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Official stats paint Ireland as EU laggard on climate and environment

A new analysis from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) singles out Ireland as a European laggard across a range of important climate and environmental areas, including emissions levels, forest cover and air pollution.  While the findings in the CSO’s Environmental Indicators Ireland analysis is based mainly on 2017 and 2018 data previously released in a myriad of other reports and analysis, the compilation of the findings makes for stark reading.

The analysis of 65 environmental and climate indicators points to Ireland’s poor record compared to our European counterparts across a range of areas, including greenhouse gases emissions, tree cover, air pollution, land use, and biodiversity protection.

Among climate laggards

In 2017, Ireland had the third-highest emissions of greenhouse gases per capita in the EU at 13.3 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. This is 51 per cent higher than the EU average of 8.8 tonnes.

Agriculture accounts for 33 per cent of our overall emissions in Ireland and is rising alongside transport emissions that doubled from a 10 per cent average in 1990-1994 to 20 per cent in 2017.

While our total emissions (60.7 million tonnes) in 2017 were down from our peak of 70.5 million tonnes in 201, the analysis states that we were still almost 10 per cent higher than 1990 levels.

Plantation forestry rules the roost

Ireland’s forest cover in 2016 was 10.7 per cent of our total land area, the second lowest rate after Malta. The majority of our planted areas are made up of non-native conifer plantations, giving us one of the highest rates of plantation forestry in Europe.

In general, these types of plantations support a lower diversity and abundance of bird species relative to native broadleaves and support fewer specialist species. Only two per cent of the country is covered by what is termed native or semi-natural woodland.

Sitka spruce – a native species of Alaska – remains the predominant species used in forestry. In 2017, Sitka made up a little over 50 per cent (343,310 hectares) of all trees planted in Ireland. Other pines including Norway spruce and scots pine make up a further 15 per cent of planting.

The CSO report points out that Ireland had the joint third-smallest portion of land (six per cent) in the EU designated as protected areas for wildlife, and the eight smallest area (13 per cent) set aside for protected habitats.

Organic non-existent

Ireland has the second-lowest rate of organic, accounting for just 1.5 per cent of total agricultural land in 2017. The fact that land farmed organically increased by 267 per cent between 1997 and 2017 is encouraging but we are still far behind our European neighbours, with several countries between 15 and 20 per cent organic.

It is unlikely that much room will be made for organic production in the coming years as the push for the expansion of our dairy herd continues, giving us the fourth largest cattle herd in the EU by December 2018.

Grassland accounted for 58 per cent of total land use in Ireland in 2017, with a large amount of nitrogen fertiliser used in order to encourage grass growth and crop yield.  According to Teagasc, however, spraying is also an important source of nitrous oxide that accounts for 15 per cent of total agricultural emissions.

Ireland had the eighth highest level of fertiliser sales among EU Member States in 2017 at 107.6 tonnes per 1,000 hectares of agricultural land. Nitrogen fertilisers sales (379,000 tonnes) accounted for almost one-third of total fertiliser sales (1.3 million) in 2017.

Air Pollution

While air quality has improved since 1990s, the CSO notes that Ireland continues to perform poorly compared to our European neighbours, ranking worst for nitrogen oxides and non-methane volatile organic compounds (mainly coming from the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors); seventh worst for ammonia and 11th worst for sulphur dioxide.

While emissions of many gases are dropping, ammonia emissions are rising and were almost 8 per cent higher in 2017 than in 1990. Rising ammonia emissionsfrom the agricultural sector remain one of the key contributors to air pollution in Ireland.

The EPA states that limiting ammonia emissions will be difficult due to Ireland`s ambitious targets under Food Wise 2025. Ammonia emissions are harmful to the environment through the likes of soil and water contamination, as well as to human health by triggering respiratory problems.


While the share of renewable energy for power generation has increased from an average annual 5 per cent in 1990-1994 to 30 per cent in 2017, Ireland is still slightly below the EU average (30.7 per cent) and is well behind leaders such as Austria (72 per cent), Sweden (65 per cent) and Denmark (60 per cent).

The use of heat from renewable energy sources grew to 6.8 per cent in 2017, leaving a lot of work to do to hit the 12 per cent target set for Ireland to achieve by 2020.

Main Findings


  • Air quality in Ireland has improved since 1990 for all indicators examined except ammonia, whose emissions were 4% higher in 2016 compared with 1990-1994.
  • Ireland performed poorly when examined against the emissions of other EU Member States in 2015, based on their progress towards the 2010 NEC targets. Ireland ranked 11th lowest for PM2.5, 22nd lowest for sulphur oxides, 26th lowest for nitrogen oxides, 17th lowest for ammonia, and 28th for NMVOC’s.

Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change

  • Greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland have fallen by 11% from an average of 68.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2000-2004 to 61.5 million tonnes in 2016.
  • Agriculture was the sector with the largest greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland at 32% of the total in 2016. Transport and energy were the next most important sectors accounting for 20% each of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2016.
  • Ireland had the third highest emissions of greenhouse gases per capita in the EU in 2015 at 13.2 tonnes of CO2equivalent.


  • Ireland had the joint sixth worst level of bathing water quality in the EU in 2016 with 92.9% of bathing water sites classified as being of sufficient water quality, compared with an EU average of 96.3%.
  • The compliance rate of public water supplies with trihalomethane standards fell from an annual average 94.6 % in 2005-2009 to 93.1% in 2016.
  • In 2016, 27% of urban waste water in Ireland received secondary treatment with nutrient reduction compared with only 4% in 1997.
  • The proportion of unpolluted river water in Ireland fell from 77.3% in 1987-1990 to 68.9% in 2013-2015.

Land Use

  • In 2015, 10.6% of Ireland’s land area was covered by forestry. This was the second lowest in the EU.
  • Although the area farmed organically increased by 165% between 1997-1999 and 2016, Ireland had the second lowest percentage of agricultural land designated as organic in the EU in 2015.
  • Ireland had the fourth largest cattle herd in the EU with 7.4% of total cattle numbers in 2016.


  • Transport accounted for 41% of Ireland’s final energy consumption in 2015.
  • Renewable energy accounted for 24% of Ireland’s total primary energy production and 27% of its electricity generation in 2016.
  • Ireland had an imported energy dependency of 88.6% in 2015, which was the fourth highest in the EU.


  • In 2017, 96% of new private cars licensed were in emission bands A and B compared with 12% in 2005.
  • The proportion of females aged 15 years and over who drove to work increased from 27% in 1986 to 65% in 2016. In contrast, the corresponding proportion of males travelling to work by car increased from 42% to 53% over this period.


  • The amount of municipal waste generated in Ireland fell from an annual average of 718 kilograms per capita in 2001-2004 to 564 in 2014.
  • In 2001-2004, 71% of municipal waste was sent to landfill in Ireland. By 2014 this had declined to 21%.
  • In 2015, Ireland recovered 190 kilograms of packaging waste per capita, which was the third highest rate in the EU after Germany and Luxembourg.

Biodiversity and Heritage

  • The index of common bird species in Ireland increased from 100 in 1998 to 121.5 in 2016.
  • In 2016, Ireland had the joint second smallest area designated as terrestrial Special Protected Areas under the EU Birds Directive, and the eight smallest area designated as terrestrial Special Areas of Conservation designated under the EU Habitats Directive, at 6.1% and 13.2% respectively.

Environmental Economy

  • Revenue from environmental taxation in Ireland increased from an annual average of €3.2 billion in 2000-2004 to €5.2 billion in 2017 and represented 7.8% of total tax revenue in 2017.
  • Environmental subsidies and similar transfers in Ireland increased from an annual average of €566 million in 2000-2004 to €772 million in 2016.
  • Domestic material consumption in Ireland decreased from an annual average of 101.8 million tonnes in 1995-1999 to 97.9 million tonnes in 2015.
  • Atlantic Mackerel was the most common species landed in Irish ports by Irish vessels at 31.2% of the total tonnage landed in 2016.

Source – Green News

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