Higher greenhouse gas emissions in 2012 point to significant challenges in delivering a low-carbon, sustainable economy for Ireland

Date released: Oct 09 2013

Higher greenhouse gas emissions in 2012 point to significant challenges in delivering a low-carbon, sustainable economy for Ireland

  • Ireland will meet its Kyoto obligations based on provisional figures for the 2008-2012 period. 
  • Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions for 2012 increased by 1.0% to 57.92 million tonnes.
  • Key emissions trends in 2012 were as follows:
    • Energy emissions (principally electricity generation) increased by 5.9%.
    • Agriculture emissions increased by 3.0%
    • Industry and Commercial emissions increased by 1.6%
    • Transport sector emissions decreased 3.5%
    • Residential sector emissions decreased by 5.9%.
  • Higher emissions from the energy sector reflect an increase in the use of coal in electricity generation underpinned by lower coal and carbon prices.
  • Agriculture emissions are 3% higher in 2012 as animal numbers, particularly cattle and sheep, increased in line with expansion of the sector under Food Harvest 2020.

Provisional greenhouse gas emissions figures released today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that Ireland will meet our Kyoto Protocol obligations. However, greenhouse gas emissions increased by 0.58 million tonnes (1.0%) in 2012 to 57.92 million tonnes reversing a six-year downward trend in emissions since 2006.

Agriculture remains the single largest contributor to overall emissions, at 32.1% of the total, followed by Energy (primarily electricity generation) and Transport at 21.9% and 18.8% respectively. The remainder is made up by the Industry and Commercial at 14.7%, the Residential sector at 10.7% and Waste at 1.8%.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector increased by 5.9% in 2012, driven primarily by an increase in the use of coal in electricity generation.  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.

The agriculture sector saw increases in cattle numbers (4.4%) and sheep numbers (9%) in 2012 which has resulted in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions of 3.0%. These increases are in line with the expansion of the sector under the Food Harvest 2020 plan.

While Ireland is on track to meet its Kyoto Protocol commitments, the increase in emissions in 2012 points to the significant challenges ahead in meeting EU 2020 targets and developing a low-carbon emission pathway to 2050 particularly in the context of a recovering economy.

Commenting on the figures Dara Lynott, Deputy Director General, EPA said:

“Ireland will meet its Kyoto Protocol obligations, which is very welcome. However, increases in emissions in 2012 show that environmental pressures remain, and will increase, particularly as the economy starts to recover. The figures underline the requirement to decouple emissions from economic growth.  They 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.”

Speaking at the launch of the EPA report, Dr Eimear Cotter, Senior Manager, EPA said:

“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.  Options such as greater efficiency at farm level, travelling less by car and reducing energy use and energy loss in households all offer potential to deliver emission reductions.”

Changes to sectoral emissions between 2011 and 2012 were as follows:


Emissions related to energy are calculated based on SEAI’s annual energy balance and were 0.71 million tonnes higher in 2012 than in 2011 which represent a 5.9% increase. This reflects an increase in the use of carbon-intensive fuels such as coal and peat in fuel mix which is underpinned by low coal and carbon prices.  Changes in the fuel mix in power generation offset declining electricity consumption – delivered through both recession and more energy efficient practices - and its associated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.


Emissions from agriculture increased by 0.55 million tonnes (3.0%) in 2011. This increase is underpinned by increasing animal numbers, with dairy cow numbers 2.3% higher in 2012 compared with 2011. This rise reflects national plans to expand milk production under Food Harvest 2020 and with the removal of milk quotas in 2015. In addition, sheep numbers have increased by 9% in 2012 which is consistent with favourable sheep market conditions in recent years.

Industry and Commercial

Emissions increased by 0.13 million tonnes (1.6%) in 2012. Industrial emissions from large combustion sources within the EU-ETS comprise the largest source of emissions in this category. For example, emissions from all industrial categories, non-ferrous metals, chemicals, food and drink show increases of between 1 and 2% whilst the cement industry showed an increase of almost 18% in 2012 on 2011 levels.


Transport emissions were 0.39 million tonnes lower in 2012 than in 2011. This represents a decrease of 3.5%. This is the fifth year in a row that a decrease in transport sector emissions has been reported following significant growth up to 2007. The decrease primarily reflects the impact of the economic downturn plus the changes in vehicle registration tax and road tax introduced in mid-2008. In addition, the Biofuels Obligation Scheme started operation in mid-2010 with biofuels displacing petrol and diesel use in the transport sector. Emissions in 2012 were 113% higher than the 1990 transport emissions.


Emissions in 2012 decreased by 0.39 million tonnes (5.9%) compared to the 2011 level. This reflects higher than average temperatures in 2012 with consequently lower heat demand from households.


Emissions for this sector show a decrease of 0.03 million tonnes (2.7%) below the 2011 level which reflects an 11.7% reduction in methane emitted at landfill sites in 2012. However, emissions from incineration increased by 0.07 million tonnes in 2012 which reflects the first full year of commercial incineration at Indaver Ireland’s Carranstown, Co. Meath site.
Download Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2012 from the EPA website.

Notes to Editor:

The compilation of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions is undertaken on an annual basis by the EPA. These figures allow Ireland to meet international reporting requirements under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and provide reliable data to support the development of evidence-based climate relevant policies and measures.

Tonnes = tonnes CO2 equivalent

EU Emissions Trading Scheme
Approximately one third of Ireland’s GHG emissions are covered by the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Allocations to these installations impact on the calculation of the distance to target during the 2008 – 2012 period. For detailed calculation see Table 1 below.

Forest Sinks
Increases in approved Forest Sinks count towards achievement of our Kyoto limit and hence need to be included when estimating distance to target. These are estimated to remove 3.4 million tonnes of CO2 on average over the five years of the Kyoto period.

Biofuels Obligation Scheme
The Biofuels Obligation Scheme came into effect on 1st July 2010. Under this legislation, fuel suppliers have to ensure that at least 4 litres in every 100 litres of road transport fuel is biofuel. This is called the ‘biofuel obligation’ and equates to 4% of petroleum-based motor fuel placed on the market. The National Oil Reserves Agency (NORA) has been mandated to administer the scheme.

Food Harvest 2020: A vision for Irish agri-food and fisheries
Food Harvest 2020 was launched by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food in 2010.  It set out a ten year growth strategy for Ireland’s agri-food, drinks, fisheries and forestry sectors. 

Table 1. Estimation of distance to Kyoto limit for the five year period 2008-2012


                                                      Mt CO2eq
  2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2008-2012
Total National Emissions 67.72 61.95 61.61 57.34 57.92 306.54
Less Verified Emissions for ETS 20.38 17.22 17.36 15.77 16.85 87.58
Total Non-ETS Emissions 47.34 44.73 44.25 41.58 41.07 218.96
Kyoto Limit 62.84 62.84 62.84 62.84 62.84 314.19
Less ETS Allocation 22.28* 22.28* 22.28* 22.28* 22.28* 111.40
Total Non-ETS Limit 40.56 40.56 40.56 40.56 40.56 202.79

Distance above Kyoto limit after 5 years of Kyoto

Protocol period (excluding forest sinks)













Forest Sinks -3.20 -3.39 -3.42 -3.57 -3.40 -16.98

Distance above Kyoto limit after 5 years of Kyoto

Protocol period(including forest sinks)













* It is important to note that not all of 22.28 Mt CO2 was allocated to ETS sectors in 2008 to 2012. The remainder is mainly reserved for New Entrants over the 5 year period 2008-2012 and if not fully utilised will revert to the national account. It is currently estimated that this will amount to around 6.55 million tonnes of CO2 over the five year Kyoto period. The actual allocation to installations was 19.97 Mt CO2 in 2008, 20.03 Mt CO2 in 2009, 20.96 Mt CO2 in 2010, 21.58 Mt CO2 in 2011 and 21.75 Mt CO2 in 2012 which compares to verified emissions of 20.38 Mt in 2008, 17.22 Mt CO2 in 2009, 17.36 Mt CO2 in 2010, 15.77 Mt CO2 in 2011 and 16.85 Mt CO2 in 2012.
≠ Small numerical discrepancies in Table 1 are due to rounding.