Environmental Indicators

The key environmental indicators for Ireland are presented below. The current environmental status/trend of each indicator is also given, where appropriate.  Choose an indicator from the list below to explore in more detail.

 

AirStatus / Trend
Air Emissions: Nitrogen Oxides  red face
Air Quality: Ground Level Ozone green face
Air Quality: Nitrogen Dioxide green face
Air Quality: Particulate Matter PM10  amber face

Air Emissions - Nitrogen Oxides

Emissions of NOx are currently well above the 2010 limit in the EU Directive on National Emissions Ceilings and are expected to remain high in the short term, largely due to the difficulty in achieving significant reductions in emissions from road traffic.

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Air Quality - Ground Level Ozone

Ground level ozone is an air pollutant which is formed by the chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC), in the presence of strong sunlight. It has a global background concentration, which also has natural sources. Ground level ozone pollution episodes are infrequent in Ireland but may occur when we have unusually hot, dry and stable weather conditions. These episodes may also be triggered by pollution episodes in the rest of Europe, because depending on weather conditions, ground level ozone pollution may be transported across to Ireland from mainland Europe..

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Air Quality - Nitrogen Dioxide

Nitrogen dioxide was measured at 17 stations in 2014. Concentrations of nitrogen dioxide were below the limit value at all sites. Annual concentrations measured at suburban and rural sites are significantly lower than those measured at urban sites.

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Air Quality - PM10

PM10 was measured at 20 stations in 2014. All stations were compliant with the EU annual limit value and all but two were compliant with the WHO air quality guideline value. Levels were highest at traffic influenced sites in cities and large towns due to burning of coal and other solid fuel in addition to emissions from traffic.

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ClimateStatus / Trend
Greenhouse Gas Emissions: By Sector amber face
Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Projections to 2020 red face
Effort Sharing Decision Targets  green face

Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector

Ireland's emissions profile has changed considerably since 1990, with the contribution from transport more than doubling and the share from agriculture reducing since 1998. Agriculture is the largest source of emissions, representing 33 per cent of total national emissions in 2014. The transport and energy industries sectors represent 19.5 and 19.1 per cent respectively, of total greenhouse gas emissions in 2014. The transport sector has been the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, showing a 121 per cent increase between 1990 and 2014.

 

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GHG Emissions Projections to 2020

The 2020 EU Effort Sharing target commits Ireland to reducing emissions from those sectors that are not covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme (agriculture, transport, residential, commercial, non-energy intensive industry and waste) to 20 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. Ireland is expected to breach annual obligation targets in 2016 or 2017, depending on the level of implementation of emission reduction policies and measures. While there is over-achievement of annual obligations in the early years of the compliance period (2013-2020), this will not be sufficient to allow Ireland to cumulatively meet its compliance obligations. Full impelmentation of policies out to 2020, including current targets for energy efficiency in our homes and businesses and increasing renewable fuel use in transport and heating, will not be sufficient to meet 2020 emission reduction targets.

Please note that the EPA has estimated annual limits for the period 2013-2019 and a 2020 target for Ireland which incorporate the methodology changes that have arisen as a result of the use of new UNFCCC reporting guidelines. Please see the EPA's 2015 emission projections publication and the 2016 publication Greenhouse Gas Emission Projections to 2020 - An Update for further information.

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Effort Sharing Decision

Ireland’s non-Emissions Trading System (ETS) greenhouse gas emissions for 2013 and 2014 are in compliance with the European Union’s Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) targets.

This Decision sets 2020 targets for non-ETS sector emissions and annual binding limits for the period 2013-2020. Ireland’s target is to reduce non-ETS emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 compared with 2005 levels.

 

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WasteStatus / Trend
Biodegradable Waste Diversion from Landfill amber face
Household Waste per Capita green face
Recovery and Disposal of Municipal Waste amber face
Recovery of Packaging Waste green face

Biodegradable Waste Diversion from Landfill

Landfilling of biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) results in high emissions of methane which is a greenhouse gas and a potential source of odour nuisance. There are targets under the Landfill Directive to divert BMW from landfill. Ireland met the first diversion target (due by July 2010), which was to landfill a maximum 75 per cent of the BMW generated in 1995.   Ireland has met the 2013 target, and is on track to meet the 2016 target. There is, however, a risk that municipal waste generation could increase with economic recovery which in turn may result in an increase in BMW being disposed to landfill.

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Household Waste per capita

Household waste generation (per capita) in Ireland decreased in the period 2007 to 2012, which reflects less consumption during a period of economic recession.

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Recovery and Disposal of Municipal Waste

The amount of municipal waste produced increased steadily up to 2007 to approximately 3.4 million tonnes. However, there has been a 21 per cent decrease in municipal waste generation since 2007, resulting principally from the economic downturn. Municipal waste recovery has increased dramatically over the last decade with 59 per cent of this waste recovered in 2012.

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Recovery of Packaging Waste

Ireland has been compliant with all statutory packaging recovery targets set since 2001. A recovery rate of 88 per cent is reported for packaging waste in 2013, exceeding the 2011 EU target of 60 per cent.

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NatureStatus / Trend
Conservation Status of Listed Habitats red face
Conservation Status of Listed Species Status for Indicator at Amber
Threatened Species Status for Indicator at Amber
Countryside Birds Status for Indicator at Amber

Conservation Status of Listed Habitats

The majority of Ireland's habitats that are listed under the Habitats Directive were reported in 2013 to be of inadequate or bad conservation status . Only 9 per cent of listed habitats are considered to be in a favourable state.

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Conservation Status of Listed Species

In Ireland 52 per cent of species listed under the Habitats Directive are in a favourable state. These include most species of bat, dolphin and whale. The number of species considered declining in status is low. Aquatic species are most at risk, although species such as the otter and especially the frog are doing very well. The natterjack toad is assessed as “bad but improving”.

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Threatened Species

Recent red lists indicate that more than a third of Irish bee species and non-marine mollusc species are threatened. In addition, over 15 per cent of Irish water beetle species, butterfly species and dragonflies and damselflies are threatened.

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Changes in Countryside Birds 1998 – 2013

There is evidence from the Countryside Bird Survey (1998-2013) that many countryside birds have fared quite well over the last number of years. Overall, twenty species showed increasing trends, seventeen species remained relatively stable and the remaining sixteen declined. Greatest increases were seen in Blackcap and Goldfinch. Greatest declines were in Grey Wagtail, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and Greenfinch.

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Environment & WellbeingStatus / Trend
Air Quality - Particulate Matter PM2.5 Status for Indicator at Amber
Bathing Water Quality Smiley_Green
Drinking Water Quality Status for Indicator at Amber
Urban Wastewater Treatment Status for Indicator at Amber

Air Quality - Particulate Matter 2.5

PM2.5 was measured at 7 stations in 2014 and all concentrations observed were below the EU limit value. However concentrations were above the tighter WHO air quality guideline values. Ireland is also required to reduce PM2.5 average concentrations by 10 per cent by 2020. PM2.5 is considered a good indicator of man-made particulate matter with the main sources being solid fuel burning and traffic emissions.

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Bathing Water Quality

Water quality at identified bathing areas remains high with around 93 per cent meeting the mandatory standard of "Sufficient". Prior to 2011, assessment was based on Total and Faecal Coliforms plus Faecal Streptococci. Since 2011, E.coli and Intestinal Enterococci have been used and from 2014 assessment will be based on 4 years of data. A new standard of "Excellent" has also been introduced with three quarters of all identified bathing waters meeting this stricter standard and approximately 83 per cent of bathing areas meeting the stricter “Good" standard. The dip in 2012 was due to the impact of the extremely wet summer. Management measures are required to bring all bathing waters up to at least “Sufficient” status by 2015.

Find out more about bathing water quality on the EPA's SPLASH website and in the 2015 Bathing Water Quality in Ireland report

  • Sufficient Water Quality - compliant with EU mandatory values (1998-2013) / At least Suficient (2014 onwards)
  • Good Water Quality - compliant with EU guide & mandatory values (2010-2013) / Excellent and Good (2014 onwards)
  • Poor - not compliant with EU mandatory standards 91998-2013) / Poor (2014 onwards)
  • New - Category introduced for newly identified waters where classification is not yet possible (post 2014)
  • Changes - Category related to improvements due to management measures (post 2014)

 

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Drinking Water Quality

The number of consumers that are served by water supplies subject to a boil water notice has reduced from over 23,000 to fewer than 6,000 currently. This reduction is due to prioritising investment in key ‘at risk’ supplies in County Roscommon and other vulnerable areas in 2015. Despite this welcome, large reduction in boil water notices, Irish Water needs to press ahead now with remedial works on the outstanding 16 public water supplies so that the threat of long-term boil water notices is eliminated. In 2014, the quality of public water supplies serving 82 per cent of the population remained very good with 99 per cent of samples complying with microbiological and chemical standards. There has been an 85 per cent reduction in E. coli detections since the EPA became the environmental regulator in 2007.  The quality of drinking water from private supplies, however, remains inferior to that from public supplies.

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Urban Waste Water Treatment

Investment in waste water infrastructure has resulted in significant improvements in the treatment of urban waste water. 94 per cent of urban waste water at areas >500 p.e. now receives at least secondary (biological) treatment compared to less than 30 per cent in 2001. However, urban waste water still poses a threat to the quality of receiving waters in some areas. In 2014, discharges from 18 per cent of large urban areas (31 out of 174) did not achieve mandatory EU standards, 12 large urban areas did not meet the EU Directive requirement to provide secondary treatment and untreated sewage was discharged at 45 areas.

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WaterStatus / Trend
Nitrates in Groundwater Status for Indicator at Amber
River Water Quality - Phosphates Status for Indicator at Amber
Coastal Water Quality Status for Indicator at Amber
Transitional Water Quality Status for Indicator at Amber
 Lake Water Quality  amber face

Nitrates in Groundwater

Elevated nitrate concentration in groundwater is an issue, particularly in the southeast and south of the country. It may contribute to pollution of surface waters and affect drinking waters.

Note historic concentrations may differ from those previously reported due to the addition to or removal from the network of monitoring points and their associated data.

 

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River Water Quality - Phosphates

Analysis of 2014 data for orthophosphate in rivers (2,066 monitoring stations (an increase of 70 from 2014) covering 748 rivers (an increase of 14 from 2013)) shows an encouraging picture with almost three quarters of all rivers meeting the annual averaged Environmental Quality Standard (EQS) for Good status of 0.035 mg/l P. Ireland has some of the lowest P concentrations in Europe. However, elevated phosphorus is linked with eutrophication in freshwaters which can markedly affect water quality. The areas with the highest P concentrations are to be found mainly in north-eastern counties, some parts of the midlands, and in the lower Shannon catchment, while rivers in the west and north-west generally show the lowest concentrations.

Please note the following mg/lP classifications:

  • <0.025 mg/lP - Meets High EQS
  • 0.025 - 0.035 mg/lP - Meets Good EQS
  • >0.035 mg/lP - Moderate

 

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Coastal Water Quality 2007-2012

Both coastal and transitional waters are positioned at the interface between land and sea and as such are exposed to a wide range of human pressures. These pressures can include discharges from industrial and municipal waste water treatment plants, inputs from diffuse agricultural sources, morphological alterations associated with harbour and port activities and accidental or in some cases intentional discharges from marine vessels.  A total of 43 coastal water bodies were assessed by the EPA, Marine Institute and Inland Fisheries Ireland between 2007 and 2012.  67.4 per cent achieved good or high ecological status, accounting for 93 per cent of the total area assessed (approximately 12,471km2) with less than 5 per cent of waters at moderate status. No coastal water body had poor or bad ecological status.

 

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Transitional Water Quality 2007-2012

Both transitional and coastal waters are positioned at the interface between land and sea and as such are exposed to a wide range of human pressures. These pressures can include discharges from industrial and municipal waste water treatment plants, inputs from diffuse agricultural sources, morphological alterations associated with harbour and port activities and discharges from marine vessels.  A total of 85 transitional water bodies were assessed by the EPA, Marine Institute and Inland Fisheries Ireland between 2007 and 2012. 36 per cent were found to be at good or high ecological status, accounting for 44.7 per cent of the total area assessed (approximately 377 km2). The remaining transitional water bodies were classed as moderate or worse ecological status.

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Lake Water Quality 2010-2012

The primary pressure on lakes is eutrophication resulting from nutrient enrichment mainly from diffuse sources . Two hundred and thirteen lakes representing 955 km2 of lake surface area were monitored for the WFD in the period 2010-2012. Ninety one lakes (43 per cent of lakes monitored) were assigned high or good status and comprised 295 km2. One hundred and twenty two lakes (57 per cent) were moderate or worse in status (660 km2 of lake area monitored).

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Sustainable EconomyStatus / Trend
Car Numbers & Engine Size Status for Indicator at Amber
Environmental Tax Revenue  N/A
Renewable Energy Production Status for Indicator at Amber
Total Final Energy Consumption by Fuel red face
Resource Productivity green face

Car Numbers and Engine Size

There was a continuing trend up to 2007 towards increased new car ownership and the purchase of new cars with larger engine sizes. However in 2009, the number of new cars licensed declined very significantly. There has been an increase again since 2010 with a trend towards cars with mid-range & large engine sizes.

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Environmental Tax Revenue 2012

Environmental taxation revenue in Ireland fell sharply between 2008 and 2009. The fall was due in large part to the collapse in new car sales which significantly reduced revenue from Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) following the change to the calculation of VRT based on the emission rating of the vehicle. Revenue increased in 2010, due to the introduction of the carbon tax which yielded €235 million.

Environmental taxes accounted for 8.7 per cent of Ireland’s total tax revenue in 2012. This was the fourth highest in the EU and is above the EU average of 5.9 per cent.

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Renewable Energy Production

Wind has become the main source of renewable energy production in recent years, increasing from 1 per cent of total primary energy production in 2000 to 17 per cent in 2013. This is followed by biomass at 10.6 per cent with the remainder of renewable energy coming from hydro, landfill gas, geothermal, liquid biofuel, solar and biogas.

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Total Final Energy Consumption by Fuel Type

Ireland’s overall energy consumption increased significantly up to 2008 due to growth in energy consumption for transport, electricity and space heating. The total figure fell by 18 per cent between 2008 and 2013. Fossil fuels accounted for 91 per cent of all energy used in Ireland in 2013 with oil continuing to be the dominant energy source in 2013, with a share of 47 per cent.

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Resource Productivity

Resource productivity is a measure of the efficiency of resource use.

In the period 2004 to 2006 the negative trend in the indicator suggested poor economic returns on the resources consumed. However Ireland’s raw material resource consumption has improved considerably since then whilst broadly maintaining national wealth generation (in terms of GDP). In other words Ireland is becoming more efficient in terms of the materials consumed to support the economy. Efficient use of raw materials is essential to economic competitiveness, environmental sustainability and sufficiency of ecosystem services.  

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a measure of economic activity. It represents the monetary value of all goods and services produced over a specified period of time.

Domestic Material Consumption (DMC) measures the total amount of material directly consumed by the economy.

  

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LandStatus / Trend
Afforestation green face
Land Cover green face
Organic Agricultural Land green face

Afforestation

Since 1997 policies have been in place to increase broadleaf planting, and the Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 set a target of 30 per cent annual broadleaf afforestation. This target has been reached (and exceeded) in recent years, but primarily through a reduction in afforestation using coniferous trees rather than in an increase in planting of broadleaves.

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Land Cover in Ireland 1990-2012

Despite rapid development in the last two decades, Ireland's landscape is predominantly rural and agricultural. Artificial surfaces account for just under 2.5 per cent of the land surface, significantly below the Europe-wide average of 4 per cent. Agriculture and forestry land-use account for 68 per cent and 11.5 per cent of the national land area respectively with peatlands accounting for a further 14.5 per cent.

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Organic Agricultural Land 2012

Land used for organic farming in Ireland grew by 180 per cent between 1997 and 2012, when it accounted for just over 52,000 hectares (1.2 per cent of total agricultural land). This is the second smallest percentage of agricultural land given over to organic farming in the EU. Austria, with 19.7 per cent, had the highest percentage of agricultural land farmed organically.

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