Ireland’s Reporting Of Grassland Emissions Of ‘Lower Quality’

An environmental charity has accused the government of not reporting the impact of nitrogen fertilisers on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from grasslands in Ireland.

Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) recently raised its concerns about how Ireland is reporting GHG emissions from organic soils with the European Commission.

Ireland’s approach to reporting GHG emissions from grassland is considered to be of lower quality and higher uncertainty, the commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) found.

In a letter to FIE, the commission said that the sustainable management of organic soils – peatlands and wetlands – is needed to reverse the recent decline in carbon removals in the EU.

Land Use Sector

The land-use sector includes the management of cropland, grassland, wetlands, forests, settlements and land-use change such as afforestation, deforestation, or draining of peatlands.

In 2026, the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) Regulation will introduce an EU-wide target of -310 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent of net carbon removals by 2030.

Currently, the EU sector absorbs more greenhouse gases than it emits. However, carbon removals have significantly decreased in recent years, and the carbon sink function is in decline.

The commission noted that Ireland is one of only two member states that includes all organic soils in its 2021-2025 commitments under the regulation, before it becomes mandatory in 2026.

Emissions Reporting

In May 2023, FIE filed a complaint with the commission, alleging that Ireland was under-reporting its GHG emissions from organic soils in its 2023 National Inventory Report (NIR).

NIRs are the annual information about a country’s GHG emissions required by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), according to FIE.

Annual reporting by member states in their NIR can be at three “tiers” or levels of methodological complexity. These are:

  • Tier 1 – the basic method;
  • Tier 2 – intermediate; and
  • Tier 3 – most demanding in terms of complexity and data requirements.

The UNFCCC notes that Tier 2 and Tier 3 are sometimes referred to as higher tier methods and are “generally considered to be more accurate”.

An analysis by the commission’s JRC shows that for both reporting forest and wetland emissions and removals, Ireland used a Tier 2 or Tier 3 approach.

However, in the reporting of GHG emissions from grassland, Ireland used a Tier 1 approach. Thus, FIE said “Ireland relies on the simplified Tier 1 methodologies for agriculture”.

Current legislation and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidance encourages member states to use higher tiers to deliver “better quality and more accurate estimates”, the letter states.

Commenting that intentional or unintentional under-reporting is a “real concern, both for Ireland and for the global climate”, FIE director Tony Lowes said:

“The under-reporting of emissions from grasslands has created a false sense of security about Ireland’s progress on climate action.”

“The government has a responsibility to support farmers in making the transition to a low-carbon agriculture,” he said after having received the commission’s letter.

Due to the lower quality and higher uncertainty of Tier 1, member states are required to prioritise Tier 2 for reporting of “significant” categories of land-use emissions, the commission said.

In accordance with recent revisions to the LULUCF Regulation, all reporting shall be undertaken using at least Tier 2 from the emissions year 2026 onwards, according to the commission.

Ireland stated in its 2023 NIR that the emissions and management factors associated with the drainage of organic soils in Ireland is currently being assessed, according to the commission.

The results of these will be integrated with emissions and removal estimates for grassland use as they become available, the commission said in its letter to FIE.

The environmental charity said that studies have estimated that the use of nitrogen fertilisers can “increase nitrous oxide emissions by between 20% and 50%”.

Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas that is “300 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2 over a 100-year period”, according to FIE.

In the letter, the commission added that it has a “positive prognosis on the efforts made in Ireland towards enabling accurate reporting for this key area of climate action”.

(Source – Agriland – Rubina Freiberg – 13/09/2023)

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