Air travel not economic growth boosted Irish emissions late last year, Eurostat says

EU statistics agency appears to contradict Government which blames multinationals for ‘distorting’ figures

Air travel’s rebound rather than economic growth boosted Irish greenhouse gas emissions late last year, according to EU statisticians.

The Government this week played down a report that Irish emissions surged 12.3 per cent in the final quarter of 2022 over the same period in 2021 even as most EU countries saw their emissions fall, saying the many multinationals here could have distorted the figures, which it maintained were linked to economic growth.

However, the report’s publisher, EU statistics agency, Eurostat, confirmed on Tuesday that airlines were responsible for three-quarters of the emissions increase in the three months to December 31st.

“The emissions by Irish resident airlines are accounted for, even if the emissions are emitted outside Irish territory,” the agency said.


Its report showed that emissions from transport – including air travel – increased 7 per cent across the EU in the closing quarter of 2022 when compared with the same period the previous year. Air transport was back at close to pre-pandemic levels at the end of 2022, but reimposed Covid restrictions depressed travel during the same period the previous year, accounting for much of the emissions increase when both are compared.

Many EU member states, including the Republic, reintroduced or stepped up Covid travel curbs in December 2021 when the Omicron strain emerged, hitting the traditionally busy Christmas period.

Eurostat reported on Monday that overall EU greenhouse gas emissions fell 4 per cent in the last quarter of 2022 to 938 million tonnes from 978 million tonnes during the same period the previous year.

The Republic bucked the trend along with Denmark, Latvia and Malta. The Government blamed increased Irish emissions on economic growth.

A spokeswoman for Eamon Ryan, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, had argued Eurostat was attempting to estimate changes in greenhouse gas emissions based on growth in gross domestic product (GDP), which measures a country’s wealth.

“However, using GDP as a measure can have a distorting effect in Ireland due to the large number of multinationals based here,” she added.

A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications pointed out that Irish emissions were comparatively low in the last quarter of 2021 because the Republic imposed tougher Covid travel restrictions than some other EU states.

Along with GDP, Eurostat uses a range of “predictors” to calculate emissions. These cover industrial production, fuel, electricity generation, agriculture, transport and most business activities.

Eurostat itself produces some of these measures, while bodies such as the UN, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the International Energy Agency, provide others.

Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions rose by over 2 million tonnes between the last quarter of 2021 and the last quarter of 2022, and about 1.5 million of this came from air transport according to Eurostat.

Air travel rebounded following the Covid-19 pandemic. “A possible explanation could be that the Irish air transport industry is bigger in relative terms compared with other European countries and hence has a bigger influence on total emissions by Irish economy,” a Eurostat spokesperson said.

The figures are based on monthly Air Transport CO2 Emissions collected by the OECD. This captures the emissions registered to the Irish economy, which includes air travel beyond Ireland that is booked to an Irish-registered business.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times