Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions inventory

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol provide the basis for international action to address climate change. The objective of the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human-induced interference with the climate system. The ability of the international community to achieve this objective is dependent on an accurate knowledge of emissions trends, and on our collective ability to alter these trends. Reliable GHG inventories are essential, both at national and international level. Parties to the convention and its Kyoto Protocol are committed to developing and publishing the national emission inventories of GHGs which is a key element of assessing progress towards meeting commitments and targets.

The EPA has overall responsibility for the national greenhouse gas inventory in Ireland's national system and compiles Ireland's national greenhouse gas emission inventory on an annual basis. This inventory is submitted to the European Commission and UNFCCC each year by 15 January and 15 April respectively. Compilation of the inventory involves estimating emissions for a timeseries 1990-x-2 years, from the ten following sectors; Agriculture, Transport, Energy Industries, Residential, Manufacturing Combustion, Industrial Processes, F Gases, Waste, Commercial Services and Public Services. The EPA produces a National Inventory Report (NIR) annually, the objective of the NIR is to describe methodologies, input data, background information and the entire process of inventory compilation for greenhouse gases and to give explanations for any improvements and recalculations of the inventories reported in previous submissions. The emissions estimates are submitted in a multi-level reporting format adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Common Reporting Format (CRF) tables.

Emissions data for the following gases is reported on an annual basis: Carbon Dioxide (CO2,) Methane (CH4), Nitrous oxide (N2O), Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), Perflurocarbons (PFCs), Sulphur Hexafluoride (SF6), and Nitrogen Trifluoride (NF3).

Provisional inventory 1990-2019 Centrefold ‌                       NIR cover image ‌                       CLAction Plan 2019

In addition, the EPA produces a Provisional Inventory estimation in the fourth quarter of the year before year of submission. The provisional estimates are based on the final energy balances and estimated using methodologies employed in the inventory in accordance with the UNFCCC reporting guidelines and latest available input data. The estimates may be further refined as methods and activity data are checked and updated during the QC checking before official submission to the European Commission on January 15th.

Ireland's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Projections

The National Climate Strategy (2007) designated the EPA with responsibility for developing national emission projections for greenhouse gases for all key sectors of the economy. Emission projections serve to inform national policy initiatives and allow Ireland to comply with EU and UN reporting obligations on emission projections. The EPA produces national greenhouse gas emission projections on an annual basis.

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Frequently asked questions on Greenhouse gas emissions

What are greenhouse gas inventories and projections?

A greenhouse gas emission inventory is a compilation of historical greenhouse gas emissions from sources, such as transport, power generation, industry and agriculture, from 1990 to the most recent year for which data is available.

A greenhouse gas emission projection is an estimate of what emission levels are likely to be in the future based key assumptions such as economic growth, fuel price and Government policy.

Essentially the inventory data provides a summary of past emissions whereas the projections attempt to estimate the emissions in the future.

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What is Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2eq)?

Greenhouse gases other than CO2 (i.e. methane, nitrous oxide and F-gases) may be converted to CO2 equivalent using their global warming potentials (GWPs). The GWP of a gas is a measure of the cumulative warming over a specified time period usually 100 years, by a unit mass of this gas. This is expressed relative to carbon dioxide (CO2) which has a GWP of 1. The mass emission of any gas multiplied by its GWP gives the equivalent emission of the gas as carbon dioxide. This is known as CO2 equivalent. This makes it possible to sum up the emissions and contribution of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) to climate change and determine options to address climate change.

What are the F-gases in greenhouse gas inventories and projections?

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).

Global warming potential (GWP*) of greenhouse gases in the inventories and projections;

Carbon dioxide (CO2) GWP = 1

Methane (CH4) GWP = 25

Nitrous oxide (N2O) GWP = 298

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) GWP = 12 to 14,800

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) GWP = 7,390 to >17,340

Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) GWP = 22,800

Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) GWP = 17,200

*These GWPs are based on IPCC AR4 (Fourth Assessment Report) and it is proposed that they be updated to the AR5 (Fifth assessment report) values

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What units are used in reporting greenhouse gases?

Million tonnes (Mt) CO2eq =1,000 kilotonnes

1 kilotonne=1,000 tonnes

What is the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) and ESD Annual Limits?

The EU's Effort Sharing Decision (Decision No 406/2009/EC) sets targets (see row G of table in current situation tab) for the non-Emissions Trading Scheme sector for the EU Members States including Ireland for 2020. Ireland is required to deliver a 20% reduction in non-ETS greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 (relative to 2005 levels). In addition, Ireland also has binding annual emission limits for the period 2013-2020 to ensure a gradual move towards the 2020 target. The non-ETS sectors cover those that are outside the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and includes the agriculture, transport, residential, commercial, waste, and non-energy intensive industry.

What are ETS and ESD emissions?

The EU emissions trading system (EU ETS) is a cornerstone of the European Union's policy to combat climate change and its key tool for reducing industrial greenhouse gas emissions cost-effectively. The first - and still by far the biggest - international system for trading greenhouse gas emission allowances, the EU ETS covers more than 11,000 power stations and industrial plants in 31 countries, as well as airlines.

Installations and aircraft operators covered by the EU ETS are those which carry out activities listed in Annex I of the EU ETS Directive. Emissions occuring from the activites listed in Annex I are referred to as ETS emissions, these are excluded from the Efforst Sharing Decision targets. Emissions from actvities occuring outside of the EU emissions trading system are referred to as ESD emissions or Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) emissions. Agriculture and Transport accounted for 72.9% of total ESD emissions in 2018.

What is LULUCF?

Land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF), also referred to as Forestry and other land use (FOLU), is defined by the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat as a "greenhouse gas inventory sector that covers emissions and removals of greenhouse gases resulting from direct human-induced land use such as settlements and commercial uses, land-use change, and forestry activities." It covers the following categories Forest land, Cropland, Grassland, Wetlands, Settlements, Other land and Harvested Wood products.

Reporting of the LULUCF sector

The UNFCCC reporting guidelines on annual inventories for Parties included in Annex I to the Convention (Decision 24/CP.19) provide, among others, guidance on the estimation and reporting of anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol caused by activities relating to land use, land use change and forestry. The guidance stipulates that reporting under the UNFCC covers all anthropogenic emissions and removals from the lands included in the LULUCF sector (land based approach). In principle, this approach applies a wall-to-wall comprehensive inventory of anthropogenic sources and sinks of greenhouse gases over the land units subject to activities relating to land use, land use change and forestry.

What do WEM and WAM scenarios in emissions projections mean?

With Existing Measures (WEM) scenario. This scenario assumes that no additional policies and measures beyond those already in place by the end of the latest national GHG inventory year at the time of the projections compilation.

The With Additional Measures (WAM) scenario  assumes implementation of the WEM scenario in addition to, based on current progress, further implementation of planned government policies and measures adopted after the end of the latest inventory year. In the case of the latest projections (published  in July 2020), this includes the implementation of Ireland’s 2019 Climate Action Plan. This Plan, published in June 2019, sets out a major programme of policies and measures aimed to help Ireland achieve its decarbonisation goals

Due to the timing of compiling the data, the latest projections (published July 2020) do not consider the impact of Covid-19. The impact of the pandemic in terms of greenhouse gas emissions will be incorporated in the next round of projections. 

Further information on the policies and measures for the individual sectors that are included in both WEM and WAM scenarios in the latest emissions projections is available in Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Projections 2019-2040

How up to date is Irish national inventory data?

The data submitted in the current year is the inventory for x-2 years so e.g. in 2020 the EPA will submit the 1990-2018 time series. All reports and infographics are based on the 1990-x-2 timeseries and the most recent year of data. A provisional estimate of emissions is produced in quarter 4 of the year before submission and the website will be updated with this provisional data as soon as it is available.

What do decarbonisation and a low carbon economy mean?

Decarbonisation means reduction of carbon. What is meant is the conversion to an economic system that sustainably reduces and compensates the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO₂). The long-term goal is to create a CO₂-free global economy.
A low-carbon economy, low-fossil-fuel economy, or decarbonised economy is an economy based on low-carbon power sources that therefore has a minimal output of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, specifically carbon dioxide.  A low-carbon economy is simply an economy that causes low levels of GHG emissions compared with today's carbon-intensive economy. 'Carbon' refers to carbon dioxide, the GHG, which contributes the most to climate change. The low-carbon economy can be seen as a step in the process towards a zero-carbon economy.