02 Oct 2022

University of Limerick research outlines difficulties to maintain zero greenhouse gas emissions

University of Limerick awarded ‘University of the Year 2019’

NEW RESEARCH from the University of Limerick has revealed that net zero greenhouse gas emission status will be difficult to achieve by 2050 and challenging to maintain.

Under the government’s Climate Action Plan, Ireland is committed to a legally binding target of net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions no later than 2050, and a reduction of 51% by 2030.

Scenarios modelled by researchers at University of Limerick and University of Galway show how difficult these will be to achieve and maintain.

The results, which have just been published in the prestigious Nature Sustainability journal, show that drastic action is needed in the agri-food and forestry sectors if Ireland is to meet its targets.

Using Ireland as a specific case study, 850 randomised scenarios were modelled, with 128 achieving net zero status in the agriculture, forestry, and other land use sector and a further 38 scenarios contributed to the achievement of national level net zero status.

However, extending this analysis to 2100, only 40 – or around 5% – of scenarios maintained net zero status.

Dr Colm Duffy, Research Fellow at University of Limerick’s School of Engineering and lead author of the paper, explained: "The goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for 2050 sets clear targets for measures relating to energy generation and use.

"However, there is a lack of clarity regarding how this is best achieved in the land use sector, which is responsible for one quarter of global GHG emissions but is also vital for our food security.”

The study assessed the GHG footprints of 850 different land use combinations to identify those options capable of meeting Ireland’s 2050 target and sustaining it through to 2100.

The best-case scenario saw milk output sustained at 87% of 2015 levels if beef output was significantly reduced. High rates of afforestation also proved to be essential to achieve net-zero.

"The agri-food sector alone cannot achieve net-zero by 2050 and must look towards offsets using new forests comprising a mix of varied coniferous and broadleaf tree species that also support biodiversity and wider amenity value," explained Dr David Styles.

As the share of Ireland’s land under forest cover is among the lowest in Europe, there is high potential for new planting, Dr Duffy also noted.

"Owing to the rotational nature of commercial forestry, carbon offsets from new forestry will weaken through time, so that only one scenario tested sustained net-zero at the national level to 2100," the UL research fellow explained.

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