EPA report puts silver lining on Ireland’s giant greenhouse gas cloud

5 Dec 2018

Image: © Sabphoto/Stock.adobe.com

Ireland’s EPA has released its report detailing greenhouse gas emissions for 2017 and, despite some good news, it hides a bigger problem.

It seems pretty much nailed down now that Ireland will fail to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for 2020 set by the EU, given the Government’s admission last month.

However, the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has revealed findings for how much we as a nation put into Earth’s atmosphere in 2017, and it seems there is at least some positive news, albeit small.

The report showed that the total emissions for the year decreased slightly from 2016 by 0.9pc to 60.75m tonnes of CO2 equivalent. The largest decreases seen by sector included transport (2.4pc), power generation and household sectors. And yet, agriculture actually rose in emission output by almost 3pc.

When trying to explain why the figure for transport was lower, the authors of the report said that it was down to a fall in cross-border fuel tourism due to currency fluctuations. However, total fuel used by Irish motorists continued to grow by 2.1pc, coinciding with economic and employment growth.

Meanwhile, the surge in agriculture emissions was mostly due to the increase in dairy cow numbers, increasing by 26pc in the last five years, while greenhouse gas emissions from the sector increased by 10pc over that time.

Figures hide a darker reality

A warmer year on average helped discourage homeowners from turning on their heating for longer. Additionally, there were some positive signs for the energy sector, with a 21pc decrease in coal energy production and a 21pc increase in wind energy production.

The overall impact is that there is a 9pc decrease in the emissions intensity of electricity generation, from 480g CO2/kWh in 2016 to 437 g CO2/kWh in 2017, making it the lowest carbon intensity on record.

For Dr Eimear Cotter, director of the Office of Environmental Sustainability, there are fears the data makes it appear more action has been taken than there actually was. “Some of the underlying drivers of this decrease point to circumstance rather than deliberate action; fall in cross-border refuelling and warmer weather played a role this year,” she said.

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

As she went on to say, these latest figures indicate that we are likely to exceed the 2017 annual limit by nearly 3m tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2018.

“This gives a measure of the gap between where Ireland is currently in terms of the 2020 pathway and where we need to be, and indicates the scale of the challenge facing the country in terms of meeting our long-term decarbonisation ambitions,” Cotter said.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic