EPA data shows Ireland’s 2021 Greenhouse Gas Emissions above pre-Covid levels

Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 4.7 per cent in 2021 compared to 2020 and are now 1.1 per cent above 2019 pre-COVID restriction levels. 

  • Emissions from the Energy Industries sector increased by 17.6 per cent in 2021, driven by a tripling of coal and oil use in electricity generation. 
  • Agriculture emissions increased by 3.0 per cent in 2021, driven by increased fertiliser use (up 5.2 per cent) and a 2.8 per cent increase in the number of dairy cows.
  • Residential greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 4.9 per cent in 2021, driven by a combination of less time in the home, a milder winter and increased fuel prices.
  • Transport emissions increased by 6.1 per cent as COVID-19 restrictions lifted, however emissions were 10.5 per cent below the pre-COVID 2019 level.
  • The Provisional 2021 greenhouse gas emission numbers indicate that 23.5 per cent of the Carbon Budget for the 5-year period 2021-2025 has already been used, requiring an 8.4 per cent average annual emissions reduction from 2022-2025 to stay within budget.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published its provisional greenhouse gas emissions for Ireland for 2021. The figures show an increase in emissions of 4.7 per cent in 2021 compared to 2020 – when Covid restrictions had led to a significant lowering of emissions. In total in 2021, 61.53 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2eq) were emitted, with emissions 1.1 per cent above 2019 pre-COVID restriction levels. The increase is mostly due to a significant increase in emissions from the Energy Industries sector due to a tripling of coal and oil use in electricity generation in 2021, with increases also seen in the agriculture and transport sectors. 
The figures indicate that in 2021, including Land-Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF), Ireland has used up 69.3 Mt CO2eq (23.5 per cent) of the 295 Mt CO2eq allowed for in the first of Ireland’s recently approved Carbon Budgets for the period 2021 to 2025. This means that an average annual emissions reduction of 8.4 per cent (over 5 Mt CO2eq) per year would be required from 2022-2025 to stay within the budget.
The report also shows that Ireland will exceed its 2021 annual limit under the European Union’s Effort Sharing Regulation (EU 2018/842), without the use of flexibilities, by 2.7 Mt CO2eq. 

Commenting on the figures Laura Burke, Director General, EPA said: 
“A return to coal use in electricity generation, together with continued growth in emissions from the Agriculture sector and a partial rebound in Transport emissions following the easing of COVID restrictions, have combined to deliver an increase on pre-pandemic levels of emissions. The data show the scale of change needed within and across all sectors of Ireland’s economy to make sustained progress in reversing this trend and to meet our EU commitments and National greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.”

A summary of the main sectoral emission trends is below.

Energy Industries: Sectoral emissions in the Energy Industries sector showed an increase of 17.6 per cent in 2021, attributable to a tripling of both coal and fuel oil use in electricity generation. The consumption of peat has continued to decline, by 67 per cent in 2021, and is currently at an all-time low within the power generation sector. There was also a reduction in natural gas use by 8.9 per cent as some plants were offline for a time in 2021. Electricity generated from renewables fell from 42 per cent in 2020 to 35 per cent, due to low rainfall and less wind. This resulted in an increase in the emissions intensity of power generation by 11.9 per cent in 2021 to 331 g CO2/kWh compared with 296 g CO2/kWh in 2020.

Agriculture: Agriculture emissions in 2021 were 23.1 Mt CO2eq, an increase of 3.0 per cent on 2020.  Agricultural emissions did not reduce during COVID restrictions and are now 15% higher than the 1990 level. The most significant drivers for the rise in emissions in 2021 were increased use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use of 5.2 per cent and higher dairy cow numbers of 2.8 per cent with an increase in milk production of 5.5 per cent. 
This is the 11th consecutive year that dairy cow numbers rose. Milk output per cow also increased (by 2.5 per cent), therefore increased production was driven by a rise in livestock numbers in conjunction with an increase in milk yield per cow. In 2021, total cattle numbers increased by 0.8per cent.In 2021, liming on agricultural soils increased by 49.5 per cent, a welcome measure in improving soil fertility, which should lead to a reduction in fertiliser nitrogen use in future years.
Residential: Greenhouse gas emissions in the Residential sector were 7.04 Mt CO2eq in 2021 and decreased by 4.9 per cent or 0.36 Mt CO2eq compared to 2020. However, emissions in 2020 had risen as a result of increased working from home. Emissions are now 2.8 per cent above pre-pandemic levels in this sector. A combination of warmer weather, rising fuel prices towards the end of the year and an easing of COVID restrictions contributed to substantial reductions in coal, peat and kerosene use for home heating. 
However, since 2014, fuel use per household has increased by 12 per cent with CO2 emissions per household at 3.8 t CO2 in 2021.
Transport: Increases in traffic volumes during 2021 as COVID-restrictions lifted resulted in a 6.1 per cent rise in transport emissions. Emissions had fallen significantly in the transport sector in 2020 as a result of Covid restrictions. Emissions in this sector remain 10.5 per cent below pre-pandemic levels, and it is unclear if they will rebound fully to that level. Road transport emissions increased from 9.7 Mt CO2eq in 2020 to 10.3 Mt CO2eq in 2021. At the end of 2021, there were just under 47,000 battery electric (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric (PHEVs) vehicles in Ireland, approximately 24 per cent of the Climate Action Plan target for 2025 of 195,300 and ahead of a linear uptake trajectory towards that target.

Land-Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULULCF):  [Comprising of six land use categories (Forest Land, Cropland, Grassland, Wetlands, Settlements, and Other Land) and Harvested Wood Products.] When included in National total emissions (see detail in notes below), this sector accounts for 11.2 per cent of the total emissions in 2021.  The sector is a net source of CO2 eq emissions in all years 1990-2021. The main source of emissions is the drainage of grasslands on organic soils and the exploitation of wetlands for peat extraction. Forest land and Harvested wood products are a carbon sink (CO2 removal) for all years 1990-2021 although the carbon sink associated with Forest land is on a declining trend due to the age profile of existing forests and a declining afforestation trend.

International aviation: In 2021, total international aviation contributed 1.3 Mt CO2 from over 52,500 return flights from Irish airports, a significant reduction on recent trends, with international aviation emissions averaging over 3.0 Mt CO2eq per year prior to COVID pandemic. Although not part of Ireland’s total greenhouse gas emissions by international agreement, this is a significant reduction in greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere. 

Commenting, Stephen Treacy, Senior Manager, EPA said:
“The Provisional greenhouse gas emission estimates for 2021 are a cause for concern in relation to achieving Ireland’s binding Carbon Budget targets. Staying within the current budget now requires deep emission cuts of over 5 Mt CO2 eq per annum over the succeeding four years.”Full detail on the Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory 1990 to 2021 is available on the EPA website and the EPA Greenhouse Gas web resource is also available online.  
Tables and NotesThis publication provides early insight into the annual greenhouse gas emissions in advance of final data being submitted to the EU and UN in 2023. To facilitate the use of this data to assess progress towards achieving Ireland’s Climate Act targets, provisional estimates are being published for the first time in July, a full three months ahead of the previous publication schedule.

2021 is the first year over which compliance with targets set in the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) will be assessed. This Regulation sets 2030 targets for emissions outside of the Emissions Trading Scheme (known as ESR emissions) and annual binding national limits for the period 2021-2030. Ireland’s target is to reduce ESR emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 compared with 2005 levels, with a number of flexibilities available to assist in achieving this.
An overview of changes in emissions since the previous year is presented in Table 1 and distance to EU targets in Table 2. 
More trend figures, tables and background information available online
Table 1. Provisional greenhouse gas emissions for 2020 and 2021 for Ireland*

Million tonnes, COeq20202021% Change 2020-2021% Change 2019-2021
Energy Industries8.73810.27217.68.8
Manufacturing Combustion4.5524.5930.9-0.7
Industrial Processes2.1072.46016.88.5
Commercial Services0.8430.817-3.0-2.3
Public Services0.6890.663-3.81.6
National Total excluding LULUCF58.76661.5284.71.1
National Total including LULUCF65.70969.2955.52.3

* Final figures will be submitted to the EU and UN in March and April 2023 in line with the agreed reporting timetable.

Table 2. Compliance with EU Effort Sharing Regulation Targets 2021-2030

Total greenhouse gas emissions without LULUCF61,528         
 Total verified emissions from stationary installations under Directive 2003/87/EC15,320         
 CO2 emissions from domestic aviation20         
Total ESR emissions46,188         
EU ESR Targets43,47942,35741,23540,11338,99137,86936,74735,62534,50333,381
Gross distance to target-2,709         
+ annualised ETS flexibility†1,9081,9081,9081,9081,9081,9081,9081,9081,9081,908
+ annualised projected LULUCF flexibility*0000000000
Net distance to target-801         

* No flexibility projected to be available under the EPA’s “With Existing Measures” scenario † Set out in Annex II and Annex III of Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2020/2126 
Notes: Typically, National total emissions are presented excluding LULUCF (as they are in this report unless otherwise noted) due to the difficulty in comparing one country’s climate actions with another when it is included.  For the purpose of assessment against the National Climate Act target however, it is necessary to include this sector and where this is the case the inclusion is noted in the report.Units: 1 Mt = 1,000 kilotonnes
CO2 Equivalent: greenhouse gases other than CO2 (i.e. methane, nitrous oxide and so-called F-gases) may be converted to CO2 equivalent using their global warming potentials.  
F-gases: These gases comprise HFCs (Hydroflurocarbons), PFCs (Perfluorcarbons), SF6 (Sulphur Hexafluoride) and NF3 (Nitrogen Trifluoride).  They are much more potent than the naturally occurring greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide).
Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Sectors:  include the following eleven sectors for analysis;

  1. Energy Industries (electricity generation, waste to energy incineration, oil refining, briquetting manufacture and fugitive emissions)
  2. Residential (combustion for domestic space and hot water heating) 
  3. Manufacturing Combustion (combustion for Manufacturing industries in ETS and non-ETS)
  4. Commercial Services (combustion for Commercial Services space and hot water heating)
  5. Public Services (combustion for Public services space and hot water heating)
  6. Transport (combustion of fuel used in road, rail, navigation, domestic aviation and pipeline gas transport)
  7. Industrial Processes (process emissions from mineral, chemical, metal industries, non-energy products and solvents)
  8. F-Gases (gases used in refrigeration, air conditioning and semiconductor manufacture)
  9. Agriculture (emissions from fertiliser application, ruminant digestion, manure management, agricultural soils and fuel used in agriculture/forestry/fishing)
  10. Waste (emissions from solid waste disposal on land, solid waste treatment (composting), wastewater treatment, waste incineration and open burning of waste).
  11. Land-Use, Land-use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) covers the following categories; Forest Land, Cropland, Grassland, Wetlands, Settlements, Other Land and Harvested Wood Products.

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