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Northern Ireland carbon footprint and the role of AD

The average person's carbon footprint in Northern Ireland is substantially higher than it is for the average person in the rest of the UK, a paper by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has shown.

The findings show that in 2013, total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per capita in Northern Ireland stood at over 12 tonnes of CO2e*, significantly higher than the 9 tonnes of CO2e for the UK as a whole.

* CO2e = carbon dioxide equivalent, a standard unit for measuring carbon footprints. The idea is to express the impact of each different greenhouse gas in terms of the amount of CO2 that would create the same amount of warming.

Northern Ireland’s emissions were 22 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2e in 2013, and represented about 4% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, above its share of UK population (2.8%) and GDP (2.1%).

My June blog gave an update for 2015 figures, with GHG emissions in Northern Ireland rising compared to 2014.

Northern Ireland has relatively high shares of emissions from agriculture and land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF):

… and relatively high per capita emissions in agriculture, transport, residential and LULUCF sector compared to the UK as a whole:

A mix of Executive, UK and EU policies and legislation covers greenhouse gas emissions in Northern Ireland:

  • The Northern Ireland Executive, in its Programme for Government (2011-2015) has set a target of continuing to work towards a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by at least 35% on 1990 levels by 2025. This is a lower target than those set for Scotland and Wales, reflecting the larger share of emissions from difficult to reduce sectors such as agriculture.
  • The 2008 Climate Change Act extends to Northern Ireland following consent by the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. The Act requires the UK to cut emissions by at least 80% by 2050 and also introduced legally-binding five year carbon budgets, which set a ceiling on the level of greenhouse gases the UK can emit on course to the longer-term target.
  • Although the Act sets no targets for Northern Ireland, England, Scotland or Wales it’s implicit that all the countries contribute to the required reductions.

So, although Northern Ireland does not have a legally binding target under the Climate Change Act (the question remains whether it should or not), it has set its own target of 35% emission reductions on 1990 levels by 2025, which is lower than that set for Scotland and Wales.

By the end of 2015, only an 18% reduction in emissions had been achieved. To achieve the target of 35% emission reductions, a further 17% emission cuts will be needed in the next ten years, and this will have to come from somewhere.

What role can AD play?

To help decarbonise the Agriculture sector, which is such a large contributor to GHG emissions in the country, Northern Ireland must invest in low carbon agriculture. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recognises agriculture as a “hard-to-reduce sector”, but technologies such as anaerobic digestion (AD) can help achieve these carbon savings.

AD already abates an estimated 0.13 MtCO2e in Northern Ireland, but further investment in the technology, in particular AD that uses farm feedstocks, can help decarbonise the agricultural sector by:

  • Providing on-site energy for farms in the form of electricity, gas or vehicle fuel, displacing carbon heavy fossil fuel combustion;
  • Reducing methane emissions and other greenhouse gases from manure management;
  • Avoiding artificial fertiliser use and reducing transportation costs by using the digestate, a co-product of the AD process, as a natural fertiliser.

If you would like to find out more about the future of AD in Northern Ireland, be sure to register for the ADBA Northern Ireland National Conference which will be taking place on the 5th October in Belfast.

To see the draft programme, click here, where you fill find more information on speakers and the topics that will be covered. David Simpson, MP (DUP Spokesman on Business Innovation & Skills and Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, and Member of the DEFRA Committee) will be talking about what AD can do for Nothern Ireland.


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