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.
|Air||Status / Trend|
|Air Emissions: Nitrogen Oxides|
|Air Quality: Ground Level Ozone|
|Air Quality: Nitrogen Dioxide|
|Air Quality: Particulate Matter PM10|
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.
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.
Air Quality - Nitrogen Dioxide
Nitrogen dioxide was measured at 15 stations in 2015. Concentrations of nitrogen dioxide were below the limit value at all sites, however they are approaching the limit value in some large urban areas. Annual concentrations measured at suburban and rural sites are significantly lower than those measured at urban sites.
Air Quality - PM10
PM10 was measured at 18 stations in 2015. All stations were compliant with the EU annual limit value, however 16 stations were above the WHO 24-hour mean guideline value. Levels were highest in large towns in Ireland due largely to the burning of solid fuel. In urban areas there is potential for some additional emissions from traffic.
|Climate||Status / Trend|
|Greenhouse Gas Emissions: By Sector|
|Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Projections to 2020|
|Effort Sharing Decision Targets|
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 2015. Both the transport and energy industries sectors represent 19.7 per cent each, of total greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. The transport sector has been the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, showing a 130 per cent increase between 1990 and 2015.
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. 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. Current policies and measures to 2020, including 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.
See further detail in the EPA report Greenhouse Gas Emissions Projections 2016 to 2035.
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.
|Waste||Status / Trend|
|Biodegradable Waste Diversion from Landfill|
|Household Waste per Capita|
|Recovery and Disposal of Municipal Waste|
|Recovery of Packaging Waste|
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 has met all targets to date and is on track to meet the final diversion target (due July 2020).
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.
Recovery and Disposal of Municipal Waste
Municipal waste is household as well as commercial and other waste that because of its nature or composition is similar to household waste. Municipal sludges and effluents are not included in scope. In 2014, 2.62 Mtonnes of municipal waste was generated. Municipal waste recovery was at 79 per cent in 2014 (up from 59 per cent in 2012), due to the increase in municipal residual waste used as a fuel (incineration and co-incineration).
Recovery of Packaging Waste
Ireland has been compliant with all statutory packaging recovery targets set since 2001. A recovery rate of 91 per cent was reported for packaging waste in 2015, exceeding the EU target of 60 per cent.
|Nature||Status / Trend|
|Conservation Status of Listed Habitats|
|Conservation Status of Listed Species|
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.
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”.
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.
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.
|Environment & Wellbeing||Status / Trend|
|Air Quality - Particulate Matter PM2.5|
|Bathing Water Quality|
|Drinking Water Quality|
|Urban Wastewater Treatment|
Air Quality - Particulate Matter 2.5
PM2.5 was measured at 9 stations in 2015 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.
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 BEACHES website and in the 2016 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 (1998-2013) / post (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)
Drinking Water Quality
The number of consumers served by public water supplies subject to a boil water notice was at an all-time low of 5,654 people at the end of 2016 across 10 drinking water supplies. This is a welcome significant reduction in numbers over the last few years. The number of public water supplies identified as being 'at risk' on the EPA Remedial Action List was also at the lowest level of 99 supplies at the end of 2016. Irish Water need to continue to progress remedial works on the outstanding 'at risk' supplies so that the threat of long-term boil water notices and other chemical failures is eliminated. In 2016, the quality of public water supplies remained very good with >99% of samples complying with microbiological and chemical standards. There has been a 94% 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.
Urban Waste Water Treatment
Waste water treatment at 50 of Ireland's 185 large urban areas did not meet EU standards in 2016. Untreated waste water from the equivalent of 120,000 people across 44 areas is released into the environment each day. Substantial and sustained investment is required to upgrade waste water treatment systems, prevent pollution and protect public health.
|Water||Status / Trend|
|Nitrates in Groundwater|
|River Water Quality - Phosphates|
|Coastal Water Quality|
|Transitional Water Quality|
|Lake Water Quality|||
|River Water Quality|||
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.
River Water Quality - Phosphates
Analysis of 2014-2016 data for orthophosphate in rivers (1,732 monitoring stations covering 708 rivers 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. A recent review of P trends covering 2006-2016 indicates stability with approximately 1/5th of stations showing slowly improving trends.
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
Coastal Water Quality 2010-2015
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 accidental or in some cases intentional discharges from marine vessels. A total of 43 water bodies were assessed between 2010 and 2015. Of these, 79 per cent achieved good or high ecological status, accounting for 86 per cent of the total area assessed with the remaining percentage of waters at moderate or worse status. The overall status indicates that our coastal waters, except for some nutrient enriched areas along the south coast, are of excellent quality.
Transitional Water Quality 2010-2015
Transitional waters, which are more commonly referred to as estuaries, 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 80 transitional water bodies were assessed between 2010 and 2015. Of these, 31 per cent were found to be at good or high ecological status, accounting for 24 per cent of the total area assessed. The remaining transitional water bodies were classed as moderate or worse ecological status.
Lake Water Quality 2010-2015
The primary pressure on lakes is eutrophication resulting from nutrient enrichment mainly from diffuse sources. Two hundred and twenty five lakes representing 994km2 of lake surface area were monitored for the WFD in the period 2010-2015. Of these, 103 lakes (46 per cent of lakes monitored) were assigned high or good ecological status (414km2 of lake area monitored) and 122 lakes (54 per cent) were assigned moderate or worse status (580 km2 of lake area monitored).
River Water Quality
Two thousand, three hundred and forty five river water bodies were surveyed in the period 2010-2015 representing 73% of Ireland's total of 3,192 river water bodies. 1,330 (57%) of monitored river water bodies were at high or good ecological status, with 1,015 (43%) at less than good ecological status. The more densely populated and economically developed eastern and north-eastern parts of the country are most affected by water quality issues. The number of bad status river water bodies declined from 19 in 2007-2009 to 6 in 2010-2015.
Nationally there has been a 1% decline in the number of high or good ecological status river water bodies in 2010–2015 when compared with the status reported in the first River Basin Management Plan in 2007–2009. A significant decline was observed in the number of high ecological status river water bodies from 287 in 2007–2009 to 245 in 2010–2015. 1,227 river water bodies remained stable with no ecological status change when compared with the assessments in 2007–2009 and 2010–2015. 418 river water bodies exhibited an improvement in ecological status while 499 river water bodies declined in status between 2007–2009 and 2010–2015.
|Sustainable Economy||Status / Trend|
|Car Numbers & Engine Size|
|Environmental Tax Revenue|
|Renewable Energy Production|
|Total Final Energy Consumption by Fuel|
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.
Environmental Tax Revenue 2014
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 8.2 per cent of Ireland’s total tax revenue in 2014. This was the tenth highest in the EU and is above the EU average of 6.1 per cent.
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 25 per cent in 2015. This is followed by biomass at 13.7 per cent with the remainder of renewable energy coming from hydro, landfill gas, geothermal, liquid biofuel, solar and biogas.
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 14 per cent between 2008 and 2015. Fossil fuels accounted for 77 per cent of all energy used in Ireland in 2015 with oil continuing to be the dominant energy source in 2015, with a share of 57 per cent.
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.
|Land||Status / Trend|
|Organic Agricultural Land|
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.
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 67 per cent and 9 per cent of the national land area respectively with wetlands accounting for a further 15 per cent.
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.