Agriculture

Climate change is challenging for Irish agriculture both in the context of greenhouse gas emissions and the need for adaptation of farming practices to be more resilient to the impacts of climate change. In Ireland the Agriculture sector was directly responsible for 37.1% of national Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) emissions in 2020, mainly methane from livestock, and nitrous oxide due to the use of nitrogen fertiliser and manure management.

Agriculture was responsible for 37.1% of greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland in 2020

Highlights

Current trends

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  • Greenhouse gas emissions increased 1.4% in 2020
  • Emissions up 10% in last six years (2015-2020)
  • In 2020, 10.9% above 1990 levels

Cause

  • Increase in nitrogen fertilizer use (+3.3%) and liming (+16.2%)
  • Dairy cow numbers up 3.2%
  • Milk production up 3.8%

Outlook

  • Emissions projected to increase with expansion of animal numbers.
  • Technologies to reduce emissions available:
  • Low Emission Slurry Spreading
  • "Stabilised urea" fertilisers

Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in 2020

Provisional EPA Inventory data shows that greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in Ireland increased by 1.4% (or 0.29 Mt CO₂eq[1]) in 2020 following an decrease in 2019 of 4.0%.

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.

  • Table 1: Sources of emissions

    Open in Excel: Agriculture activities emission share (XLS 10KB)

Agriculture activity trends

The most significant drivers for the increased emissions in 2020 were increased fertiliser use (+3.3%) and liming (+16.2%). The size of the dairy herd continued to increase, for the tenth consecutive year (+3.2% in 2020), with a 3.8% increase in total national milk production.

From 2015 to 2020, dairy cow numbers increased by 19.2% and milk production increased by 29.7%. 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 increased in 2020 by 0.6% and sheep numbers increased by 4.7%. Total fossil fuel combustion emissions from agriculture/forestry/fishing activities decreased by 2.6%. In the last five years (2015-2019), the numbers of other cattle have increased by 1.5%, while there have been increases in the numbers of sheep (+8.4%), pigs (+9.9%) and poultry (+12.5%).

Total emissions from agriculture are projected to increase by 3.0% over the period 2021-2030 to 21.9 Mt CO2 eq under the With Existing Measures scenario.
Under the With Additional Measures scenario emissions are projected to decrease to approximately 19 Mt CO2 eq by 2030 which is a 10.0% reduction over the period 2021-2030. 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.

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. One alternative scenario is presented which looks at stronger growth in agricultural activity levels.

The resulting emissions are presented below alongside the WEM scenario, showing that stronger growth would likely lead to higher emissions over the projected period.