That was the question a team of young European researchers hosted by Good Energies Alliance Ireland (GEAI) spent six months working to answer. In December, the team produced the first Irish county-based carbon inventory report of its kind, the Leitrim Cróga Report. (Cróga means “brave”)

“The answer to that question is – it’s complicated!” said Nicoló Tria from Italy, leader of the GEAI research team. “We found that each year, activities in Leitrim release into the atmosphere 225,000 tons more than can be absorbed by local carbon sinks, for example forests and bogs.

“Where do the emissions come from? Agriculture (43%), Transport (22%) and Households (20%) are the three biggest emitters. Industry and Public Services were 9% and Energy Industry was 6%. However, Leitrim’s forests, bogs and other sinks offset the equivalent of 40% of total emissions.

“So, does this mean that Leitrim is okay?

NO!
Putting aside Leitrim’s land use, emissions from transport in Leitrim are 21% higher than the national average per capita (due to our excessive use of polluting vehicles); emissions from households are 27% higher (due to the low energy efficiency of our houses and our use of low-grade heating fuels – oil, coal, turf). Action must therefore be taken quickly to improve our houses and transport to reduce our annual carbon debt.”

Leitrim cattle market

But what about Agriculture emissions?

The analysis of Agriculture was an interesting part of this study.  Farming intensity in Leitrim is the lowest in Ireland – less than an adult cow per hectare. Leitrim agriculture accounts for less than 1% of national emissions.

“Most farms in the North-West qualify as High Nature Value (HNV),” Tria pointed out. “They are managed in a way that supports biodiversity and the richness of local wildlife (plants and animals), while reducing flooding risks, purifying water and soil and storing carbon. HNV farmers not only produce good food, but maintain and enhance the ecological balance.

However, this ecological work is not reflected in farmers’ income, which in the North-West is four times less that of a farmer in the South. Neither the CAP or national schemes incentivise HNV farming. Farmers should receive higher compensation for taking care of commons (wildlife, air and waters); they are the custodians of their commons and their work should be acknowledged and rewarded by government policies and by the market.”

Grazing and Biodiversity in Leitrim

So – how green is Leitrim, really?

  • Our agriculture practices are fit for purpose but should focus more on safeguarding our biodiversity and lowering fertiliser use, while farmers should be better compensated for doing this.
  • Our forests are the biggest absorbers of carbon but need better management and more planting of broadleaved trees. Our bogs urgently need conservation and rewetting.
  • Our transport and built environment need urgent attention, focusing on clean and efficient energy.

By taking ownership of what is at stake, we could become Climate Neutral by 2030, a worthy target!