Ireland is failing to limit escalating levels of dangerous ammonia air pollution due to continuing dairy intensification and excessive use of nitrogen from fertiliser and feeds. Due to government inaction on this issue, An Taisce has lodged a legal infringement complaint to the European Commission on the continued and increasing breach of the National Emissions Ceiling Directive (2016/2284/EU) on ammonia air pollution.
In a report released last week, the European Commission has assessed Ireland as being at high risk of non-compliance with agreed air pollution reduction commitments before and after 2030. Ireland’s policies and measures to address ammonia pollution are deemed inadequate to meet the required limits.
An Taisce has warned that immediate and effective action is needed to reduce ammonia emissions as other nations are now doing with due urgency.
Contrary to new agriculture minister Barry Cowen’s assertion last week on RTÉ, Ireland’s agriculture’s environmental credentials are in fact highly questionable, and this EU report confirms they are worsening. Ammonia emissions have increased by 14% in Ireland since 2011 and have exceeded our agreed national limit under the National Emissions Ceiling Directive since 2016, with no prospect in sight of meeting the lower limits from 2020 onward. Emissions of the potent greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide have also risen since 2011, by 15% and 18% respectively. Agricultural nitrate levels in rivers and estuaries are rising.
Ammonia (NH3) is a highly reactive nitrogen pollutant with harmful effects on delicate ecosystems and on human health through the creation of particle and ozone air pollution. Agriculture is responsible for over 99% of ammonia emissions, primarily due to cattle urine and slurry. Currently there are over 1.5 million dairy cows in Ireland, an increase of 450,000 since 2011, and over 5.8 million other cattle. Rather than the claimed efficiency gains, the key driver for production and the coupled pollution increases is a 38% rise in nitrogen fertiliser.
Wholly contrary to Ireland’s climate, biodiversity and air and water pollution commitments, further increases in dairy cow numbers are planned. Agri-industry organisations and Teagasc, the agriculture advisory body, have failed to make it clear to the public, the media and farmers, that any rise in dairy numbers pursued by policy must logically be balanced by reductions in beef cattle numbers to stay within overall ammonia emissions limits.
Source – An Taisce