha, which it has estimated will save 4.4 million ha over the 2021-2030 period. There is definitely substantial potential in this regard.
Members must also recognise that much of that land has likely been in productive agriculture for quite some time. It may not be either socially or technologically very easy to re-wet that land. It is not our direct area of expertise but there are unknowns there, particularly around where it is, what is currently happening on that land and the ease or otherwise with which it could be re-wet. From a purely theoretical perspective, substantial reduced emissions could be achieved by managing the water table on that land.
I will address the Deputy's final question on land use and the future and perhaps Dr. McGovern will take the question on methane. There are not that many easy options left. The Climate Action Plan 2019 contains a lot of very challenging measures. On land use, clearly we need to act now in terms of planting forestry, for example, if we are to use that or if that is to be a factor for removals out to 2050. As it stands, afforestation rates are low enough that forestry is likely to become a source post 2030 as things stand. There are actions, even though they are long-term, particularly on the land side, which need the action now to actually deliver in 20 or 30 years' time. That is where I will leave it.
Dr. Frank McGovern:
I do not fully get the question. My understanding is that New Zealand has a separate target for biogenic methane that would involve significant reductions to 2050, which, according to the science, would more than offset any warming effect that it may have. As I indicated, the reductions would be greater than that 3% per decade. It would, therefore, actually be taking methane out of the atmosphere in a sense by not replenishing it like that. I am not sure why it would be offset in the other sectors. The other sectors would need to reach their own climate neutrality or climate net zero pathways either in combination or separately.
Ms Sharon Finegan:
I thank the Chairman. To close out and perhaps end on an optimistic note, climate neutrality in this sector presents an opportunity but it requires an integrated response that will ensure fairness for all. It must be planned and managed both to underpin systemic change to enable low-carbon technologies and practices to flourish and behavioural change to enable individuals, communities, business and organisations to play their part. That is across all sectors, including agriculture.
I thank Deputies and Senators for their thoughtful and thought-provoking questions. The EPA will be delighted to follow up on the specific point raised by Deputy Bruton. Indeed, if other questions emerge during the committee's consideration of this or any of the other topics, we would be delighted to provide any assistance.
I thank Ms Finegan for finishing on an optimistic note. We often forget that there could well be a significant opportunity for Ireland as we tackle climate change.
I congratulate the EPA on its report, which is important and timely. I look forward to future reports after the new climate action plan is issued, which it is hoped will be this summer, all going well. We will be interested to see the EPA's analysis of the new measures that are coming down the tracks in the next few months.
I thank everyone for attending. It was a worthwhile session and it will help us in our deliberations in future. The general theme of the committee this year is how we, as a society, might reduce emissions by 51% by 2030. The witnesses' contributions will certainly help us in that regard.