Irish overall emissions down – but agri emissions up 2.9%

Ireland’s overall greenhouse gas emissions fell slightly by 0.9% in 2017 – but despite this marginal drop, the country is off track to meet its EU 2020 targets, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The findings, published today (Wednesday, December 5), showed that power generation emissions decreased by 6.9%, and household emissions decreased by 5.0%; however, agriculture emissions increased by 2.9%, the agency said.

Today’s figures show that greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland in 2017 – at 60.75 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) – were 0.9%, or 0.53 Mt CO2 eq, lower than in 2016.

The main factor underpinning lower transport emissions was a fall in cross-border fuel tourism due to currency fluctuations.

Agriculture

Agriculture emissions increased by 2.9% in 2017 (0.57 Mt CO2 eq). The most significant drivers are higher dairy cow numbers – up some 3.1% – which reflect national plans to expand milk production.

Dairy cow numbers have increased by 26% in the last five years while greenhouse gas emissions from the sector increased by 10% over that time.

This shows that agricultural production has gained some efficiency over this period but that we have some way to go before full decoupling, the EPA said in its statement.

Transport

Transport emissions have decreased by 2.4% in 2017 (0.29 Mt CO2 eq) after four successive years of increases.

Total road transport fuel sales decreased by 1.1% in 2017; however, when considering cross border fuel tourism, total fuel used by Irish motorists continued to grow by 2.1%.

This is driven by economic and employment growth.

Energy

Energy industry emissions decreased by 6.9% (0.86 Mt CO2 eq) in 2017 whereas there was an increase in demand for electricity of 1%.

In 2017, decreases were observed in coal (21%) and peat (6%) use whilst renewables (wind up 21%) increased due to more favourable weather conditions.

The overall impact is that there is a 9% decrease in the emissions intensity of electricity generation – from 480g CO2/kWh in 2016 to 437g CO2/kWh in 2017 which is the lowest carbon intensity on record.

Lower household emissions reflected a warmer year in 2017 with less heating required, especially during the winter months. A significant increase in renewable energy in the power generation sector displaced carbon-intensive fuels such as coal and peat so reducing emissions in that sector.

EU countries, including Ireland, have binding annual targets to put us on the required pathway to meet EU 2020 targets.

Dr. Eimear Cotter, director of the Office of Environmental Sustainability at the EPA, said: “A decrease in our greenhouse gas emissions is welcome – particularly in the context of a growing economy.

However, some of the underlying drivers of this decrease point to circumstance rather than deliberate action – a fall in cross-border refuelling and warmer weather played a role this year.

“This would raise questions about the longevity and enduring nature of these decreases in future years.

“The figures published today indicate that Ireland will exceed its 2017 annual limit by nearly three million tonnes Mt CO2 eq,” Dr. Cotter added.