Emissions from agriculture increase by almost 3pc in 2017 due to dairy expansion

Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Greenhouse gas emissions figures released today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that Ireland’s emissions decreased slightly in 2017.

Today’s figures show that greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland in 2017 - at 60.75 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) - were 0.9 per cent (0.53 Mt CO2 eq) lower than in 2016.

Emissions decreased in the transport, power generation and household sectors while increasing in the agriculture sector by nearly 3 per cent.

The main factor underpinning lower transport emissions was a fall in cross-border fuel tourism due to currency fluctuations.

The increase in agriculture emissions was mostly due to higher dairy cow numbers.

Dairy cow numbers have increased by 26pc in the last five years while greenhouse gas emissions from the sector increased by 10pc over that time.

This shows that agricultural production has gained some efficiency over this period but that we have some way to go before full decoupling.

Lower household emissions reflected a warmer year in 2017 with less heating required, especially during the winter months. A significant increase in renewable energy in the power generation sector displaced carbon-intensive fuels such as coal and peat so reducing emissions in that sector.

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EU countries, including Ireland, have binding annual targets to put us on the required pathway to meet EU 2020 targets.

Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of the Office of Environmental Sustainability, said:

“A decrease in our greenhouse gas emissions is welcome, particularly in the context of a growing economy.

“However, some of the underlying drivers of this decrease point to circumstance rather than deliberate action –  a fall in cross-border refuelling and warmer weather played a role this year. This would raise questions about the longevity and enduring nature of these decreases in future years.

“The figures published today indicate that Ireland will exceed its 2017 annual limit by nearly 3 million tonnes Mt CO2 eq.

“This gives a measure of the gap between where Ireland is currently in terms of the 2020 pathway and where we need to be and indicates the scale of the challenge facing the country in terms of meeting our long-term decarbonisation ambitions.”

Concluding Stephen Treacy, Senior Manager in the Office of Environmental Sustainability said Ireland’s National Policy position is to have reduced CO2 emissions in 2050 by 80 per cent on 1990 levels across the energy generation, built environment and transport sectors, with a goal of climate neutrality in the agriculture and land-use sector.

“While our figures show a decrease in 2017 energy and transport emissions, underlying demand and output growth threatens Ireland’s long-term goals.

“With the United Nations Conference, COP 24, underway this week in Poland and focused on ensuring full implementation of the Paris Agreement, we need to also implement sustainable and enduring policies and measures here in Ireland that will move us on to the required low-carbon pathway,” he said.

IFA President Joe Healy said the change in emissions attributed to agriculture was not unexpected, due to the increased market demand coinciding with the ending of the milk quota regime in 2015, which had been in place since 1984.

He said, "Ireland is the most carbon efficient producer of milk in the European Union and our beef farmers are in the top five. This is important at a time of increasing demand for dairy and beef. If agri-food production is limited in Ireland, it will happen elsewhere and contribute to increased international greenhouse gasses.” 

“We have a natural advantage in food production due to our grass-based production system. At present no credit is given in the climate data to the contribution that our permanent pasture and hedgerows make to carbon sequestration. This is not giving a fair picture of the overall positive contribution of agriculture,” he said.

“Our farmers have been frustrated for years due to milk quotas and we need to evaluate the increased emissions in the context of the economic and social sustainability of rural Ireland,” he said.

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