Ireland’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions increased in the period from 1990 to 2001 where it peaked at 70.49 Mt CO2 equivalent, before displaying a downward trend to 2014. Emissions increased by 4.3% and 3.7%, respectively in the years, 2015 and 2016 and remained relatively stable in 2017 and 2018, followed by a 4.0% decrease in 2019. In 2020 final estimates of total national GHG emissions amounted to 57.72Mt CO2 equivalent, which is 3.6% lower than 2019 emissions. Ireland’s GHG emissions have increased by 6.1% from 1990-2020.
In relation to the greenhouse gases; carbon dioxide (CO2) accounted for 60.9% of the total, with methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) contributing 25.8% and 11.9% as CO2 equivalent, respectively and F-gases contributing 1.4% of the total as CO2 equivalent.
In 2020, the energy industries, transport and agriculture sectors accounted for 70.1% of total GHG emissions. Agriculture is the single largest contributor to the overall emissions, at 37.1%. Transport, energy industries and the residential sector are the next largest contributors, at 17.8%, 15.1% and 12.3%, respectively.
Land management has a key role in the response to climate change. Ireland has significant and healthy biosystems, including grassland, hedgerows and forests, which sequester or absorb carbon dioxide (CO2). Mineral soils and peat make up a large portion of Ireland’s land areas and have high carbon content.
In line with international reporting guidelines, Ireland estimates emissions and removals associated with the following land uses: Forest land, Cropland, Grassland, Wetlands, Settlements and Other land. Forest land currently plays a significant role as a carbon sink. Since 1990, Ireland’s forest area has expanded by approximately 298,000 ha. As these forests grow and mature, they represent an important CO2 sink and long-term carbon store in biomass and soil. However, low forest planting rates in recent years are a future risk in the terms of our national forest estate continuing to act as a significant carbon sink.
Agricultural land management practices can lead to both emissions and removals of GHGs associated both with biomass and soils. Based on best available data, the net impact of land management in agriculture is dominated by a very significant emission of carbon dioxide due to the drainage of organic soils. Although the total area involved is relatively small, at approximately 330,000 ha (8% of the grassland area), the impact is large.
The management of peatlands is a particular concern with respect to potential for loss of carbon. Peat extraction and change of use of drained peatland to grassland or forestry leads to high rates of carbon loss. In general, land management should aim to preserve or enhance areas that have active carbon uptake in soils and biomass, and reduce or eliminate areas that are a source of carbon emissions. Such altered practices also yield benefits for ecosystem services and biodiversity.
Rising sea temperatures and sea levels, and ocean acidification have been identified as some of the key stressors impacting on the state of the world’s oceans and coastal environments as a consequence of Climate Change. These three factors have the potential to seriously affect the functioning of marine and coastal ecosystems on global, regional and local scales.
Rising sea levels in combination with increased storm events that are also predicted to happen are likely to impact on many coastal habitats. An average sea level rise of 0.5 to 1m by the end of the century, in combination with storm surge events, could result in approximately 300 to over 1,000km2 of coastal lands around Ireland being inundated by the sea.