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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Fertiliser use and dairy cows ‘driving’ ag emissions up

According to the EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency) latest set of provisional figures, Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 3.6% in 2020.

Its data shows the reduction is 0.4% less than that seen the previous year.

An EPA spokesperson said: “While the overall reduction in emissions is welcome, the majority, almost 2 Mt, of the reduction was due to a short term decrease in transport emissions due to the Covid 19 pandemic, which is likely to be once-off.”

An EPA spokesperson said: “The figures indicate that Ireland exceeded its 2020 annual EU emissions allocation by 6.7Mt and cumulatively exceeded its allocation over the lifetime of the 2013-2020 Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) by over 12 Mt.”

“Emissions covered under the ESD in 2020 had only decreased by 7% on the 2005 level compared to the overall target of a 20 per cent reduction.”

Agriculture emissions 

It reports that agriculture emissions increased by 1.4% in 2020. It said “increased activity in all areas” drove this figure.

The EPA stated agriculture emissions have increased by 12% over the last decade.

The agency listed the following as “key” drivers of 2020 increases in agriculture emissions:

  • Increased fertiliser nitrogen use (3.3%);
  • Also, increased numbers of livestock, including dairy cows (3.2%), other cattle (0.6%), sheep (4.8%) and pigs (2.5%).

“In the last ten years, dairy cow numbers have increased by 45.5% with a corresponding milk production increase of 60.%. In the same 10-year period, sheep numbers increased by 21.9%, pigs by 9.7% and poultry by 25.9%.”

Other sectors

In summary, the agency said pandemic restrictions, less peat and more wind energy led to reduced greenhouse gas emissions in 2020.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown measures resulted in a 15.7% decrease in transport emissions, the largest sectoral emissions reduction.

The EPA said the impact of this increased demand was exacerbated by low fuel prices.

Coal use increased by 6%, peat by 3% and Kerosene by 19%. Natural gas use decreased marginally by – 0.3%. Overall since 2014, emissions per household have gradually increased.

The EPA said this indicates that an acceleration of energy efficiency retrofit and renewable energy deployment is needed to avoid a continued increase in emissions from the sector.

At the end of 2020, there were just under 26,000 battery-electric (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric (PHEVs) vehicles in Ireland. The EPA said this highlights the extent of the challenge in meeting the over 936,000 EVs by 2030 Climate Action plan target.

It reports that freight transport emissions did not decrease as significantly as passenger transport emissions. This accounted for almost 40% of road transport emissions in 2020.

“Options to decarbonise freight transport emissions, therefore, also need to be progressed with urgency.”

International aviation emissions to and from Ireland decreased by 65%.

“Although not part of Ireland’s total greenhouse gas emissions by international agreement, this reduction represents over 2 Mt CO2 eq. less greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.”

Furthermore, peat-fuelled electricity generation decreased by 51% in 2020. A 15% increase in wind generation led to a 7.9% reduction in energy industry emissions.

Residential greenhouse gas emissions increased by 9.0%. Low fuel prices and remote working drove a “substantial” increase in carbon-intensive fossil fuel use.


Provisional greenhouse gas emissions for 2019 and 2020 for Ireland 

Million tonnes, CO2 eq 2019 2020 % Change
Agriculture 21.15 21.44 1.4
Transport 12.22 10.30 -15.7
Energy Industries 9.43 8.68 -7.9
Residential 6.53 7.12 9.0
Manufacturing Combustion 4.59 4.52 -1.5
Industrial Processes 2.27 2.11 -7.0
F-Gases 0.92 0.79 -14.4
Commercial Services 0.94 0.94 -0.3
Public Services 0.89 0.90 1.0
Waste 0.91 0.91 -0.8
National Total 59.84 57.70 -3.6

[Data source: EPA]

Behavioural change

Finally, commenting on the figures Laura Burke, director-general, EPA, said:

“Greenhouse gas emissions decreased again in 2020 following the decrease seen in 2019, with a continuation of some positive trends in the data, such as the phasing out of peat burning in electricity generation.”

“The behavioural changes required to deal with the COVID pandemic also led to a reduction in emissions in sectors such as transport, while there was an increase in emissions from the residential sector.”

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