Environment in Focus 2006 Environmental Indicators for Ireland

Date released: Sep 20 2006

EPA sees National Development Plan as a key opportunity for the environment - Deadlines for environmental targets looming.

The Environmental Protection Agency today released the third  “Environment in Focus” report, the latest in the series of 4-yearly reports which review environmental performance and evaluate the effectiveness of policies in the area.  The report was launched by Mr Dick Roche, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Dr. Mary Kelly, Director General, EPA, said, “A report such as this summarises statistics relevant to environmental performance.  It gives policy makers the information they need to evaluate how policies are working and where they need to be strengthened or changed. In this sense it acts as a barometer of performance across the broad spectrum of the environment.

“The report is published at a particularly timely moment when drafting of the new National Development Plan is underway,” Dr Kelly continued.  “The Environmental Protection Agency wants to see the National Development Plan as a truly sustainable development plan.  This report provides a unique opportunity for the effective use of environmental information to guide sustainable development.  Integration of environmental considerations into national and sectoral policies and plans is absolutely essential given the nature of the environmental challenges that we now face.”

Key environmental commitments:

The report emphasises a number of deadlines which Ireland has to meet in coming years:

  • Kyoto Protocol, 2008 to 2012 period: Ireland is committed to limit greenhouse gases to 13 per cent above 1990 levels.  Greenhouse gas emissions stand at 23.1% above 1990 levels (2004 figures).
  • EU national emissions ceiling Directive, by 2010: Ireland is required to cap emissions of four gases (sulphur dioxide, ammonia, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides).  Limiting nitrogen oxides, generated by traffic, will pose the greatest challenge.
  • Water Framework Directive, 2015: All water bodies in the state should achieve good status.  Almost 30% of rivers fall short of this.
  • Landfill Directive, 2010, 2013, 2016:  Landfilling must be reduced progressively to 35 per cent of the quantity of biodegradable waste – paper, cardboard, food wastes and garden wastes – generated in 1995.

Commenting, Dr Kelly said, “Significant international deadlines are now looming and will require a strong commitment to further environmental infrastructure and environmentally responsible measures right from the start of the National Development Plan.  An immediate push is now needed if Ireland is to meet its environmental commitments.

“Many different sectors contribute, directly or indirectly, to the pressures on the environment - and this means that many of the targets can only be reached if the environment is considered equally with the economic and social agendas at policy level.” 

Key findings

Waste Management:

Significant improvements have been made in the area of waste management.  Waste infrastructure has improved, in particular the penetration of waste recycling facilities.  This has encouraged and facilitated people to increase the amount of waste recycled and recovered and hence reduce the amount of waste disposed of to landfill.
Dr Kelly commented, “The area of waste management has been transformed and, because of improvements in waste infrastructure, we have had a very good record in meeting our national recycling targets.  The report shows however, that the amount of waste being produced continues to increase.  Our goal now should be to reverse the amount of waste we generate.  Imaginative policy intervention is needed if we are to adopt an attitude of waste prevention as a nation. The National Waste Prevention Programme, run by the EPA, is a start in this direction. ” 


The report shows that in the transport sector there has been rapid growth both in vehicle numbers, energy consumption and emissions generation.  Freight traffic has increased in line with economic development, most notably by road. The number of private cars and goods vehicles has more than doubled in the last 15 years.  With the volume of road traffic already at the levels predicted for 2010, significant state funding has been committed from 2006 for public transport to provide much needed choice and an alternative to the private car, particularly in urban areas.

Dr Kelly said, “While progress has been made in recent year in manufacturing cars with reduced emissions per car, our report shows that there has been no overall benefit to the environment.  There are now many more vehicles on Irish roads and the trend has been to buy cars with larger engine sizes.  Trends in both vehicle numbers and freight transport demand are clearly set out in the report to assist policy makers to help prompt changes in travel patterns and consumer choice.”


Changes in the composition of Ireland’s industry base, in particular the loss of heavy energy intensive industry such as steel and fertilizer production, has seen the industry sector become more efficient and productive in the last decade.  Industrial growth has been achieved in the absence of increased waste generation, indeed figures have reduced since 1998, and with minimal increases in energy consumption.  A recent European study on energy consumption ranked Ireland third best when evaluating energy consumption per GDP.

Dr Kelly commented, “ This sector shows real decoupling having improved environmental performance while increasing productivity. It may well be the case that industrial policy is working successfully in tandem with environmental policy and some of those successes could be transferred to other policy areas.”


The report shows that dependency on fossil fuels continues to grow; imported oil and gas now accounts for approximately 73% of Ireland’s energy supply.  The supply of renewable energy has increased by 122% since 1990 and new targets will require electricity generation from renewables to be doubled over the next five years.

Dr Kelly said, “ Even though we are making progress with regard to renewable energy, demand for energy is such that this is only keeping pace with the increase in our overall energy consumption and provides just 4 to 5% of our electricity generation needs. A continued focus on the efficiency of electricity use is required with greater use of energy generating technologies such as CHP being encouraged within the industrial and commercial sectors.  In the long term, the dependence of the Irish economy on fossil fuels needs to be addressed.”


River water quality has improved marginally as reported through recent EPA reports. However, this report shows that the rate of improvement will need to be significantly increased if Ireland is to meet the requirements of the Water Framework Directive and achieve ‘good’ status for all our water bodies by 2015.  Almost 30% of our river length still remains slightly or moderated polluted. Significant improvements are also required for lakes, estuarine and coastal waters and groundwaters in order comply with this Directive. 

Commenting, Dr Kelly said, “ Implementing the Water Framework Directive is a policy measure that will deliver better water quality.  Further improvements in municipal sewage treatment are needed, especially on inland waters across the country, and these need to be provided for now in the preparation of the National Development Plan. We would expect to be reporting improvements in this area in the next Environment in Focus report in four years' time.”


Global climate change remains the primary environmental challenge of this century. Greenhouse gas emissions were 23.1% above 1990 levels in 2004 and this figure must be reduced to just 13% above 1990 levels over the 2008 to 2012 period if Ireland is to meet its Kyoto obligations. 
Dr Kelly said, “The post-Kyoto scenario is likely to involve deeper cuts so we need to prepare now to meet more of these targets domestically and break our dependence on fossil fuels. Of course the shortfall can be met by buying emission credits from abroad, a measure which we will have to rely on in the short term.”

It is now also becoming clear that Ireland will have great difficulty in meeting the 2010 limit for NOx emissions set out in the EU National Emission Ceilings Directive, primarily due to the increase in energy consumption, particularly related to transport. 


Commenting on this sector Dr Kelly said, “There is much change in the agriculture sector with the advent of decoupling and the introduction of the single farm payment scheme.  The impact of decoupling within Irish agriculture is as yet unclear: it may lead to more intensive farming or even land abandonment.  The requirements of the Nitrates Directive will also change the sector over the coming years.”

In summing up, Dr Kelly said: “Much work is to be to be done if we are to continue to make progress in the key areas of emissions to air, wastes management and the quality of our natural waters.

“We have spoken many times of the need for greater integration of environmental considerations across all policy areas.  The new National Development Plan provides what is undoubtedly the most important such opportunity.   We are confident that this report can support and inform the fullest possible mainstreaming of environment in the Plan – making it a blueprint for sustainable development in Ireland.”

The report is available on the EPA web site at www.epa.ie/downloads/pubs/other/indicators or from the EPA’s Publications’ Office, McCumiskey House, Richview, Dublin 14 on 01-2680100.