Is Climate Change The Same As Air Pollution?

The sun breaking through
Copyright Environmental Protection Agency

Climate change is a major threat to the health of our planet. Air pollution is closely linked but they are usually treated as separate problems. Rising levels of CO2 and other air-polluting gases increase the greenhouse effect, which in turn raises temperatures and affects global weather patterns. So, while climate change and air pollution are not the same issue per se, there are strong linkages and synergies between the two areas.

The Kyoto Protocol

The United Nations agreed a Convention to tackle the problem. Later this was strengthened by the Kyoto Protocol, when developed countries agreed to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gas (GHG) by 5.2% below the 1990 level. The Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012.

During the second Kyoto Protocol commitment period, Parties committed to reduce GHG emissions by at least 18 percent below 1990 levels in the eight-year period from 2013 to 2020; however, the composition of Parties in the second commitment period is different from the first. More information can be found here.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Ireland undertook to limit its emissions to an annual average of 62.8 million tonnes (13% above the 1990 levels) over the period 2008-2012. It is estimated that Ireland will meet its Kyoto Protocol target through the use of Kyoto Protocol credits already purchased by the State and use of unused allowances in the New Entrant Set Aside under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EPA, 2014).

Current EU directives after the Paris agreement in 2015 recommend a reduction in emissions of 40% by 2030, which was updated to a 55% reduction in 2020. 

The graph below shows Ireland's emissions and emissions projections. 

GHG Emissions

GHG Emission Projections for Ireland
Courtesy EPA ©

Moneypoint Power Station

Moneypoint Power Station

Plans for Closure

In 2017 Ireland's Moneypoint power station was prosecuted by the EPA due to health and safety issues. In 2018, engineering issues in the plant led to a forced outage at the County Clare facility which resulted in the closure of the plant for three months.

According to a press release from the EPA in 2019, emissions from Irish power generation and industrial companies in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme fell by 8.2 per cent in 2018 and this drop was all down to the plants closure which resulted in a 13.9 percent decrease in national power generation. The strong presence in renewable energy, mainly from wind generation at this time also aided this reduction.

The recent National Climate Action Plan commits to the end the burning of coal in ESB’s Moneypoint generation plant by 2025. Coal fired power generation will instead be placed with  low-carbon and renewable energies (DCCAE, 2019). The ESB is engaging with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in making plans for the plants closure. This step will see a significant reduction in Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions as well as an increase in air quality that will result in public health benefits. It is important however, that measures focused on a just transition are put in place to successfully re-skill and transition the workers from Moneypoint into new areas of employment.


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