Little evidence of ‘decoupling’ as greenhouse gas emissions on the rise

Date released: Nov 10 2016

  • Significant greenhouse gas emission increases were recorded across all the main sectors in 2015, particularly Energy Industries, Transport, Agriculture and Residential;
  • Agriculture emissions increased by 1.5%, due largely to higher dairy cow numbers and increased milk production;
  • Transport sector emissions increased by 4.2% in 2015 alone and have now increased in each of the last three years;
  • Emissions from the Energy Industries sector increased by 5.4%, due largely to increased coal use for electricity generation;
  • The Residential sector has seen a reversal of the reductions in 2014, with emissions growth at 5.1% due to low fuel prices and a colder winter;
  • These figures indicate that Ireland will be in compliance with its 2015 annual limit set under the EU’s Effort Sharing Decision (Decision 406/2009/EC), but is on course to exceed the limit in 2016 or 2017 as predicted by the EPA’s most recent greenhouse gas emission projections.

Environmental Protection Agency figures released today show that Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions have increased significantly in 2015, with the link between economic growth and increased emissions yet to be broken.  Today’s release provides provisional greenhouse gas emissions figures for the time period 1990 – 2015.  For 2015, total national greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to be 59.84 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) which is 3.7 % (2.12 Mt CO2 eq) higher than emissions in 2014.

Laura Burke, EPA Director General, said:

“Ireland’s economy is growing strongly again and the growth in the number of people at work benefits all of society. However, we haven’t yet achieved a decoupling of economic growth from emissions, something most evident in the transport sector. For our current growth to be sustainable we must implement measures to decarbonise the transport and energy sectors, as described in the EPA’s recently released State of the Environment Report, and ensure that increases in agricultural production aren’t at the expense of the environment. Ireland is not currently on the right track to meet its 2020 targets, nor is it on the right emissions trajectory to meet future EU targets or our national 2050 decarbonisation goals.”

The Energy Industries, Transport and Agriculture sectors now account for almost 73% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture remains the single largest contributor to the overall emissions at 33% of the total. Transport and Energy Industries are the second and third largest contributors at 19.8% and 19.7% respectively.

Agriculture emissions increased by 1.5% in 2015 (0.30 MtCO2eq). The most significant drivers for the increased emissions in 2015 are higher dairy cow numbers (+7.7%) with an increase in milk production of 13.2%. This reflects national plans to expand milk production under Food Wise 2025 and the removal of the milk quota in 2015.

Transport emissions increased by 4.2% in 2015 and have now increased by over 9% in just the last three years. Transport emissions are now exhibiting a worrying trend of closely tracking strong economic and employment growth. The number of passenger diesel cars increased by 11.2% in 2015 while the number of passenger petrol cars decreased by 4.1%. Passenger diesel cars represent the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the Transport sector, with negative implications for air quality due to the higher nitrous NOx emissions produced than from equivalent petrol fueled cars.

Sectoral emissions in the Energy Industries sector (i.e. power generation) increased by 5.4% in 2015 compared to 2014. The increase in emissions is largely attributable to a substantial increase in electricity generation from coal (19.6%) and a decrease in natural gas use (-5.5%). Electricity generated from renewables increased to 27% of electricity generated in 2015 (up from 23% in 2014). Overall, the replacement of natural gas generation by coal generation - due to low coal prices - is having a upward impact on emissions intensity, more than offsetting the decreases achieved with increased renewable generation.

Emissions in the Residential sector also increased significantly with a 5.1% increase in emissions despite the winter in 2015 being only slightly colder than in 2014. Kerosene use increased by 15.8%, more than offsetting decreased coal use. Adjusting for climate effects, this suggests an underlying increase in fuel use, most likely as a result of low fuel prices.

Emissions from the Manufacturing Combustion and the Industrial Processes sectors both increased significantly, by 5.2% and 10.2% respectively. Increased emissions from cement production contributed to both sectoral increases with cement process emissions in particular up 13.1% in 2015. In 2015, total emissions from cement production amount to 2.55 Mt CO2eq, or 4.3% of national total emissions.

There were decreases in greenhouse gas emissions from three sectors in 2015; Commercial Services, Public Services and F-gases, which decreased by -2.3%, -1.2% and -4.3% respectively. These three sectors combined represent less than 5% of total emissions.

Ireland’s EU target for 2020 is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the non-Emissions Trading Scheme (non-ETS) sector by 20% on 2005 levels. The non-ETS sector covers emissions from agriculture, transport, residential, commercial and public services, non-energy intensive industry and the waste sectors.

Concluding, Laura Burke said:

“The EPA’s most recent greenhouse gas emission projections published in March this year, projected that Ireland would not meet its 2020 target, with emission reductions likely to be in the range of 6-11% below 2005 levels. The greenhouse gas emission increases for 2015 in this report, suggest that achieving reductions, even at the lower end of that range, will be difficult.”

See full detail on these provisional figures in the EPA web published report Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2015.

Tables and Notes

An overview of changes in emissions since the previous year is presented in Table 1 and distance to EU targets in Table 2.

More trend figures, tables and background information available on the EPA website. 

Table 1. Draft* greenhouse gas emissions for 2014 and 2015 for Ireland

Mt CO2 eq20142015% Change
Agriculture  19.466  19.767  1.5%
Transport  11.347  11.827  4.2%
Energy Industries 11.197  11.803  5.4%
Residential  5.746  6.041  5.1%
Manufacturing Combustion 4.323  4.549   5.2%
Industrial Processes 1.796   1.978  10.2%
F-Gases  1.194  1.143 -4.3%
Waste 0.880  0.995 13.0%
Commercial Services  0.957  0.935  -2.3%
Public Services  0.816  0.806  -1.2%
Total  57.722  59.845  3.7%


* Final figures will be submitted to the EU and UN in March and April 2017 in line with the agreed reporting timetable.


Table 2. Compliance with EU Effort Sharing Decision Targets 2013-2020

A Total greenhouse gas emissions without LULUCF 57,898.4  57,722.4 59,844.6           kt CO2eq
B NF3 emissions 0.9 1.0 1.0           kt CO2eq
C Total greenhouse gas emissions without LULUCF and without NF3 emissions 57,897.5 57,721.4 59,843.6           kt CO2eq
D Total verified emissions from stationary installations under Directive 2003/87/EC 15,685.9 15,952.7 16,834.1           kt CO2eq
E CO2 emissions from 1.A.3.a civil aviation 10.0 9.4 10.4           kt CO2eq
F Total ESD emissions (=C-D-E) 42,201.6 41,759.3 42,999.1           kt CO2eq
G EU ESD Targets 46,891.9 45,760.9 44,629.9 43,498.9 42,367.9 41,236.9 40,105.9 38,974.9 kt CO2eq
  Distance to target (=F-G)  -4,690.4 -4,001.6 -1,630.8            



Units: 1 Mt = 1,000 kilotonnes

CO2 Equivalent: greenhouse gases other than CO2 (i.e. methane, nitrous oxide and so-called F-gases) may be converted to CO2 equivalent using their global warming potentials. 

NOx is a generic term for the mono-nitrogen oxides NO and NO2 (nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide)

F-gases: These gases comprise HFCs (Hydroflurocarbons), PFCs (Perfluorcarbons), SF6 (Sulphur Hexafluoride) and NF3 (Nitrogen Trifluoride).  They are much more potent than the naturally occurring greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide).

Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Sectors: include the following ten sectors for analysis;

  1. Energy Industries (electricity generation, waste to energy incineration, oil refining, briquetting manufacture and fugitive emissions)
  2. Residential (combustion for domestic space and hot water heating)
  3. Manufacturing Combustion (combustion for Manufacturing industries in ETS and non-ETS)
  4. Commercial Services (combustion for Commercial Services space and hot water heating)
  5. Public Services (combustion for Public services space and hot water heating)
  6. Transport (combustion of fuel used in road, rail, navigation, domestic aviation and pipeline gas transport)
  7. Industrial Processes (process emissions from mineral, chemical, metal industries, non-energy products and solvents)
  8. F-Gases (gases used in refrigeration, air conditioning and semiconductor manufacture)
  9. Agriculture (emissions from fertiliser application, ruminant digestion, manure management, agricultural soils and fuel used in agriculture/forestry/fishing)
  10. Waste (emissions from solid waste disposal on land, solid waste treatment (composting), wastewater treatment, waste incineration and open burning of waste).