Emissions from agriculture decreased by 3.9% in 2019

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has today (Friday, November 20) published its provisional greenhouse gas emissions for Ireland for 2019.

The figures show a reduction of 4.5% compared to 2018, which is the largest decrease since 2011. Significant emission reductions are recorded for the agriculture, energy industries and residential sectors. These decreases come despite modest growth in the domestic economy of 1.7% over the year.

Table below: Provisional greenhouse gas emissions for 2018 and 2019 for Ireland. Final figures will be submitted to the EU and UN in March and April 2021 in line with the agreed reporting timetable. However, according to the EPA, the figures indicate that Ireland will exceed its 2019 annual EU emissions allocation by 6.98Mt, which makes it “highly unlikely” that Ireland will meet its overall 2020 targets, even taking the impact of Covid-19 on emissions in 2020 into account.

Commenting on the figures, Laura Burke, director general of the EPA, said:

“This much-needed reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is a welcome step in the right direction. The figures show that emissions reductions can be achieved and, in 2019, there have been reductions in power generation, agriculture and residential sectors.

“However, if the 2020s are to be the decade of climate action, this level of emission reductions, at a minimum, will be required annually.

“Therefore, these reductions need to be built on to achieve continual, substantial, year-on-year emissions reductions.”

Emissions from agriculture decreased by 3.9% in 2019

The overall emission reductions have been driven by a number of factors across the sectors, including agriculture.

Agriculture emissions decreased by 3.9% (0.86 Mt CO2eq) in 2019. This was driven by reduced fertiliser use (down 10.1%) and a reduction in the quantity of lime used on soils (down 25.4%), which had both increased substantially the previous year.

Table below: Sources of agriculture emissions

According to the EPA data, agricultural emissions in 2018 were “the highest in the 30-year time series”.

The report continues:

“The size of the dairy herd continued to increase, for the ninth consecutive year (+2.8% in 2019), with a 5.3% increase in total national milk production.

“Other cattle numbers decreased in 2019 by 3%, resulting in an overall decrease in the cattle herd of -2.7% year over year.

“Total fossil fuel combustion emissions from agriculture/forestry/fishing activities decreased by 1.7%. In the last five years, the numbers of other cattle have decreased by 0.4%, whereas there have been increases in the numbers of sheep (+0.9%), pigs (+5.5%) and poultry (+9.6%).”

Emissions from agriculture are up 8.5% in the last five years (between 2014 and 2019) and in 2019, they were 9.5% above 1990 levels.

The EPA emissions projections (published in July 2020) show that agriculture emissions are projected to increase by 3.5% over the period 2021-2030, to 21.1 Mt CO2eq.

Commenting on the data, Stephen Treacy, senior manager of the EPA, said:

“These 2019 figures illustrate where our economy and emissions were heading before the Covid-19 pandemic.

“While 2020 is likely to see a reduction in emissions caused by the impact of the pandemic, this does not negate the need for long-term and sustained action.

“Focusing on climate action as part of a ‘green’ recovery offers the opportunity to respond to climate change while rebuilding our economy and generating new jobs.”