Ireland exceeded its annual greenhouse gas emissions allocation by more than five million tonnes last year, with the latest figures showing the State is far off track in meeting commitments to decarbonise the economy.
Ireland has pledged to reduce emissions to 20 per cent below 2005 levels by next year but the provisional 2018 figures from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show it is set to exceed its target by 5 to 6 per cent.
The State will face substantial recurring penalties from next year for non-compliance on emissions – likely to run to hundreds of millions of euro. Based on current trends, there is no indication when emissions will be reduced in key sectors as committed to, notably under the Paris Agreement.
While Ireland’s overall emissions showed a marginal decrease of 0.2 per cent last year, this was due to significant reductions in energy and power generation that were offset by growth in emissions from households, transport and agriculture.
"Ireland has exceeded its annual EU emissions budget for the third year in a row," said Dr Eimear Cotter of the EPA. "At a time of global urgency to address climate change this is a national trend that we must reverse."
Household emissions increased by 7.9 per cent, which was attributed to a cold winter last year, leading to increased demand for home heating. Oil remains the predominant heating fuel used in the State, which the EPA said “reflects the scale of the challenge to increase the resilience of our housing stock to extreme weather events, in terms of energy efficiency and use of renewable energy”.
Transport emissions increased by 1.7 per cent, the fifth year out of the past six where emissions in the sector have risen.
“Reversing this trend will require widespread transition to electric vehicles, increased use of public transport and reducing the number of car journeys,” the EPA said.
Agriculture emissions increased by 1.9 per cent driven by higher dairy cow numbers (up 2.7 per cent), reflecting national policy to expand milk production. Dairy cow numbers have increased by 27 per cent in the past five years while greenhouse gas emissions increased by 8 per cent.
“While agricultural production has gained some efficiency over this period, these gains will not be sufficient to deliver overall emission reductions,” the EPA said. “Full implementation of the measures outlined in the climate action plan are required.”
Energy reductions were driven by a decrease in coal use (44 per cent), largely driven by maintenance works reducing the amount of energy generated at the Moneypoint plant in Co Clare, and increases in renewable energy volumes. Electricity generated from wind increased by 14 per cent and the proportion of electricity coming from renewables sources was 32.6 per cent.
"Ireland has drifted off target and we must implement a decisive policy shift each year, every year. The 2020 budget has been an important watershed," Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton said.
“While the emissions have fallen for a second year in a row, the decrease is too small and driven by temporary occurrences. . . We have a brief opportunity to act and we must act now. The Government is determined to deliver.”
Mr Bruton said the figures reinforced the importance of implementing the Government’s climate plan as it “sets out actions we need to take to ensure we meet our 2030 climate commitments, putting us on a trajectory to be net zero by 2050”.