Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Agriculture

Agriculture was responsible for 35.3% of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions in 2019


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  • Greenhouse gas emissions decreased 3.9% in 2019
  • But emissions still up 8.7% in last 5 years (between 2014 and 2019)
  • In 2019, 9.5% above 1990 levels
Summary of Agriculture GHG inventory trends 2019
  • Reduction in nitrogen fertilizer use (-10.1%) and liming (-25.4%)
  • Dairy cow numbers up 2.8% (up by 25% since 2014)
  • Milk production up 5.3% (up by 41% since 2014)

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Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in 2019

Greenhouse Gas Emission from Agriculture

Provisional EPA Inventory data shows that greenhouse gas emissions from Agriculture in Ireland decreased by 3.9% (or 0.86 Mt CO2eq[1]) in 2019 following an increase in 2018 of 3.9%.

Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture come from a variety of processes or activities. You can see more information about each of these in the table and pie chart below.

Description and associated emissions
Share of emissions (2019)
Enteric fermentation Fermentation that takes place in the digestive systems of ruminant animals such as cattle and sheep resulting in direct emissions of the greenhouse gas methane. 57.45%
Agricultural soils Activities that lead to the direct and indirect emissions of nitrous oxide related to agricultural production, such as the application of synthetic fertilisers, animal wastes and other organic fertilisers. They also include, biological nitrogen fixation by crops, cultivation of organic soils, and mineralisation of crop residues. 27.11%
Manure management Methane and nitrous oxide greenhouse gases are produced during the management, storage and spreading of animal manure. Emissions from manure management vary significantly depending on the types of management system used. 10.22%
Fuel combustion (Agriculture/Forestry/Fishing) Emissions of carbon dioxide from fuel combustion in agriculture and forestry sectors. 3.16%
Liming Soil pH plays a key role in soil fertility. The application of limestone to correct soil acidity results in emissions of carbon dioxide 1.63%
Urea application The addition of urea-containing fertilisers to soils results in emissions of carbon dioxide. 0.43%


Agriculture Greenhouse Gas emissions share, by source - 2019


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Current Trends

The most significant drivers for the decreased emissions in 2019 were decreased fertiliser use (-10.1%) and liming (-25.4%). This follows substantial increases in both fertiliser and lime use in 2018. It is worth noting that Agricultural emissions in 2018 were the highest in the 30-year time series. The size of the dairy herd continued to increase, for the 9th consecutive year (+2.8% in 2019), with a 5.3% increase in total national milk production.

From 2014 to 2019, dairy cow numbers increased by 24.5% and milk production increased by 41%. This reflects the national plans to expand milk production under Food Wise 2025 and the removal of the milk quota in 2015.

Other cattle numbers decreased in 2019 by 3.0% resulting in an overall decrease in the cattle herd of -2.7% year over year. Total fossil fuel combustion emissions from agriculture/forestry/fishing activities decreased by 1.7%. In the last five years, the numbers of other cattle have decreased by 0.4%, whereas there have been increases in the numbers of sheep (+0.9%), pigs (+5.5%) and poultry (+9.6%).

Agricultural activity
Year-over-year change
5-year change
Dairy cows
Other cattle
Milk production
Nitrogen fertiliser (tonnes)
Fossil fuel consumption



[1] CO2 equivalent: greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide (i.e. methane, nitrous oxide and F-gases) may be converted to carbon dioxide equivalent using their global warming potentials (GWPs)

Greenhouse gas
Chemcical Formula
GWP for 100-year time horizon (IPCC AR4)
Carbon dioxide CO2 1
Methane CH4 25
Nitrous oxide N2O 298
Hydrofluoocarbons HFCs 12 to 14,800
Perfluoinated compounds PFCs 7,390 to >17,340
Sulphur hexafluoride SF6 22,800
Nitrogen trifluoride NF3 17,200


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Emissions projections (published in July 2020) show that agriculture emissions are projected to increase by 3.5% over the period 2021-2030 to 21.1 Mt CO2eq under the With Existing Measures (WEM) scenario.

Under the With Additional Measures (WAM) scenario emissions are projected to decrease by 11.3% by 2030. This scenario assumes a total of 16.5 Mt CO2eq of mitigation over the period 2021-2030 with the implementation of Ireland’s Climate Action Plan, including those measures in the Teagasc Marginal Abatement Cost Curve[2].

[2] Emissions-in-Irish-Agriculture-2021-2030.pdf  

*The Projections for 2020 -2030 in this graph pre-date the methodological changes made to the 1990-2019 Inventory. Care should therefore be taken in comparing historic and future emissions levels.

Agriculture Emissions and Projections 1990-2030*

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Sensitivity Scenarios

A sensitivity analysis of the With Existing Measures emissions scenario* has been undertaken for the agriculture emissions projections based on alternative projected activity data scenarios provided by Teagasc.  Two alternative scenarios are presented. One looks at the potential impact of a hard BREXIT  and the other looks at stronger growth in agricultural activity levels.

The resulting emissions for all three scenarios shows the hard BREXIT scenario (S2) leading to lower emissions compared to the With Existing Measures scenario (7.2 Mt CO2eq less emissions over the 2021-2030) and the stronger growth scenario (S3) leading to higher emissions (8.5 Mt CO2eq more emissions) over the 2021-2030 period compared to the With Existing Measures scenario.

*The Projections for 2020 -2030 in this graph pre-date the methodological changes made to the 1990-2019 Inventory. Care should therefore be taken in comparing historic and future emissions levels.

Sensitivity assessment of the Agriculture Sector under the With Existing Measures (WEM) scenario out to 2030

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