Carbon Offsetting and Ireland’s Carbon Footprint

A world map globe with an arrow going to it from a cloud of CO2

What is carbon offsetting?

Carbon offsetting is one of a range of tools available to combat climate change. Want to help in the fight against greenhouse gases and the havoc being wrought upon our environment, but not sure how or where to start? Carbon offsetting can help by reducing carbon dioxide emissions around the world.

As greenhouse gases affect the earth’s atmosphere worldwide, reducing or compensating for CO2 emissions anywhere in the world benefits us all. Under the Kyoto Protocol in the Paris Agreement, countries who fall under their carbon emission limits can sell off the remaining allowance as credits.

Another interesting way for countries to offset carbon output is to obtain carbon offset allowances through the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism).

What is the Clean Development Mechanism?The CDM is one of a set of flexible mechanisms included in the Kyoto Protocol which provides carbon emission reduction certificates called CERs. Developed countries can buy CERs from developing countries. This enables more industrialised countries to meet their carbon targets and to fund emission reduction initiatives elsewhere.

What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint can be defined as the number of greenhouse gases, either directly or indirectly, produced by human-led activities. This amount is then expressed in terms of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced.

An example of an activity which directly produces CO2 would be when you heat your home with gas, the gas is combusted and generates a certain amount of carbon dioxide. An indirect example would be buying groceries, as the production and processing of the foods you bought will have produced some carbon, therefore assigning the foodstuffs a carbon footprint.

The carbon dioxide produced by heating your home and doing the shopping could then be calculated and added to your personal ecological footprint.


Which are the biggest contributors to our carbon footprint?

While CO2 quantities involved in consumption and production in everyday life vary, there are some general truths about the greatest contributors to CO2 emissions, which are energy, transport and food.

Energy

an electricity meter with a lightning bolt in front of it

Electricity, unless renewable, is produced as the end result of combusting fuel. This process, as we already know, emits carbon, but how much exactly? In Ireland, the cleanest energy sources are wind and hydroelectric power, followed by solar power.

It is worth keeping in mind that there is currently no carbon-free energy production process, given that carbon is produced even by the processes to manufacture equipment necessary for renewable energy, e.g. solar batteries.

The worst fuel by far in terms of carbon output is coal, at 2.2 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted for every kWh. This is then followed by petrol with 2 pounds, and natural gas at 0.9 pounds.

Irish energy customers can vote with their feet and choose energy suppliers who favour renewable energy. You can check out information on all Irish suppliers and their fuel mixes from our energy providers page. Alternatively, our article on renewable energy in Ireland also lists all of the 100% renewable energy Irish gas and electricity companies.

Food

As support grows for a move towards plant-based diets due to sustainability and environmental issues, it’s now commonly known that diets which contain more meat and animal-based products have higher carbon footprints.

Vegetarian food has a much lower carbon footprint, and vegan diets produce the lowest amount of CO2. However agricultural activities, while one of the main contributors to Ireland’s spiralling carbon emissions are not the only culprit.

Food waste is also a contributor. By buying more food than we consume, we push the industry to produce more to meet consumer demand - a demand inflated by our less-than-sustainable practices in our own kitchens.

Transport

Carbon is emitted in Ireland not only by using national and local transport networks but also by international travel. Passengers passing through airports in Ireland have been on the increase over recent years, cited as 36.5 million passengers in 2018. This represents a 6.1% increase on the previous year.

The first electric bus was delivered in Ireland as late as February 2019, and while the National Transport Authority announced plans to purchase 600 hybrid buses in the summer of 2019, we are still lagging behind our European counterparts, where market penetration of electric buses will have reached 20% by 2020.

Personal measures can also be taken such as carpooling and switching to electric cars or hybrid cars.


How to reduce your carbon footprint

Ideally, the carbon footprint for any individual should be 2-3 tonnes max per annum. Unfortunately, in Ireland, we still have quite a way to go when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint.

A CSO report carried out in August 2019 revealed that at the current rate of emissions, Ireland is producing 13.3 tonnes of CO2 per capita. This leaves us as the third-highest carbon emission producer in the EU, only beaten out by Latvia and Estonia. In 2018 it was also revealed by the SEAI that Irish households emit 60% more than the EU average.

Some easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint are by:

  • Reducing your meat and animal product consumption.
  • Buying locally (clothes, groceries, and other household products). This reduces the transport component (food miles) of items’ carbon footprints.
  • Buy fruit and vegetables that are in season.
  • Saying no to food waste - freeze items that you think will go off before you get a chance to consume them, or compost them.
  • Growing your own fruit and vegetables.
  • Buying products in bulk, or products that come with more natural packaging (such as paper or cardboard instead of plastic).
  • Buying clothes made from natural fibres.
  • Reducing energy consumption in your household.
  • Upcycling or recycling unwanted furniture, clothing and other belongings.

While every little helps when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, large companies must also take responsibility for their carbon dioxide output.


Offset your carbon footprint

a cross section of a forest

Following all the steps above will certainly enable you to reduce your own carbon footprint. Carbon offsetting, on the other hand, helps to reduce the global carbon footprint.

One CER, or Carbon Emission Reduction Certificate, represents a metric ton of CO2 taken out of our atmosphere and further mitigates the effects of global warming.

So, is the Irish government using carbon offsetting as a tool to lower our CO2 emissions?

The Irish government and carbon offsetting

In 2019, ahead of the realisation that Ireland is set to miss its 2020 carbon emission reduction goal set by the EU, the government unveiled an ambitious plan to reduce our emissions. With more than 180 measures detailed in the report, Ireland still hopes to meet the 2050 zero-emission targets.

What is meant by “zero-emissions”?Zero-emissions refers to a state of carbon neutrality, which is not the same as emitting zero carbon particles. Carbon neutrality is a state of equilibrium where the number of emissions and the planet's capabilities for absorbing them cancel each other out to a large extent.

The road to meeting the ambitious 2050 targets will apparently be paved with retro-fit energy-efficient housing, more electric vehicles, and higher carbon taxes, among other measures.

In order to meet the next deadline on the zero-emission path, the government will need to purchase CERs and plant a large number of trees.


Carbon offsetting for individuals

While citizens in other European countries such as the UK and France can purchase CERs and make their own contribution to reducing global carbon dioxide levels, no governmental schemes have been rolled out in Ireland as of yet.

Critics of CERs have claimed that people who purchase CERs lose sight of the fact that the priority is to reduce their emissions, not to carry on as before and just offset them. There is some truth in this, but the overall mission to battle global warming should be twofold and based on:

  1. Behavioural and policy changes to reduce carbon emissions being produced.
  2. Reduction and absorption of existing emissions through CERs and initiatives such as reforesting.

Although you can’t directly purchase CERs in Ireland, you can still contribute to carbon offsetting by donating to organisations who will plant trees on your behalf for as little as €3 per tree.

Curious to know how big your carbon footprint is? Check it out on the carbon footprint calculator website.

Did you know?If you have a garden, you can contribute to carbon offsetting the easiest way possible, by planting more trees! One tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year and can hold up to a ton of carbon by 40 years of age.


Are there any Carbon offset projects in Ireland?

There are several carbon offset projects currently active in Ireland in which the general public can participate.

Thorlux

Thorlux is a lighting company which has been running a carbon offset scheme since 2009. Although its products are available for sale in Ireland, the actual offsetting is carried out in Wales where they have planted 149,849 trees which have offset over 32,000 tonnes of CO2.

Ireland Ecotourism/Trees on the Land

Ireland Ecotourism works in conjunction with the cross-border Trees on the Land initiative to run native tree-planting events and arrange one-off tree-planting activities for tourists. If you’d like help or advice with planting trees on your land, or to make a donation to Trees on the Land, you can find all the necessary information on the Trees on the Land website.

The Boghill Centre

The Boghill Centre in County Clare is a venue for workshops, conferences and holidays. Situated on the edge of the Burren, the centre boasts a sustainable complex with its own fruit and vegetable gardens and subscribes to a green ethos.

The centre also runs a woodland project aimed at planting native trees and accepts donations in order to fund this. You can also choose to pay per tree (€3) when making a donation.

Vita

Vita is a charitable organisation which works in Africa to support families and communities. In particular, over recent years it has focused on enabling access to sustainable household energy.

An example of one such scheme is where more efficient stoves are provided to households. These stoves use 60% less wood than the traditional versions, thus meaning less trees cut down and more carbon absorbed.

Vita has a carbon calculator page where you can calculate your carbon footprint and offset it by supporting programmes such as the example above. You can choose which scheme you would like to donate to, or opt for a “quick offset”.


Verdict

The future is clean and green, or rather, we hope it will be. In order to meet our country’s future Paris agreement targets, serious thought needs to be given to personal ecological footprints, and legislation brought in to reduce emissions in the sectors producing the most carbon dioxide.

This means we need to examine our habits as citizens and a country together, reduce our energy expenditure, invest in renewable energy and technology, and work to reduce existing emissions through reforestation and carbon offsetting.

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