Preliminary data issued by the World Meteorological Organisation at the UN climate change conference in Morocco (COP22) shows global temperatures this year at 1.2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. According to their data it is likely that 2016 will be the hottest year on record. The organisation warns that Arctic sea ice remained at very low levels, especially during early 2016 and the October refreezing period. There was also significant and very early melting of the Greenland ice sheet.
On one hand, we have the UN figures showing we are within just one degree of “catastrophic” temperatures”, while on the other hand we have President Elect Trump openly disbelieving of environmental concerns over global warming, saying that the concept was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
Here in Ireland we have the leader of the Green Party, Eamon Ryan TD, saying that the world is going to have to fight against the “lunacy” of Trump when it comes to the issue of climate change. Deputy Ryan has plans to work around Donald Trump by “doubling our efforts within Europe and elsewhere to rid ourselves of the dependency on that American oil.”
But Ireland must also reduce its own carbon footprint and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) it emits. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that we are set to breach our binding greenhouse gas limits in 2016 or 2017 after a surge in emissions across all the main sectors last year. They say that more needs to be done to break the link between economic growth and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Ireland is spewing 113 tonnes of greenhouses gases into the atmosphere, every minute, every day, or 60 million tonnes a year.
The Irish Energy Industries, Transport and Agriculture sectors, now account for almost 73% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the EPA found. Agriculture is still the single largest contributor to overall emissions at 33% of the total. Transport and energy industries are the second and third largest contributors, at 19.8% and 19.7% respectively.
Ireland can do something to reduce its agricultural GHG emissions – the technology is available now.
Koch Fertilisers launched its new Advanced Nitrogen Fertiliser this year after 4 years testing with Teagasc. It was shown that Advanced Nitrogen fertiliser contains 70% more nitrogen than normal fertiliser so less tonnage is required meaning that the carbon and actual cost of applying nitrogen fertiliser is reduced. The Koch Advanced Nitrogen® (KAN) fertiliser has much better environmental credentials than other “normal” fertilisers. Over 4 years of Irish field trials it was found that KAN reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 71% and reduces ammonia emissions by 84% compared with Urea fertilisers. Irish farmers can increase productivity in a sustainable way and make a significant cost saving, while reducing GHG emissions.
Connected Energy earlier this year announced 6 new Anaerobic Digesters planned for Ireland. In an Irish context, Anaerobic Digesters seem to be the panacea of all ills when it comes to handling our organic wastes and reducing our carbon footprint. Every town in Ireland should have one!
Anaerobic Digestion (AD) involves the breakdown of organic material into biogas by bacteria in an oxygen-free environment. This process occurs naturally in bogs, landfills, on the bottom of lakes or in stomachs of animals such as cattle. Biogas is a mixture of methane (50-75%), carbon dioxide (25-45%) and small amounts of water (2-7%), as well as trace gases.
AD plants convert organic waste material into biogas. Waste (from agriculture, compost bins, or other organic waste) is pumped into a closed vessel (digester) which has been inoculated with bacteria. Anaerobic (oxygen free) conditions are then maintained in the vessel and the temperature is held at a constant value (typically 40oC). The biogas produced can be upgraded to ‘natural’ gas quality, but is normally used on site to generate heat and electricity directly, for the town or buildings nearby. Ten cubic meters of methane produces an energy content equivalent to approximately 100 kilowatt hours or 5 litres / a gallon of fuel oil. The CO2 produced is also taken off and bottled for use in industry and the organic residue makes an ideal, safe, fertilizer or soil conditioner.
There is a place for windfarms, solar farms and biomass production in Ireland. There is also a place for Anaerobic Digestion and new fertilisers. Irelands Food Wise 2025 plan aims to nearly double the value of Ireland’s food and drink exports under a new 10-year strategy for the sector which involves a 65% increase in primary food production. This increase cannot be considered in isolation from its environmental impact. The additional 23,000 jobs promised under the plan are based on projected expansions in dairy, beef and seafood as well as a doubling of consumer food and drinks exports.
This expansion must take account of GHG and other environmental factors and cannot happen without due recognition of what steps must be in place to curtail our GHG and Carbon emissions while increasing productivity. It is now time for Ireland to embrace new proven technologies in the agriculture sector to enable future sustainable growth.