Irish greenhouse gas emissions to rocket

Official report predicts nearly 30% increase by 2010, double previous estimate

Without changes in government policies, Irish emissions of greenhouse gases will be 28% above 1990 levels in 2010, according to a report issued last week by the official Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI). This is double the previous official forecast.

Under the EU "burden sharing" package agreed in March for the Kyoto climate change negotiations, Ireland is permitted a 15% increase by 2010, which was also the Irish environment ministry's prediction. According to the ESRI, bounding economic growth will result in a much higher increase.

Ireland's economy grew 10.7% in 1995 and 8.4% in 1996, compared with just 1.4% for the EU as a whole, according to the European statistical agency Eurostat. As the trend continues, greenhouse gas emissions will increase rapidly, the ESRI predicts, particularly from the power generation and transport sectors.

According to the institute, without further measures to restrain them, carbon dioxide emissions from road transport will rise 115% from 1990 levels to 10.5m tonnes in 2010. Carbon dioxide from power generation will rise by 74% to 18.5m tonnes. Its forecast does not include a planned cement factory that could increase national emissions by another two or three percentage points.

Nevertheless, the ESRI predicts that Ireland could meet the 15% growth target without significantly slowing economic growth if the "burden of adjustment is spread over all sectors of the economy".

Greatly increased investment in public transport would be needed, it says, but warns that this will not be enough and that taxes "must play a vital role in traffic management". The ESRI suggests a greenhouse gas tax should be levied on all polluters, including agriculture and industry. It says that whilst voluntary agreements initially seem attractive, they are "unlikely to suffice to reduce emissions to the required levels".

The ESRI report also suggests a system of quotas that could be traded between EU countries. The "worst case scenario," it says, "would be a rigid system of EU quotas which could not be traded". Even if the initial quotas seemed generous, the difficulty of predicting long term economic growth "could make them a constraint on growth in the Irish economy".

Speaking as the ESRI report was released, environment minister Noel Dempsey said that a major review of ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be published shortly. He urged companies to see global warming as an opportunity to develop new products and technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Follow Up:
Economic and Social Research Institute, tel: +353 1 667 1525; Irish environment ministry, tel: +353 1 679 3377. References: "The Costs to Ireland of Greenhouse Gas Abatement."

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