In its largest annual reduction since 2011, Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 4.5% last year according to provisional figures for 2019 published by the Environmental Protection Agency.

This decrease comes in spite of modest growth in the domestic economy of 1.7% over the course of the year. In the past, rising emissions have often been linked to economic growth.

Nevertheless, it is looking like Ireland will still exceed its 2019 annual emissions allocation by 6.98 metric tonnes, making it highly unlikely that Ireland will meet its overall targets for 2020, even taking into account the impact Covid-19 has had on emissions.

A number of factors have driven the reduction in emissions, with decreases of note primarily occurring across the following sectors:

Energy Industries. Emissions in the energy industries sector showed a decrease of 11.2% in 2019, which is attributable to:

  • 69% decrease in coal and 8% decrease in peat used in electricity generation; and
  • Electricity generated from wind increased by 16% in 2019, with renewables accounting for 37.6% of electricity generated.

Post 2020, a continued increase in renewable generation levels will be required to meet ambitious greenhouse gas targets as set out in the EU's Climate Action Plan.

Agriculture. Agriculture emissions decreased by 3.9% 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%).

Other key drivers of emissions in agriculture, such as the number of dairy cows, continued to rise.

Residential. Emissions in the residential sector decreased by 7.3% (0.52 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent) in 2019 with the warmer winter resulting in a decreased use of fuels. Nonetheless, emissions per household have plateaued in recent years, which indicates a need to step up energy efficient retrofit activity in order to achieve emission reduction commitments.

Transport. Greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector decreased slightly, by 0.3% in 2019. An increased demand for transport largely offset more biofuel use, which was up 21.9% in 2019. Reducing transport emissions requires a blend of measures such as more cycling and walking as well as new technologies such as electric vehicles and biofuels.

The 2019 figures illustrate where Ireland's economy and emissions were heading before Covid-19, with the EPA indicating that while 2020 is likely to see a reduction in emissions caused by the impact of the pandemic, this does not negate the need for implementing a long-term and sustained action plan. The fact that Ireland is not on track to meet its future targets and a climate-neutral economy has the potential to result in “compliance costs” for the State that could run into tens of millions of euro.

To combat this, the level of emission reductions demonstrated from the 2019 figures will at a minimum be required annually, and will need to be built on to achieve a continued, substantial year-on-year reduction in emissions. Focusing on climate action as part of a “green” recovery offers Ireland the opportunity to respond to climate change while rebuilding the economy and generating new jobs in working to meet its climate targets over the coming years.

The full detail on the Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory 1990 to 2019 is available here.

Details on the 2030 Climate Action Plan are available here.