Energy Institute


Are we on track to meet our EU emission reduction targets for 2020?

No, but we are on track to meet and possibly exceed our target of a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2020 compared with 2005 for those sectors covered by the EU’s emissions trading scheme (such as fossil-fuel power plants, energy-intensive industries and certain specified manufacturing processes).

But figures released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in May 2014 suggest that we face considerable challenges in reducing our GHG emissions by 20% in those sectors not covered by the EU-ETS 1. These include transport, agriculture, industry and commercial, households and waste.

EPA projections show that under the best-case scenario, GHG emissions will remain relatively static in the non-ETS sectors up to 2020. Consequently, overall emissions in 2020 are projected to be 5% – 14% below 2005 levels by 2020. This will give rise to additional cost as we will have to purchase allowances or incur fines.

There are several reasons why we will not meet the EU target of a 20% reduction.

Our GHG profile is skewed by the country’s agricultural sector (Fig. 14).  Animal numbers, liming and fertiliser use heavily influence emissions from agriculture. It is forecast that these pressures will be exacerbated with increases in production expected as part of the Food Harvest 2020. Consequently, there will be a rise in agricultural emissions of at least 9% 2.


Figure 14. Ireland’s historic greenhouse gas emissions by sector

UNFCCC. Greenhouse Gas Data. Available Online.

  • Energy industries
  • Transport
  • Residential and commercial
  • Industry
  • Waste
  • Agriculture


In addition, emissions from the transport sector are large and higher per capita compared with many other EU countries. Strong action will be required to achieve our 2020 goal (Table 1).  While emissions decreased from 2007 because of the economic downturn and the switch to diesel, it is forecast that they will once again increase given the strength of the relationship between transport emissions and economic growth 3.

GHG targets are set under EU policy and, to meet these, Ireland has set national targets in renewable transport, heat and energy (Fig. 15). These binding targets apply only to those parts of national economies that are outside the EU-ETS. Our non-ETS target is equivalent to an emissions limit of 37.2 million tonne of carbon dioxide (MtCO2).


Figure 15. Breakdown of Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions

O’Shea, P. (2016) COP21 Implications for Ireland. Presentation.

  • Electricity generation (ETS)
  • Other (ETS)
  • Agriculture (non-ETS)
  • Transport (non-ETS)
  • Heat (non-ETS)
  • Other (non-ETS)


Government policy is to reduce reliance on cars, improve access to alternatives, and promote fuel efficiency measures 4. There is also a mandatory EU-wide target that 10% of transport energy be met from renewable sources by 2020. It will be extremely challenging for Ireland to achieve this because of the slow uptake of electric vehicles in this country and the limit infrastructure places on the amount of biodiesel/bioethanol that can be blended with diesel/gasoline. Emissions under the best-case scenario are projected to increase by 15% 5.

Emissions in the residential, waste and services sectors are projected to decrease between now and 2020. However, achieving the renewable heat target will be largely dependent on the deployment of renewable heating in the residential and commercial sectors. Even with high levels of penetration, renewable heat is likely to fall short of the 12% target.

Wind energy has been critical to the development of renewable electricity and it is likely to continue to dominate this sector. This is broadly on track for target achievement 6.


Table 1. Progress towards 2020 Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Targets for Ireland

DCENR (2015) Ireland’s Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future 2015-2030. Available Online


Target 2020 (Target) 2014 (Actual) Distance to Target
Renewable Energy 16% 8.6% 7.4%
Renewable Electricity (RES-E) 40% 22% 17.3%
Renewable Heat (RES-H) 12% 6.6% 5.4%
Renewable Transport (RES-T) 10% 5.2% 4.8%
Energy Efficiency 20% saving 8-9% saving 11-12% saving

After 2020 - Greenhouse Gas Emissions to 2030

The EU’s target for 2030 is a 40% reduction in GHG emissions compared with 1990 levels. This is to be achieved by a 30% reduction from the non-ETS sector and a 43% reduction from sectors within the ETS. The sharing of the non-ETS targets between member states is still being negotiated and is likely to be finalised in 20167.

It is estimated that GHG emissions will be 11% higher in 2030 than in 2020 if extra policies and measures are not established to curb the growth in carbon intensity (Business as Usual Scenario or BaU in Fig. 16). However, if we aim to have a competitive, low-carbon, climate-resilient economy by 2050, we would need to achieve emission reductions of between 80% and 95%. This would clearly necessitate extraordinary measures 8,9 .


Figure 16. CO2 emissions scenario results for Ireland 2010 to 2050: Three scenarios are shown: business as usual and emissions constrained to 80% or 95% below 1990 levels

UCC/ESRI (2013) Low Carbon Energy Roadmap for Ireland. Available Online

  • Business as Usual
  • 80% reduction
  • 95% reduction


Ireland’s short-term policy focus is the shift from carbon-intensive fuels to low carbon sources of energy. In the longer term, we need to replace fossil fuels such as oil and gas with renewable energy sources like biogas, bio-liquids and biomass as suggested by UCC in Ireland’s Low Carbon Roadmap in the chart below (Fig. 17).


Figure 17. Generation fuel mix to meet primary energy demand in 2050

UCC/ESRI (2013) Low Carbon Energy Roadmap for Ireland. Available Online

  • Coal and peat
  • Oil (incl aviation)
  • Natural gas
  • Hydro
  • Wind
  • Biomass
  • Bioliquids
  • Biogas
  • Other renewables
  • Electricity imports


The SEAI Smartgrid Roadmap to 2050 indicates that the decarbonisation of the Irish electricity system could lead to annual reductions of over 13 million tonnes of CO2 by 2050. Greater integration of indigenous renewable energy sources will result in a net reduction in energy imports of more than 4.3Mtoe 10.

Although our electrical energy demands are expected to increase with population and economic growth up to 2050, over 88% of our electricity  could be supplied from renewable sources combining hydro, biomass or biogas, wind, and ocean technologies.

With a view to commanding support for the policies entailed, the Government envisages a greater role for the consumer in making choices, adopting smart technologies and moving to lower carbon options 11.