Government fumbles on understanding emissions data

Official answers on greenhouse gas figures at odds with Eurostat

When is an emission not an emission? When it’s distorted. Eurostat this week reported that Irish greenhouse gas emissions rose 12.3 per cent in the final three months of last year over the same period in 2021, bucking an EU trend that meant they fell 4 per cent to 938 million tonnes throughout the bloc. The Government first blamed the Republic’s economic growth for the embarrassing-looking increase.

But then the office of Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan partly backtracked. A spokeswoman subsequently explained that Eurostat was attempting to estimate changes in greenhouse emissions based on economic activity, including gross domestic product (GDP) growth, which she added could be distorted by the high multinational presence in the Republic.

In response, Eurostat, the EU’s official statistics body, said Irish airlines were responsible for three-quarters of the increase, not multinationals, which it never mentioned, nor GDP, which is just one factor it takes into account. The organisation counts these carriers’ emissions as “Irish” whether they originate in the State’s territory or not, so they could come from aircraft flying between Italy and Germany.

Norman Crowley on the business of decarbonisation

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That seems a little harsh, but really it just recognises that emissions all end up in the atmosphere, which does not belong to any country, but for which all states share a responsibility. Breakdowns by territory and by industry are simply a way of spreading this burden.


What really matters here is that a Government that makes a virtue of its climate plans did not know how the EU’s statisticians measured greenhouse gas emissions. The Department of Environment acknowledged that transport played a role in the increase, but it clearly believed that this was down to local factors rather than EU-wide air travel.

None of this stopped the Government from using GDP and multinationals to obfuscate. There’s an obvious reason for that: it appears to care far more about how the figures made it look than it did about actual emissions.