Ireland has third highest emissions of greenhouse gas in EU

CSO report shows Ireland’s per capita carbon output is more than double the rate in Sweden

Ireland’s status as a laggard in reducing carbon emissions has been confirmed by a new CSO report, which shows the Republic has the third highest emissions of greenhouse gases per capita in the EU.

The Environmental Indicators Ireland report published on Monday shows Ireland generated 13.3 tonnes per capita of CO2 equivalent in 2017, and was only exceeded by Estonia and Luxembourg in that year. This was more than double the rate in Sweden, which had the lowest rate of emissions in 2017 at 5.5 tonnes per capita.

In 2017, Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions were 60.7 million tonnes. This was a reduction compared with peak emissions of 70.5 million tonnes in 2001, but was 9.6 per cent higher than the 1990 figure of 55.4 million tonnes.

Other indications – notably from the Environmental Protection Agency – have highlighted how emissions continue to rise due to a booming economy and increases in transport and agricultural activity.


EU emissions fell by 23 per cent from 5.6 billion tonnes in 1990 to 4.3 billion tonnes in 2017, while emissions from the US remained stable at 6.5 billion tonnes. Emissions in Russia fell by 32 per cent from 3.2 billion tonnes in 1990 to 2.2 billion tonnes in 2017.

The CSO report, which is used to inform environmental policy, confirms Ireland performs poorly on key air pollutants arising from farming and industry. Overall air quality in Ireland has improved since 1990 for all indicators except ammonia, emissions of which were 7.9 per cent higher in 2017 than in 1990 – these mainly arise from agriculture.

Ireland performed poorly compared to other EU member states across a number of headings, ranking 18th worst for a form of particulate matter known as PM2.5; 11th worst for sulphur dioxide; worst for nitrogen oxides; seventh worst for ammonia; and worst for non-methane volatile organic compounds – all of which contribute to transboundary pollution.

In 2018, 86.2 per cent of bathing water sites in Ireland were of good quality. In 2017, 30 per cent of urban waste water supplies in Ireland received secondary treatment with nutrient reduction compared with only 4 per cent in 1997. The proportion of unpolluted river water in Ireland fell from 77.3 per cent in 1987 to 68.9 per cent in 2015.

Other findings were as follows:

Land use

In 2016, 10.7 per cent of Ireland’s total land area was covered by forestry; the second lowest proportion in the EU.

The area of agricultural land farmed organically increased by 267 per cent between 1997 and 2017 but was the second lowest in the EU in 2017. Ireland had the fourth largest cattle herd in the EU28 with 7.5 per cent of total cattle numbers in 2018.


Natural gas, as a proportion of total primary energy production, declined from 54 per cent in 1990 to 6 per cent in 2015 but increased to 59 per cent in 2016 due to the Corrib Gas Field, and stood at 58 per cent in 2017.

Renewable energy accounted for 30.1 per cent of electricity generation in 2017 – the EU28 average was 30.7 per cent.


Rail passengers in Ireland travelled an average of 444 kme per capita in 2017 (11th lowest), compared with 1,447km per capita in France, the highest in any EU28 Member State.

In 2017 34.4 million international passengers travelled through Irish airports, the highest figure over the 1995-2017 period.


Municipal waste generated fell from 800kg per capita in 2006 to 583 kgs per capita in 2016, while the recovery rate for packaging waste increased from 25 per cent in 2001 to 88 per cent in 2016.


In 2017, Ireland had the joint third smallest area in the EU designated as terrestrial Special Protected Areas under the EU Birds Directive, and the eighth smallest area designated as terrestrial Special Areas of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive – at 6.1 per cent and 13.1 per cent respectively.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times