Small decrease in Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions evident in 2017

Date released: Dec 05 2018

Small decrease in Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions evident in 2017

Despite this decrease, Ireland is off track to meet its EU 2020 targets, says EPA

  • Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 0.9 per cent in 2017 with varying trends observed across the main sectors:
    • Agriculture emissions increased by 2.9%
    • Transport emissions decreased by 2.4%
    • Power generation emissions decreased by 6.9%
    • Household emissions decreased by 5.0%
  • Ireland’s emissions are currently nearly 3 million tonnes Mt CO2 eq over the pathway required to meet EU 2020 targets.
  • We need to take action across all sectors to move to a low-carbon economy and ensure achievement of commitments in relation to 2020, 2030 and 2050

Greenhouse gas emissions figures released today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that Ireland’s emissions decreased slightly in 2017. Today’s figures show that greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland in 2017 - at 60.75 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) - were 0.9 per cent (0.53 Mt CO2 eq) lower than in 2016.

Emissions decreased in the transport, power generation and household sectors while increasing in the agriculture sector by nearly 3 per cent. The main factor underpinning lower transport emissions was a fall in cross-border fuel tourism due to currency fluctuations. The increase in agriculture emissions was mostly due to higher dairy cow numbers. Lower household emissions reflected a warmer year in 2017 with less heating required, especially during the winter months. A significant increase in renewable energy in the power generation sector displaced carbon-intensive fuels such as coal and peat so reducing emissions in that sector.

EU countries, including Ireland, have binding annual targets to put us on the required pathway to meet EU 2020 targets.

Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of the Office of Environmental Sustainability, said:

“A decrease in our greenhouse gas emissions is welcome, particularly in the context of a growing economy. However, some of the underlying drivers of this decrease point to circumstance rather than deliberate action –  a fall in cross-border refuelling and warmer weather played a role this year. This would raise questions about the longevity and enduring nature of these decreases in future years. The figures published today indicate that Ireland will exceed its 2017 annual limit by nearly 3 million tonnes Mt CO2 eq. This gives a measure of the gap between where Ireland is currently in terms of the 2020 pathway and where we need to be and indicates the scale of the challenge facing the country in terms of meeting our long-term decarbonisation ambitions.”

Concluding Stephen Treacy, Senior Manager in the Office of Environmental Sustainability said:

“Ireland’s National Policy position is to have reduced CO2 emissions in 2050 by 80 per cent on 1990 levels across the energy generation, built environment and transport sectors, with a goal of climate neutrality in the agriculture and land-use sector. While our figures show a decrease in 2017 energy and transport emissions, underlying demand and output growth threatens Ireland’s long-term goals. With the United Nations Conference, COP 24, underway this week in Poland and focused on ensuring full implementation of the Paris Agreement, we need to also implement sustainable and enduring policies and measures here in Ireland that will move us on to the required low-carbon pathway.”

Key Trends

  • Agriculture emissions increased by 2.9% in 2017 (0.57 Mt CO2eq). The most significant drivers are higher dairy cow numbers (+3.1%) which reflects national plans to expand milk production. Dairy cow numbers have increased by 26% in the last five years while greenhouse gas emissions from the sector increased by 10% over that time. This shows that agricultural production has gained some efficiency over this period but that we have some way to go before full decoupling.
  • Transport emissions have decreased by 2.4% in 2017 (0.29 Mt CO2eq) after four successive years of increases. Total road transport fuel sales decreased by 1.1% in 2017, however, when considering cross border fuel tourism, total fuel used by Irish motorists continued to grow by 2.1%. This is driven by economic and employment growth.
  • Energy Industry emissions decreased by 6.9% (0.86 Mt CO2eq) in 2017 whereas there was an increase in demand for electricity of 1%. In 2017, decreases were observed in coal (21%) and peat (6%) use whilst renewables (wind up 21%) increased due to more favourable weather conditions. The overall impact is that there is a 9% decrease in the emissions intensity of electricity generation (from 480 g CO2/kWh in 2016 to 437 g CO2/kWh in 2017 which is the lowest carbon intensity on record).

See full detail on these provisional figures in the EPA web published report Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2017 here.


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 here.

Table 1. Draft* greenhouse gas emissions for 2016 and 2017 for Ireland

Mt CO2 eq20162017% Change
Agriculture 19.646 20.213 2.9%
Transport 12.301 12.009 -2.4%
Energy Industries 12.608 11.744 -6.9%
Residential 6.046 5.742 -5.0%
Manufacturing Combustion 4.526 4.665 3.1%
Industrial Processes 2.148 2.236 4.1%
F-Gases 1.192 1.232 3.4%
Commercial Services 1.005 1.072 6.7%
Waste 0.958 0.932 -2.7%
Public Servies 0.849 0.906 6.7%
Total 61.280 60.751 -0.9%


* Final figures will be submitted to the EU and UN in March and April 2019 in line with the agreed reporting timetable.


Table 2. Compliance with EU Effort Sharing Decision Targets 2014-2020

 GHG 2017 Table 2
Note: Shaded cells show data that has been reviewed, and compliance agreed, by the European Commission under Article 19 of the MMR No. 525/2013



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. 

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).