Earth Photo: Noah Haggerty / Pixabay

Only minor decrease in Ireland’s emissions in 2017, EPA finds

December 5th, 2018

Ireland’s emissions dropped by less than one per cent in 2017, leaving us well off track to meet our 2020 climate targets, new data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reveals.

The environmental watchdog found that that Ireland’s emissions were 60.75 million tonnes last year – 3 million tonnes over the pathway required to meet our 2020 targets.

Ireland’s National Policy position is to reduce CO2 emissions by 80 per cent on 1990 levels by mid-century across energy generation, the built environment and transport sectors.

The Government has also outlined a goal of climate neutrality in the agriculture and land-use sector.

Agriculture emissions, however, went up almost three per cent last year due to higher dairy cow numbers. In total, the sector accounted for over 20 million tonnes in 2017.

While the Department of Agriculture has pointed to a decoupling of dairy output and carbon emissions, An Taisce said today, that only very slight efficiency gains have been recorded.

These small gains, the environmental charity said, have been “completely overwhelmed” by the rapid expansion of the dairy herd, together with a nine per cent increase in nitrogen fertiliser use in 2017.

cattle cow dairy
holstein-cattle Photo: CallyL

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

Emissions from power generation went down almost seven per cent due to a surge in renewables on the grid.

Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, said however that most of the underlying drivers of our small emissions decline “point to circumstance rather than deliberate action”.

Household emissions were down five per cent but only because as 2017 was a warmer than normal year, requiring less heating during winter months, she said.

In addition, emissions reductions (2.4 per cent) in the transport sector only came about due to a fall in cross-border fuel tourism due to currency fluctuations brought up on Brexit.

Total fuel used by Irish motorists actually went up by two per cent driven by economic and employment growth, the EPA said.

“This would raise questions about the longevity and enduring nature of these decreases in future years,” Dr Cotter warned.

The Minister for Climate Action, Richard Bruton TD welcomed the small decrease but added that he is well aware that we are “still off course to achieve the targets we have committed to”.

“We have stabilized usage in the residential, services and energy sectors. However, since the recovery, we haven’t succeeded in breaking the link between economic progress and emissions in the industry, agricultural and transport sectors,” he added.

“The reality is that we are 95% off course to deliver on our 2020 targets.”

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan TDs said that the EPA’s figures show that there has been “no underlying change in Irish climate policy”.

He said that at current carbon market prices we will need to spend €60 million to cover the three million tonnes of emissions we have failed to cut as promised under EU effort-sharing agreements.

“The €60 million we will have to spend to cover our excess emissions in 2017 would cover the cost of retrofitting 2,500 homes,” Mr Ryan said.

“This cost is going to increase year on year unless we begin to change our ways.”

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