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Turf wars: High energy bills may thwart Irish government’s plans to partially ban peat cutting

In Ireland, one in seven households still uses peat to heat their home. As part of its climate plans, the Irish government has partially restricted peat cutting. But that is not without a struggle. Rural areas are resisting now that energy prices are so high.

More than half of all households in Ireland use solid fuels such as coal, peat and wood, to heat their homes, according to research published by the State’s environmental watchdog in April.

Livestock farmer Mickey O’Donnell used to cut peat for a living. With the current energy prices, he still uses peat to heat his home, cook and shower. His supply of peat will last him all winter and summer. It cost him only 200 euros: “It’s very, very cheap. If you do the work yourself, it’s a lot cheaper.”

Marc Ó Cathasaigh is a member of parliament for the Green Party. His party is the driving force behind the ban on commercial peat sales. Because peatlands are an essential weapon in the fight against climate change: “Not only do the peatlands capture carbon, but they store it for a long period of time. Therefore, something like forestry will capture carbon very effectively for the first fifty years. And after that, it becomes a kind of steady state.

The amount of carbon within that system stays constant. Bogs are different. They will take carbon from the air and they’ll put it into storage in the form of peat or turf, and that will stay there, bound up for thousands of years if left be.”

The government’s climate message is increasingly resonating in Ireland, especially among the younger generation. But the current energy crisis could throw a spanner in the works.

“This spike in energy prices has definitely made this discussion much more difficult”, says Ó Cathasaigh. “I think the war in Europe has shown us beyond any shadow of a doubt that not only do we need to move in terms of energy transition from a climate point of view, but also there’s an energy security question.”

There is also a call among younger voters for the energy transition to renewable energies like wind. The Green Party is also in favour of such a changeover, according to Ó Cathasaigh.

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