20 November 2020
It’s a big day everybody. We had our cup of coffee in hand, porridge on the desk and pens at the ready bright and early this morning to dig through the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data.
Published today, the agency released their highly anticipated provisional projections for last year’s emissions.
So what were the key findings, and what do they mean?
As always, we took a deep dive.
Note: we still don’t have any provisional projections from the EPA on 2020 emission data, so all the information below is from before the onset of the pandemic.
Overall, our greenhouse gas emissions fell.
Compared to 2018, Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by 4.5 per cent.
And they fell pretty much across the board. Our Emission Trading Scheme emissions (which are all things power-related) saw a 8.7 per cent decrease, while our Effort Sharing Decision emissions (think transport, buildings and agriculture) declined by 3.1 per cent.
When put beside our total emissions reduction, this is the first time all three of the categories aligned in bringing down emissions in six years.
And it wasn’t enough.
According to the EPA, we’re still set to exceed our 2019 annual EU emissions allocation.
Even taking the impact of Covid-19 into consideration, it is still “highly unlikely” that Ireland will meet its overall 2020 targets.
What drove the change?
There were multiple trends at play that drove down emissions for 2019, and all worth taking a closer look at.
- Energy emissions fell by 11 per cent. This was driven by a whopping 69 per cent decline in coal use and a 8 per cent drop in the use of peat for electricity generation, coupled with renewables’ continued upward climb, primarily with wind energy. The sector now provides us with 37.6 per cent our electricity needs. But, we still need to see figure increase for years to come if we’re going to meet future climate targets.
- Emissions from our homes decreased by over 7 per cent. The agency primarily attributes this to less heat being needed in warmer winter weather. However, emissions per household have now plateaued, which means we’ll need to seriously step up our retrofitting in order to see future reductions.
- Agriculture emissions declined by almost 4 per cent. Fertiliser use was down 10.1 per cent in 2019, and the quantity of lime used on soils fell by over a quarter.
Careful here though when looking at these numbers in isolation. 2018 was a peak year for the sector as it saw the highest agriculture emissions in 30 years. Our dairy herd size increased for the ninth year in row by 2.8 per cent with a 5.3 per cent increase in total national milk production.
Take a wider lens on that, and from 2014 to 2019, we can see that dairy cow numbers increased by almost a quarter and milk production rose by 41 per cent.
The EPA attributes the growth to the Food Wise 2025 strategy and the removal of dairy quotas in 2015.
- Transport emissions fell too, but barely. Emissions from this sector decreased ever so slightly by 0.3 per cent last year. The EPA highlighted that any uptake in biofuel use was offset by an increased demand for transport, and that reducing emissions in this sector will require a blend of more walking, cycling, biofuels and electric vehicles.
Anything not included in this report?
Yes. We’re still waiting on updated figures on land use, land use change and forestry, commonly known as LULUCF emissions.
We’ve got figures for up to 2018, which tell us that the sector is a net source of carbon, and we’ll have to wait until we get 2019 numbers to see how that trend developed.
And while we don’t know overall what our LULUCF emissions will look like, we do know that forestry, a key player in this figure, is now a source of greenhouse gas emissions rather than a sink, according to a Department of Agriculture report.
The transition has been primarily fuelled by deforestation, legacy-planting induced harvesting, fire emissions and younger stands and drainage.
And as soon as we have those new figures, we’ll also be taking a deep dive and breaking them down for you.
Want to have a look at today’s data yourself? The EPA has a very easy-to-navigate webpage with all the latest on last year’s emissions.