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Less Peat, More Wind Energy & Pandemic Restrictions Lead To Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 3.6 % in 2020, less than the reduction seen in 2019.

  • Lockdown measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a 15.7 % decrease in Transport emissions, the largest sectoral emissions reduction.
  • Peat fuelled electricity generation decreased by 51 % in 2020. Together with a 15 % increase in wind generation – this led to a 7.9 % reduction in Energy Industry emissions.
  • Residential greenhouse gas emissions increased by 9.0 %, with a substantial increase in carbon intensive fossil fuel use driven by low fuel prices and working from home.
  • Agriculture emissions increased by 1.4 % in 2020, driven by increased activity in all areas, including a 3.2 % increase in the number of dairy cows.
  • While the overall reduction in emissions is welcome, the majority (almost 2 Mt) of the reduction was due to a short term decrease in transport emissions due to the Covid 19 pandemic, which is likely to be once-off.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has today published its provisional greenhouse gas emissions for Ireland for 2020. The figures show a reduction in emissions of 3.6 % compared to 2019, which although significant, is 0.4 % less than the reduction seen in 2019.
Significant emission reductions were recorded for the Energy Industries sector due mainly to reductions in peat fuelled electricity generation and increases in wind electricity generation. This reduction was despite a similar level of electricity demand to 2019, indicating the positive impact of a transition towards renewable energy in power generation emissions. The lockdown measures put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic lead to significant emissions reductions in the Transport sector but increases in the Residential sector.

The figures indicate that Ireland exceeded its 2020 annual EU emissions allocation by 6.7Mt and cumulatively exceeded its allocation over the lifetime of the 2013-2020 Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) by over 12 Mt. Emissions covered under the ESD in 2020 had only decreased by 7 % on the 2005 level compared to the overall target of a 20 per cent reduction.
Commenting on the figures Ms Laura Burke, (Director General, EPA) said:
“Greenhouse gas emissions decreased again in 2020 following the decrease seen in 2019, with a continuation of some positive trends in the data, such as the phasing out of peat burning in electricity generation. The behavioural changes required to deal with the COVID pandemic also led to a reduction in emissions in sectors such as transport, while there was an increase in emissions from the residential sector.”
The overall emission reduction in emissions during 2020, at a time of profound change to economic and social activity due to the Covid 19 pandemic highlight the scale of action needed across all parts of our economy and society to meet the 51 per cent emissions reduction by 2030 set within the 2021 Climate Act. Urgent action is also necessary to avoid a growth in greenhouse gas emissions during post-COVID economic recovery.”

The overall emission reduction was driven by two main factors, the reduced emissions intensity in electricity generation and decreased transport emissions as a result of the COVID lockdown measures. A summary of the main sectoral emission trends is below.

Energy Industries: Emissions in the Energy Industries sector decreased by 7.9%, or 0.74 Mt CO2eq in 2020, mainly due to a 51% decrease in peat used in electricity generation. This builds on the reductions seen in 2019, as a result of the phasing out of coal used in electricity generation.
Electricity generated from wind also played a part, increasing by 15.3% in 2020. The reduced peat use, and increased wind and hydro-electricity, resulted in an 8.1% decrease in the emissions intensity of power generation in 2020 to 295g CO2/kWh, a new record low. With peat and coal use at a relatively low level in 2020, further emissions reductions in line with the Climate Act ambition will depend largely on continued rapid deployment of renewable generation.

Agriculture: Agriculture emissions increased by 1.4%, or 0.3 Mt CO2eq in 2020 and have increased by 12% over the last 10 years. 2020 increases were driven by increased fertiliser nitrogen use (3.3%) increased numbers of livestock including dairy cows (3.2%), other cattle (0.6%), sheep (4.8%) and pigs (2.5%). In the last 10 years, dairy cow numbers have increased by 45.5% with a corresponding milk production increase of 60.3%. In the same 10-year period sheep numbers increased by 21.9%, pigs by 9.7% and poultry by 25.9%.

Residential: Greenhouse gas emissions from the Residential sector increased by 9.0% or 0.59 Mt CO2eq as many people worked from home due to the COVID lockdown measures. The impact of this increased demand was exacerbated by low fuel prices. Coal use increased by 6%, peat by 3% and Kerosene by 19%. Natural gas use decreased marginally by -0.3%. Overall since 2014, emissions per household have gradually increased, indicating that an acceleration of energy efficiency retrofit and renewable energy deployment is needed to avoid a continued increase in emissions from the sector.

Transport: Greenhouse gas emissions from the Transport sector decreased by 15.7% or 1.92 Mt CO2eq in 2020, driven by the impact of COVID restrictions on passenger car and public transport usage. At the end of 2020, there were just under 26,000 battery electric (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric (PHEVs) vehicles in Ireland, highlighting the extent of the challenge in meeting the over 936,000 EVs by 2030 Climate Action plan target. Freight transport emissions didn’t decrease as significantly as passenger transport emissions and accounted for almost 40% of road transport emissions in 2020. Options to decarbonise freight transport emissions therefore also need to be progressed with urgency. International aviation emissions to and from Ireland decreased by 65%. Although not part of Ireland’s total greenhouse gas emissions by international agreement, this reduction represents over 2 Mt CO2 eq. less greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

Commenting, Mr Stephen Treacy, (Senior Manager, EPA) said:
“The latest Inventory numbers show that the 2013-2020 EU Effort Sharing (ESD) target has been missed by a wide margin, with ESD emissions in 2020 just 7%% below the 2005 level, despite the COVID impact on 2020 emissions. In too many sectors, greenhouse gas emissions are still closely coupled with activity and output, a connection that will need to be broken in order for Ireland to meet the Climate Act target or the increased EU ‘fit for 55’ ambition.”

Full detail on the Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory 1990 to 2020 is available on the EPA website and the EPA Greenhouse Gas web resource is also available online.

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