Irish CO2e levels soar in 2016 as renewable energy production falls

27 Nov 2017

Image: Reinhard Tiburzy/Shutterstock

It will come as a massive blow to environmental campaigners and the Government alike to hear that CO2-equivalent emissions jumped in 2016.

It had already been predicted that Ireland would fail to meet its greenhouse emission reduction targets, but new findings from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have shown that our emissions actually increased in 2016.

Publishing its findings online, the EPA found that the country’s total amount of emissions increased ‘significantly’ by 3.5pc last year on the previous year, amounting to a total of 61.19m tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e).

Unlike CO2, CO2e takes into account other greenhouse gas emissions from humans that contribute to climate change, such as methane and nitrous oxide, and distinguishes them from naturally occurring CO2.

The last time Ireland’s emissions were this high was in 2009, not long after the global economic crash.

Renewable energy use decreased

The greatest contributing sector to this sharp rise was the energy industry, which saw an increase in demand for electricity, largely driven by gas, thereby increasing its emissions by 6.1pc last year.

While decreases were observed in coal and peat use, the use of renewable energy also dropped by 1.7pc, most likely attributed to poor weather conditions.

The overall impact is that there is an increase in the emissions intensity of electricity generation for the second year in a row.

Transport emissions saw a 3.7pc increase last year and 13pc over the last four years due to an uptake in the Irish economy, driven by a rise in diesel over petrol and biofuels.

EPA report

Amount of emissions produced by each sector. Graph: EPA

‘Greater sense of urgency’ needed

The third-biggest contributor to emissions was Ireland’s vast agricultural sector, which saw a rise of 2.7pc, largely due to the growing number of dairy cows.

Dairy cow numbers have increased by 22pc in the last four years while greenhouse gas emissions increased by 8pc over that same period.

Dr Eimear Cotter, director of the EPA’s office of environmental sustainability, has called for a “greater sense of urgency” from policymakers and those in the most affected sectors.

“We need to adopt a much greater sense of urgency about reducing our dependence on fossil fuels while radically improving energy efficiency,” Cotter said.

“In relation to agriculture, Ireland must optimise agricultural production to ensure long-term environmental integrity and sustainability. The growth in this sector, particularly for dairy and other cattle, points to very significant risks in relation to meeting our decarbonisation objectives.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic