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Greenhouse gas emissions cut by 2.5% during first months of pandemic

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Irish greenhouse gas emissions reduced by an estimated 2.5 per cent between March and May as a result of the impact of the lockdown from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new study commissioned by the State’s environmental watchdog.

Research carried out for the Environmental Protection Agency found the biggest driver of falling energy-related CO2 emissions was reduced consumption of transport fuel linked to the restrictions on mobility as part of the lockdown introduced on March 27th.

The study by researchers at the Clean Technology Centre at the Cork Institute of Technology said its findings should be regarded as a “first look” at the effects of the pandemic on the environment.

It found traffic volumes, which had increased at the start of 2020, immediately dropped when restrictions including the closures of schools and workplaces were first introduced, and fell even further after lockdown was imposed at the end of March.

The seven-day rolling average showed traffic levels were down 30 per cent by the end of the week of St Patrick’s Day and by 71 per cent at the end of the first week of lockdown compared to the same period in 2019.

Diesel consumption was down by about 35 per cent between March and May, according to the study.

It said the April figure for auto diesel of 139 million litres was the lowest monthly figure in the past 20 years.

The study said reduction in diesel consumption represented an estimated drop of 878 kilotons of CO2 emissions across the three-month period, which was the equivalent of 1.4 per cent of annual greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland.

Substantial

It claimed the reduction in petrol consumption was even more substantial – almost halving over the same period.

The decline in petrol use represents an estimated reduction of 311 kilotons of CO2 emissions, which is the equivalent of 0.5 per cent of the annual total.

Figures show overall electricity generated in response to reduced consumer demand was down 6 per cent between March and May compared to the same period in 2019, which contributed to a 0.3 per cent drop in annual CO2 emission levels.

In a similar fashion, consumption of natural gas also declined by 6 per cent over the same period, resulting in a further 0.3 per cent reduction in CO2 emission levels.

Although international travel emissions do not impact on national emission reduction targets, the study said there had been “an extraordinary collapse” in departures and arrivals at Irish airports.

Deliveries of jet kerosene were down 27 per cent in March and 84 per cent in April compared to the corresponding months in 2019.

While agriculture emissions were not examined as part of the study, the report said it anticipated that emission levels from the sector would have been unaffected by Covid-19.

The study said there was little indication that restrictions had the potential to cause major changes to water quality, although there was an increase in pressure on home and rural wastewater systems due to the reduction in travel from rural to urban areas for work purposes.

Single-use plastic

It said the increased use of single-use plastic for deli, bakery and perishable goods as well as single-use personal protective equipment during the pandemic would inevitably lead to an increase in waste.

Individual members of the Irish Waste Management Association (IWMA), whose members collect three-quarters of all household waste in the Republic, reported average increases in waste collected of 21 per cent.

The largest rate of increase was in brown bin collections, at 32 per cent, compared to 16 per cent for grey bins and 12 per cent for green bins.

However, the IWMA reported that commercial waste had fallen by an average of 54 per cent during the lockdown.

Earlier this year, the head of the European Environment Agency, Hans Bruyninckx, said Covid-19 and its multiple impacts on society could not in any way be perceived as an event with positive outcomes even if it resulted in significant temporary reductions in emissions.

“Even those of us who, based on our expertise and knowledge, have been vocal and calling for serious changes in our systems of production and consumption, should not see the massive shutdown of our society as an acceptable solution to urgent and systemic sustainability challenges,” Mr Bruyninckx said.

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