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New projected Land Use emissions take up a greater and increasing fraction of the carbon budgets

posted 3 Jun 2022, 09:29 by Paul Price

Key Points:

  • Due to updated science projected land use (LULUCF) net emissions to 2020 are now 3–5 MtCO2/yr higher under existing measures than was forecast in earlier Projections, and far higher than provided for in the core scenarios outlined by the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC).
  • Given the two agreed national 5-year carbon budgets for 2021–2025 (295 MtCO2e) and 2026–2030 (200 MtCO2e), and the provisional budget for 2031–2035 (151 MtCO2e), the projected LULUCF emissions take up a greater amount for each year and an increasing fraction over time of the total budgets compared to what had been suggested by the 2021 Projections and even greater fraction compared to the CCAC's small provision for LULUCF assumed in modelling for energy and agriculture. 
  • Therefore, if Ireland's agreed carbon budgets are to be met then far more policy attention is required in a revised Climate Action Plan to limit near-term emissions from Land Use. In particular, this implies that effective limits on forest harvest and peat extraction up to 2030 are likely to be needed (in addition to environmentally sensitive afforestation), as well as increased achievement in Energy, Industry and Agriculture sectors (for which projections show insufficient mitigation achievement).
  • In the Government's definition of sectoral ceilings by the beginning of July this year, realistic "sectoral ceiling" values for the five-year carbon budget periods need to be set for LULUCF net emissions (given these updated projections), otherwise the sectoral ceilings for other sectors will not be meaningful.

Charting the projected Land Use emissions pathways and 5-year totals relative to carbon budgets

As discussed in the previous post, the new EPA 2022 GHG Projections show substantially increased LULUCF net total emissions. This is particularly due to a revision of the forestry emission factors for plantation forestry on organic (peat) soils. In this post, having obtained the full data for the 2022 Projections, further detail is presented here for the new projected pathways for LULUCF and the resultant fraction of the 5-year national carbon budgets set out up to 2035. In the charts below, these new LULUCF projections are compared to the 2021 Projections and to the provision for LULUCF given in the October 2021 CCAC Technical Report [pdf] analysis (CCAC-TR).

Full details of Ireland's projected GHG emissions with mass data by gas and for CO2e are contained in an Excel file submitted to the EU by the EPA (a copy of the submitted Excel workbook ishere). 

The line chart below shows the 2022 projected net LULUCF emission pathways for the WEM (orange) and WAM (blue) scenarios. Also shown are the much lower emissions in the 2021 projections (grey dashed line) and much lower still in the CCAC-TR provision for LULUCF. For WEM, LULUCF emissions steadily increase from 7 MtCO2e in 2020 up to 13 MtCO2e in 2037.  For WAM, LULUCF emissions steadily increase from 7 MtCO2e in 2020 up to nearly 10 MtCO2e in 2037. For the revised WAM the "carbon cliff" from forest harvest is not so apparent as in the WEM scenarios, but the 2022 WAM pathway is nonetheless higher than the 2021 Projection's WEM=WAM pathway.

Ireland GHG emissions LULUCF 2022 projections pathways

The bar charts below give the five-year totals for LULUCF WEM (orange) and WAM (blue) emissions in the 2022 Projections, compared to the CCAC-TR provision (green) and the 2021 Projections (grey)  The upper chart is in MtCO2e for each of the five year budget periods to 2035. The corresponding lower chart shows the percentage of the overall national budgets taken up by the projected emissions in each case. This analysis indicates worryingly high LULUCF shares of the carbon budgets unless an emergency course correction in land management regulation is undertaken in the very near-term.

The CCAC-TR pathways assumed for LULUCF were clearly understood in that report to be very ambitious (even more so for the unrealistic 51% reduction by 2030), as only slow and delayed improvement in reducing net LULUCF emissions was anticipated due to the "carbon cliff" reduction in forest sink due to projected forest harvest and the delayed impact on net emissions from increased afforestation and organic soil rewetting. Unfortunately, the 2022 projections indicate that LULUCF emissions are likely to be far higher than previously thought, seriously increasing the LULUCF impact on carbon budgets.
In the three successive carbon budgets the CCAC-TR analysis for scenarios provided for LULUCF to take up 8%, 6%, and 6%, of the budgets, respectively. By comparison: the new WEM projected LULUCF takes up 15%, 27%, and 41%; and the WAM LULUCF takes up 13%, 21%, and 31%. This analysis indicates that far greater ambition and more effective implementation is required for LULUCF and for Energy, Industry and Agriculture, if there is to be a good faith societal commitment to meeting the carbon budgets.

New policies and measures to change these LULUCF pathways will require radical and rapid changes in management of all organic soil areas with forest, wetland and grassland, likely especially by limiting timber harvest, ending as much peat extraction as possible, and undertaking rapid rewetting of grassland organic soils. Certainly, any support for projects for drainage of organic soils needs to end.


As noted in the previous post, these new Projections suggest that a major revision of the Climate Action Plan is now required this year. New policies and measures in land use management, and across all other sectors (for which the projections show insufficient mitigation achievement), need to be undertaken as immediately as possible. It will be important that the public and media are made aware of the urgency of these early course corrections given Ireland's international commitment in the achieving climate action equitably aligned with meeting the Paris Agreement temperature goal.

Without prompt corrective action choices to meet the carbon budgets will become increasingly limited and more costly. As recent political and media focus on "turf wars" has exemplified, none of these options may appear palatable now, but, as the research on climate risk makes very clear, taking difficult decisions earlier rather than later lowers costs and keeps larger set of future policy options open. 

At this point, already a quarter of the way through the first carbon budget period, the urgency required to achieve the carbon budgets and all of the constituent sectoral ceilings cannot be overemphasised. Far greater public and media awareness of this reality could enable increased political will to overcome inaction and drive necessary action.