What were some key trends in the latest EPA report?

Published by Kayle Crosson on

22 October 2021

The Environmental Protection Agency’s latest projections on greenhouse gas emissions for 2020 are out – and we took the day to dive into them and pull out some key points.

As always there were negative trends and some pockets of improvement but overall – we’re nowhere near where we need to be right now to halve emissions by the end of decade. 

In 2020, the EPA has projected that Ireland’s total emissions declined by 3.6 percent – which was a smaller reduction that what was seen in 2019. 

And for even more context – in order to meet our 2030 emissions target, that figure should roughly be double what it was, each year, for the next nine years. 

The overall picture also isn’t great when it comes to where we are reducing our emissions compared to 2005. We should have cut emissions compared to that baseline by 20 per cent, but in reality we managed only 7 per cent.

Okay – now onto some trends. 

Agricultural emissions continue to grow 

Our largest emitting sector – agriculture – is seeing its emission share continue to climb upwards. Its emissions increased by 1.4 per cent in 2020, driven by a number of factors. 

The heightened use of nitrogen fertiliser and a greater number of livestock, particularly dairy cattle (which grew by 3.2 per cent), were the main factors the EPA identified behind the growth. 

Zooming out, the agency highlighted that over the last ten years, dairy cow numbers have increased by over 45 per cent and milk production has shot up by 60 per cent in that same time period. 

But perhaps the most striking figure is that agriculture now accounts for 37.1 per cent of Ireland’s total greenhouse gas emission picture. 

For context, the EU average share of agriculture in the bloc’s emissions pie is 10 per cent. 

Transport emissions were down & EVs have a long way to go 

Due to public health measures introduced throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, transport emissions saw a significant drop – 15.7 per cent to be exact. It was the largest sectoral emissions reduction for the year by far. 

However, the EPA highlighted that by the end of 2020, just under 26,000 electric and hybrid vehicles were on Irish roads. 

This doesn’t bode well for the Government, who’s current Climate Action Plan aims to have almost one million (936,000 to be exact) electric vehicles on the road by the end of the decade. 

Residential emissions are up 

Here we see another emissions increase as we saw emissions rise by 9 per cent from homes across the country as many people worked from home due to lockdown measures. 

This increased demand was met with low fuel prices, which also contributed to the increase. 

However, the EPA did point out that overall since 2014, emissions per household have gradually increased, which they added indicated an “acceleration of energy efficiency retrofit and renewable energy deployment is needed to avoid a continued increase in emissions from the sector.” 

Slashed peat use has a made a real difference for electricity generation emissions  

Overall, peat-fuelled electricity in Ireland fell by 51 per cent in 2020. Coupled with a 15 per cent increase in wind generation, we saw an almost 8 per cent reduction in energy industry emissions. 

According to the EPA, this builds on the reductions seen in 2019 as coal was phased out for electricity generation. 

However even with peat and coal at a relatively low level of use in 2020, further emissions reductions in line with the Climate Act will, according to the EPA, “depend largely on rapid deployment of renewable generation”. 

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