Failure to stay within ammonia limits predominantly driven by agriculture

3 June 2021

Ireland’s failure to adhere to EU ammonia limits has been predominantly driven by the growth of the agriculture sector, according to the EPA.  

Ammonia is one of the gases that falls under the National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive which sets to reduce national emissions for five air pollutants, including sulphur dioxide and fine particulate matter.

According to a compliance assessment published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today, Ireland’s ammonia emissions have been non-compliant for 7 out of the last 9 years. 

Ammonia is a toxic gas that is a major by-product of animal-based agriculture that combines with other pollutants to form particulate matter, one of the most dangerous and deadly types of air pollution particles.

The gas also poses a serious threat to biodiversity, with well-established links between its presence and biodiversity loss.

To date, agriculture accounts for 99 per cent of all ammonia emissions in Ireland.  

According to the latest available data from the EPA and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), emissions grew by 0.4 per cent between 2019 and 2020.

The sector’s growing emissions have been attributed to an increase in fuel and nitrogen fertiliser use as well as a growing cattle population.

Between June 2019 and June 2020, the national herd grew by 1.5 per cent and the total amount of dairy cows increased by 4.2 per cent.

“A risk to people’s health”

In response to the revised data published by the EPA, An Taisce warned that Ireland is in serious breach of its international obligations on ammonia emissions.

“This is no longer just an issue of environmental damage by agriculture, it is also a serious risk to people’s health,” Natural Environment Officer for An Taisce Dr. Elaine McGoff said.

“Ammonia pollution is an issue few are aware of, but it’s quickly becoming a major health and environment threat in Ireland,” she added.  

Despite decreasing in 2019, ammonia emissions continue to be non-compliant with the mandatory EU ceiling.

However, the country can meet the compliance goal for the 2030 ceiling through the full implementation of planned ammonia reduction measures, according to the EPA’s assessment.

“These measures are far-reaching and require big changes in the agriculture, transport and energy sectors, including switching to cleaner fuels, technology improvements in slurry application and a significant uptake of electric vehicles,” according to EPA Senior Manager Stephen Treacy. 

A reduction of over 30 per cent of air pollutants is required from all Member States if the EU is to achieve its emission reduction commitments for 2030.

Out of 27 Member States of the EU, 20 States remain off-track to meet one or more of the 2030 emission reduction commitments on the basis of their current policies.

Story by Shauna Burdis