Cattle produce most of the carbon the agriculture sector is responsible for, say the council.

Westmeath carbon output is 1.6 million tonnes per annum

Westmeath has an annual carbon footprint of 1.6 million tonnes, according to county council calculations. Forty percent of that comes from agriculture, and of the agricultural figure, 92% is from cattle.

The figures were presented at Environment an Climate Change SPC last week by senior engineer for Westmeath County Council, Jonathan Dean, who said they have to be reduced by 51% by 2030 to comply with the government’s Climate Action Plan.

Each county now has its own climate action initiative, and as part of that a number of reports have been prepared by KPMG and other consultancies, where the figures emerged.

The report on how much carbon Mullingar produces, including figures for industrial, residential, and transport sectors, is at draft stage and close to being published added Mr Dean.

“The County-Wide Baseline was done for us by Field Activity, who looked at where we were in terms of tonnes of greenhouse gas we produced in 2018.”

“This is the first time we saw this data and where we were in 2018, so we could quantify what our objectives are. It makes for stark reading,” he said.

Magnitude of challenge

Emphasising how great a challenge it would be to cut the figure by more than half, Mr Dean said: “If we removed all our residential carbon emissions, no residences in the county and we were completely carbon neutral with our heating and electricity, and say that all our transportation was completely carbon neutral, including private cars, buses, HGVs, deliveries, even if we took both of those two elements out of footprint, we still wouldn’t meet our target,” he said. “No one should really underestimate the extraordinary changes to our society that will be required for us all to make that change.”

The chair of the Environment and Climate SPC, Cllr Tom Farrell, said the numbers “really do focus the mind”.

“You can’t beat facts and figures and those figures are mind-boggling. I think the more this is publicised and the people understand it, and see it every day, the more we all know we have to change, but I suppose it’s the speed of change and how it’s done.” He said it’s better to “bring people along” than to force change on them.

Cllr Louise Heavin of the Green Party said the information should be in the public realm.

“I agree with the chair about bringing the people on board, we won’t get anywhere without community buy-in on what we have to do.”

Cllr Paddy Hill said: “The policies that are being pursued are carried out, it could have a devastating effect on rural Ireland.” (See separate story.) Cllr Johnnie Penrose agreed and added: “Agriculture is the mainstay of this country.”

Climate action activities

Mr Dean gave an update to members on other climate action activities in the county, including the council’s Tree Management Policy, a study which is being carried out by UCD, which will be presented at the next Environment and Climate Change SPC in May. He added that there is now a draft plan in place for the Woodland Creation on Public Lands Scheme planned for 7ha at Billistown, Delvin.

“We worked with foresters and we came up with a detailed plan and an application for funding has been formally submitted to the department. We are due to hear in quarter four of this year whether we will secure funding for the project.”

The plan to erect solar panels on the roof of Áras an Chontae in Mullingar has been granted planning permission, and the project is expected to be complete by the end of this year.

The council have also “got the green light” from the Department of Climate Change, Transport and the environment for the employment of two more dedicated climate staff.

“We hope to interview in March,” said Mr Dean, “so hopefully for the next SPC meeting we will have a new climate change coordinator and a climate change officer, who will join John Jackson, our community climate change officer, and we also have a climate change graduate, so we have a team of four people dedicated and working in this area, so we should see an increase in the productivity from the team.”