GREENHOUSE gas emissions continue to rise due to a sharp increase in cattle and sheep numbers coupled with the use of cheap coal to generate power.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has called on the Government to increase the carbon tax on fuels that cause the most pollution, including coal, to help Ireland move towards a low-carbon economy.
The figures show that greenhouse gas emissions rose by 1pc last year to 57.92 million tonnes, the first increase in six years.
The primary drivers for the increases were the energy sector, up almost 6pc, agriculture (3pc) and industry and commerce (1.6pc). Emissions fell in the residential (almost 6pc) and transport sectors (3.5pc).
The higher emissions from the energy sector reflect an increase in the use of coal and peat in electricity generation, underpinned by lower coal prices. Agriculture emissions rose as animal numbers, particularly cattle and sheep which rose 4.4pc and 9pc respectively, increased in line with expansion of the sector under Food Harvest 2020.
"Low coal and carbon prices are encouraging a shift to coal-fired electricity generation which has significant implications for meeting long-term emissions reduction goals," EPA deputy director general Dara Lynott said.
"Increases in emissions also point to the urgent need for a higher carbon price which would provide an incentive for using less CO2 intensive energy sources, such as natural gas.
"Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will require concerted policy action to develop a positive and long-term response to climate change. Individual responsibility and behavioural change also have an important role to play."
A carbon tax on solid fuels, including coal and peat, was introduced last May at €10 per tonne. It will double next May.
The ESB, which operates the country's only coal-fired station at Moneypoint in Co Clare, said it had reduced overall emissions by one-third over the past six years but admitted that cheap coal from the US was used to produce electricity to help keep costs down for consumers.
"During 2012, the availability of relatively low-priced coal resulted in the ESB increasing electricity generation at Moneypoint Coal Station," it said.
"This resulted in an increase in CO2 emissions during 2012 over the previous year, and was driven by the desire to keep energy prices for consumers as low as possible.
"This reflects the ongoing challenge facing ESB and other utilities around the world – the need to balance sustainability objectives with energy affordability to ensure the optimal energy mix for customers into the future."
The ESB made a €194m profit after tax last year.
Friends of the Earth (Ireland) director Oisin Coghlan said the increased use of coal and peat to generate electricity reflected a "failure of climate policy" at Irish and EU levels.
"We only met our Kyoto target because of the economic crash. That is not a policy we want repeat. The Government needs to fast-track the climate bill and ensure it has strong targets to reduce emissions."
Environment Minister Phil Hogan said it was "good news" that Ireland would meet its international obligations, but the results were "tinged with disappointment" because of the "marginal increase" in emissions.
"I agree with the EPA that this increase, albeit marginal, underscores the fact that environmental pressures remain and will increase, particularly as the economy recovers," he said.