Irish emissions via fossil fuel for energy dips over 4% in 2019

‘Little improvement in heat and transport,’ according to sustainable energy authority

Irish carbon dioxide emissions arising from fossil fuels used in the energy sector fell by 4.5 per cent in 2019, according to the latest figures from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).

This marks the biggest yearly reduction in energy-related emissions since 2011 – the height of the last recession. Most of the progress was in electricity generation due to a scaling up of renewable energy on the power grid.

There are indications that the extent of decarbonisation in energy has continued since 2019. But the SEAI figures released on Monday show “little improvement in heat and transport” which with agriculture account for the vast majority of Irish greenhouse gas emissions.

The data also provides some indication Ireland’s economy may be at the early stages of decoupling rising emissions from increased economic growth.

The fall in emissions was mostly due to a 70 per cent year-on-year reduction in coal used for generating electricity, notably at Moneypoint Power Station in Co Clare.

Energy used for heat in homes and businesses was down in 2019, though most of this reduction was due to it being warmer than 2018. “Transport, the sector that consumes most fossil fuels and where we emit most CO2, showed no reduction in energy use, and only a marginal reduction in CO2 emissions,” the analysis notes.

SEAI head of data and insights Jim Scheer said: "The progress we are making in electricity illustrates how replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy leads to emissions reductions – a direct climate action. Increased focus is now being given to how to reduce, and eventually eliminate, fossil fuels from heating and transport."

The 2019 figures show:

  • With overall carbon emissions from fossil fuel energy down by 4.5 per cent, it led to a reduction of 1.76 million tonnes of CO2;
  • Overall energy use fell by 1.2 per cent while the economy grew by 3.2 per cent;
  • Energy from renewable sources accounted for 12 per cent of all energy used, up from 10.9 per cent in 2018, avoiding 5.8 million tonnes of CO2 , the majority of which (4.8 million tonnes) was from renewable electricity;
  • Overall emissions from electricity generation fell by 12 per cent (avoiding 1.2 million tonnes of CO2) as wind supplied one-third of all electricity;
  • Heat energy use fell by 3.1 per cent, mostly due to a warmer year compared to 2018, resulting in a reduction of 0.6 million tonnes of CO2;
  • While transport energy increased by 0.5 per cent, emissions fell marginally, mostly due to increased blending of biofuels with petrol and diesel.

On recent energy trends and Covid-19, Mr Scheer said: “We have seen significant changes in the patterns of energy use and emissions since the introduction of public health emergency restrictions. However, when we eventually emerge from the necessary restrictions, it’s likely that many of the gains could be reversed.”

The Government, however, had significantly increased momentum on climate action, “particularly as an engine of economic recovery”, he added. “Budgets for Government schemes were significantly increased . . . and research into new technologies and solutions will be expanded.”

The SEAI is working with the Government to ensure significant annual emissions reductions are achieved. And, in the longer-term, that full decarbonisation of Irish society is delivered.

The 2019 "energy balance data" can be found here