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Pandemic restrictions lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions from Transport in 2020

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has today published its provisional greenhouse gas emissions for Ireland for 2020. The figures show the lockdown measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a significant 15.7 per cent decrease in Transport emissions, the largest sectoral emissions reduction. However, there were increases in the residential sector.

The overall figures show a reduction in emissions of 3.6 per cent compared to 2019, which although significant, is 0.4 per cent 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.

Transport sector emissions decreased by 15.7 per cent
Greenhouse gas emissions from the Transport sector decreased by 15.7 per cent 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 per cent 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 per cent. 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.

Mixed performance from other sectors
Peat fuelled electricity generation decreased by 51 per cent in 2020. Together with a 15 per cent increase in wind generation – this led to a 7.9 per cent reduction in Energy Industry emissions.

Residential greenhouse gas emissions increased by 9.0 per cent, 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 per cent in 2020, driven by increased activity in all areas, including a 3.2 per cent 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.

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 seven per cent 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.

See the additional information and figures in the charts below.

Tables and Notes

An overview of changes in emissions since the previous year is presented in Table 1 and distance to EU targets in Table 2.

This publication updates a special publication by the EPA and SEAI in January 2021, which was designed to give an early indication of the impact of the pandemic on GHG emission in 2020.

In that publication a 6 per cent reduction in emissions as a result of the pandemic was estimated based on monthly indicator data.

The methodology used for today’s publication is in line with the UN Inventory Guidelines and uses more comprehensive annual data.

The divergence in overall trends between the January 2021 publication and now are as a result of the availability of 2020 Agriculture activity data (including livestock numbers) data and final Energy Balance data that updated the fuel mix used in electricity generation.

Table 1. Provisional greenhouse gas emissions for 2019 and 2020 for Ireland*

Million tonnes, COeq 2019 2020 % Change
Agriculture 21.15 21.44 1.4
Transport 12.22 10.30 -15.7
Energy Industries 9.43 8.68 -7.9
Residential 6.53 7.12 9.0
Manufacturing Combustion 4.59 4.52 -1.5
Industrial Processes 2.27 2.11 -7.0
F-Gases 0.92 0.79 -14.4
Commercial Services 0.94 0.94 -0.3
Public Services 0.89 0.90 1.0
Waste 0.91 0.91 -0.8
National Total 59.84 57.70 -3.6

* Final figures will be submitted to the EU and UN in March and April 2022 in line with the agreed reporting timetable.

Table 2. Compliance with EU Effort Sharing Decision Targets 2013-2020

Notes: Note: Shaded cells show data that has been reviewed, and compliance agreed, by the European Commission under Article 19 of the MMR No. 525/2013

Units: 1 Mt = 1,000 kilotonnes

CO2 Equivalent: greenhouse gases other than CO2 (i.e. methane, nitrous oxide and so-called F-gases) may be converted to CO2 equivalent using their global warming potentials.

F-gases: These gases comprise HFCs (Hydroflurocarbons), PFCs (Perfluorcarbons), SF6 (Sulphur Hexafluoride) and NF3 (Nitrogen Trifluoride).  They are much more potent than the naturally occurring greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide).

Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Sectors:  include the following ten sectors for analysis;

  1. Energy Industries (electricity generation, waste to energy incineration, oil refining, briquetting manufacture and fugitive emissions)
  2. Residential (combustion for domestic space and hot water heating)
  3. Manufacturing Combustion (combustion for Manufacturing industries in ETS and non-ETS)
  4. Commercial Services (combustion for Commercial Services space and hot water heating)
  5. Public Services (combustion for Public services space and hot water heating)
  6. Transport (combustion of fuel used in road, rail, navigation, domestic aviation and pipeline gas transport)
  7. Industrial Processes (process emissions from mineral, chemical, metal industries, non-energy products and solvents)
  8. F-Gases (gases used in refrigeration, air conditioning and semiconductor manufacture)
  9. Agriculture (emissions from fertiliser application, ruminant digestion, manure management, agricultural soils and fuel used in agriculture/forestry/fishing)
  10. Waste (emissions from solid waste disposal on land, solid waste treatment (composting), wastewater treatment, waste incineration and open burning of waste).