Unveiling Ireland’s Eco Dilemma: The Hidden Truth Behind Grassland Emissions

"Environmental Charity Accuses Irish Government of Underreporting Nitrogen Fertilizer Impact on Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Grasslands"

Environmental Charity Accuses Irish Government of Underreporting GHG Emissions from Grasslands

An environmental charity, Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), has raised concerns about the Irish government’s reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from grasslands. FIE recently approached the European Commission to highlight the issue of Ireland’s reporting of GHG emissions from organic soils. The commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) found that Ireland’s approach to reporting GHG emissions from grassland is of lower quality and higher uncertainty. In response to FIE’s letter, the commission emphasized the need for sustainable management of organic soils to reverse the decline in carbon removals in the EU.

The land-use sector, which includes the management of cropland, grassland, wetlands, forests, settlements, and land-use change, plays a crucial role in GHG emissions. The Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) Regulation, which will be implemented in 2026, sets 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, leading to a decline in the carbon sink function.

The commission noted that Ireland is one of only two member states that have included all organic soils in their commitments under the regulation for the period 2021-2025, before it becomes mandatory in 2026. However, FIE filed a complaint with the commission in May 2023, alleging that Ireland was under-reporting its GHG emissions from organic soils in its 2023 National Inventory Report (NIR). The NIR provides annual information about a country’s GHG emissions as required by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The UNFCCC distinguishes between three levels of methodological complexity for reporting: Tier 1 (basic method), Tier 2 (intermediate), and Tier 3 (most demanding in terms of complexity and data requirements). The commission’s analysis revealed that Ireland used Tier 2 or Tier 3 approaches for reporting forest and wetland emissions and removals. However, for GHG emissions from grassland, Ireland used a Tier 1 approach, which FIE criticized as relying on simplified methodologies for agriculture.

FIE director Tony Lowes expressed concern over the under-reporting of emissions from grasslands, stating that it has created a false sense of security about Ireland’s progress on climate action. He emphasized the government’s responsibility to support farmers in transitioning to a low-carbon agriculture. The commission highlighted the importance of using higher tiers to deliver more accurate estimates and stated that intentional or unintentional under-reporting is a real concern for both Ireland and the global climate.

According to the commission, member states are required to prioritize Tier 2 for reporting “significant” categories of land-use emissions due to the lower quality and higher uncertainty of Tier 1. The recent revisions to the LULUCF Regulation mandate the use of at least Tier 2 for all reporting from 2026 onwards. The commission informed FIE that Ireland is currently assessing the emissions and management factors associated with the drainage of organic soils, and the results will be integrated with emissions and removal estimates for grassland use.

FIE highlighted that studies have shown that the use of nitrogen fertilizers can increase nitrous oxide emissions by 20% to 50%. Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas that is 300 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2 over a 100-year period. In its response to FIE, the commission expressed optimism about Ireland’s efforts to enable accurate reporting in this key area of climate action.

Matt Lyons

Matt Lyons

Matt Lyons is the founder of Forestry & Carbon. Matt has over 25 years as a forestry consultant and is invoilved in numerous carbon credit offset projects.

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