1. Environmental performance: Trends and policy developments

Ireland’s increasing population enjoys a relatively high level of well-being. Three-quarters of the country are farmland, mostly grassland, which sustain a competitive agriculture sector. Several dynamic high-tech industrial clusters are concentrated in sprawling urban areas. The country’s dispersed settlement pattern and low population density imply that roads are the dominant transport mode. Ireland hosts a large share of Europe’s remaining peatlands.

In the last decade, Ireland’s progress in decoupling the economy from the main environmental pressures has been uneven. Major environmental pressures – such as emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and air pollutants, waste generation and material consumption – declined in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. They have risen since the mid-2010s with Ireland’s strong economic recovery. As in other countries, the COVID-19 crisis had some positive effects on GHG emissions, pollution and biodiversity, but it has also led to increased waste disposal.

Climate, circular economy and environmental policies have gained renewed impetus in recent years, with various major well-designed policy initiatives, strategies and plans. These need to be thoroughly implemented in timely fashion to alleviate the growing pressures from demographic development, urban sprawl, road traffic and intensification of agricultural practices.

This chapter provides an overview of the main environmental trends observed in Ireland. It highlights the progress the country made in the last decade towards its national and international goals, as well as the challenges to be met for green growth and sustainable development. Where possible, trends are compared with those of other OECD member countries.

Ireland is a small, open economy and one of the most attractive European destinations for foreign direct investment. In 2019, exports of goods and services accounted for about 130% of gross domestic product (GDP). Industry (including construction) accounted for 39% of GDP, compared to the OECD average of 25%. This reflected the weight of high-value added sectors such as pharmaceutical, chemicals and communication technology. The technological intensity of the economy rose steadily. In 2019, Ireland had the highest proportion of high-tech goods exports of any European economy (OECD, 2020a). Agriculture accounted for about 1% of GDP, but the agro-food industry plays an important role in terms of employment and exports; in 2019, it accounted for about 7% of total employment and 9.5% of merchandise exports (DAFM, 2020).

A severe banking and fiscal crisis plunged the economy into a deep recession in 2008. Determined structural reforms and fiscal consolidation helped Ireland start to recover in 2012/13.1 GDP exceeded the pre-crisis level in 2014 and grew by about 7% per year in 2016-19, more than three times the OECD average. However, GDP figures are affected by the large role of the intangible assets of multinational enterprises in the Irish economy. When considering modified gross national income, economic growth is slower but still robust (Figure 1.1).2 Unemployment declined from the peak of 15.5% in 2012 to 5% in 2019.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented shock to the economy. Domestic demand contracted strongly in the first half of 2020. The full extent of the impact on the economy is difficult to predict, given the uncertain evolution of the pandemic. Ireland’s GDP is estimated to have contracted by 3.2% in 2020. The economy is projected to start recovering only in mid-2021 and to expand at over 4% in 2022 (Figure 1.1; OECD, 2020b). Unemployment is forecast to jump to 12.5% in 2021 (CBI, 2020). The sizeable COVID-19 fiscal stimulus will make Ireland’s already high public debt increase. This may reduce the country’s ability to adequately finance long-term spending needs linked to population ageing (for pensions and health care). Other risks to the economy include the reliance on volatile corporate tax receipts from a small number of multinationals and the change in trading arrangements between the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom, a key trade partner (OECD, 2020a, 2020b).

Well-being of Ireland’s population improved in the second half of the 2010s (OECD, 2020c). In the same period, Ireland made considerable progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) linked to poverty and inequality reduction; good health; education quality; economic growth and decent work; industry, innovation and infrastructure; and sustainable cities and communities. Ireland enjoys peaceful and democratic conditions, and has a long-standing commitment to a just and peaceful multilateral global system (Government of Ireland, 2018). However, progress on gender equality in leadership positions and employment has been insufficient, housing affordability is a concern and bottlenecks in transport and water infrastructure remain (Eurostat, 2020a).

Inequality (as measured by the Gini coefficient) and relative poverty (as measured by the ratio of people living with less than half the median OECD household income) declined. In 2017, they were lower in Ireland than on average in the OECD (Table of basic statistics). The country’s tax and benefit system has been effective in reducing income inequality and mitigating the risk of people falling into poverty (OECD, 2020a).

However, regional disparities widened during the decade. The shift towards high-added value sectors contributed to modify the geographic distribution of economic activity. Dublin and Cork have experienced much faster growth than many other parts of Ireland since 2010 (EC, 2020a; OECD, 2020a). In most small regions, the disposable income per person moved further away from the country average between 2010 and 2017 (Figure 1.2). The Dublin region (Dublin City and county) had the highest average disposable income per person in 2017, about 15% higher than the country average. In the South East, West and Border regions, the disposable income per capita is 10% or more below the country average (Figure 1.2).

Ireland’s population increased by 8% in 2010-20 to reach nearly 5 million inhabitants. It is projected to grow by an additional 1 million by 2040, which will require extending the housing stock, as well as water, energy and transport infrastructure. While population density is relatively low in Ireland in international comparison, the population density of the small region of Dublin is 21 times the national average. Nearly 40% of the country’s population lives in the Greater Dublin Area.3 However, people have been moving out of the capital due to escalating housing prices (OECD, 2020a). More than a quarter of the population lives in predominantly remote rural areas (i.e. in areas where at least half of the regional population needs more than an hour to reach a large urban centre by motor vehicle). Nearly 90% of the country is predominantly rural, the second highest share among the European countries of the OECD (after Iceland) (OECD, 2018).

Ireland’s population has showed an increasing level of engagement for environmental protection and sustainable development. According to a 2020 national survey by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 87% of Ireland’s adult population recognised the environment as a valuable asset for the country (EPA, 2020a). Forty percent of adults considered climate change the most urgent environmental issue, followed by water quality and waste management (Figure 1.3). Public awareness of the SDGs also increased but, at 36% in 2018, it was below the EU average (Government of Ireland, 2018). Increasing SDG awareness in Ireland is a strategic priority of the SDG National Implementation Plan 2018-20 (Chapter 3).

According to a 2019 Eurobarometer survey, half of Ireland’s respondents indicated climate change and environment as the main challenges for the European Union. However, national priorities differ. When asked about the most pressing issues the country faces, Ireland’s respondents primarily indicated housing, health and social security, and only 17% indicated environment and climate change (Figure 1.3). In addition, significantly fewer Irish people are taking climate-related actions (changing transportation mode, using less energy, etc.) than on average in the European Union (EC, 2020b). To address this issue, the 2019 Climate Action Plan envisages a community outreach programme to drive change at the local level (Chapter 2).

The adoption of the Climate Action Plan in 2019 represented a major step forward in Ireland’s climate mitigation policy, after years of subdued efforts. The plan is more ambitious and comprehensive than previous plans and strategies. It identifies the pathway to reduce GHG emissions in the sectors not covered by the EU-wide Emissions Trading System (ETS) by 30% by 2030, consistently with the net-zero emission goal by 2050. The plan is the result of an extensive public consultation process and enjoys cross-party political support, which is expected to facilitate implementation over time. It adopts a whole-of-government approach and establishes the governance for implementation and monitoring.

Economic analysis (marginal abatement cost curve) underpinned the projections of emission reductions in each sector and the choice of actions to achieve the target. Some key actions and targets in the electricity, transport, building and agricultural sectors are expected to deliver the largest emission abatement. These include phasing out coal and peat-fired power generation; increasing the share of electricity generated from renewable sources to 70%; reaching 1 million electric vehicles (EVs); increasing biofuel use; installing over 600 000 heat pumps and retrofitting half a million homes; using protected urea fertilisers; and improving animal health and low-emission slurry spreading.

The draft Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill, endorsed by the government in October 2020, enshrines the 2050 climate-neutrality goal in law.4 It requires five-year carbon budgets to set sectoral emissions ceilings and annual revisions of the Climate Action Plan. It also calls for development of a National Long-Term Climate Action Strategy every ten years, strengthens the role of the Climate Change Advisory Council and includes new oversight by and accountability to parliament. The Climate Action Plan and the draft bill provide a strong signal to economic operators and households to drive future investment and consumption. The June 2020 Programme for Government raised the ambition to reducing emissions by 51% between 2021 and 2030. The government plans to update the Climate Action Plan and identify new policies and measures consistent with this goal.

Ireland has an unusual GHG emission profile within the OECD. As of 2019, agriculture accounts for more than a third of emissions (Figure 1.4), second only to New Zealand among member countries. Biogenic methane emissions from livestock make the bulk of these emissions, reflecting the role of dairy and meat production in Ireland’s agriculture. Overall, methane emissions account for 25% of total emissions, a share much above the OECD average. Transport, mostly by roads, is the second largest emission source, making up for 20% of emissions. The residential and service sectors are a larger source of emissions than on average in the OECD (Figure 1.4).

Only one-quarter of Ireland’s GHG emissions come from fossil-fuel based energy generation and energy-intensive industry and are, therefore, covered by the EU ETS. This compares to 45% at EU level. Non-ETS emissions (i.e. three-quarters of Ireland’s total emissions) are subject to binding targets under the EU Effort Sharing legislation: a reduction by 20% by 2020 and by 30% by 2030 compared to the 2005 level.5 Agriculture makes up the bulk of these emissions (45%), followed by transport (26%) and residential buildings (14%).

Additional effort is required to achieve SDG 13 on climate action. Ireland has one of the highest GHG emissions per capita in the OECD and in Europe (OECD, 2020d). Its GHG emissions (excluding emissions from land use, land-use change and forestry, or LULUCF) declined markedly during the sovereign debt crisis years in 2008-12 (Figure 1.5). This allowed the country to meet the 2008-12 Kyoto Protocol target of limiting the increase of GHG emissions to 13% of its 1990 level (Figure 2, Assessment and recommendations). With economic recovery, GHG emissions grew by 8% in 2014-18, although more slowly than the economy. Total GHG emissions stabilised in 2016-18 at a level marginally above that at the beginning of the decade (Figure 1.5). Provisional data for 2019 show a 4.5% decrease from the previous year, owing to lower power generation from coal and peat, reduced application of nitrogen fertilisers and lime on soils, and a warmer winter. This is the largest annual emission reduction since 2011 (EPA, 2020b). The 2019 drop brought emissions 3% below the 2010 level and well below the pre-crisis level. Nonetheless, in 2019, Ireland exceeded its annual non-ETS emission limit for the fourth consecutive year (Figure 1.5). Total emissions and emissions from all sources, with the exception of those from the energy industry, grew in 2014-19 (Figure 1.4; Section 1.3.3).

The -20% emission target by 2020 appears out of reach. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the EPA estimated that non-ETS emissions would decrease by only 4% in 2005-20 under the with-additional-measures (WAM) scenario. WAM assumes implementation of planned policies and measures adopted after the end of 2018, including the 2019 Climate Action Plan (EPA, 2020c) (Figure 1.5). Modelling suggests the COVID-19 crisis led to a nearly 10% decline in overall GHG emissions in 2020 compared to a business-as-usual scenario. However, this will not be enough to meet the target (de Bruin, Monaghan and Yakut, 2020).

Fully implementing the Climate Action Plan in a timely fashion would bring Ireland’s non-ETS emissions down by 29% in 2030 compared to 2005. Credits from actions in the LULUCF sector could fill the small gap remaining to achieve the target (Section 1.2.4).6 The incomplete or delayed implementation of the plan would imply missing the target by a large margin, for which even the full use of flexibility mechanisms could not compensate (EPA, 2020c) (Figure 1.5).7 The emission drop linked to the COVID-19 crisis is not expected to substantially change the long-term outlook (de Bruin, Monaghan and Yakut, 2020).

Achieving the 2030 climate objectives is challenging. The implementation of the Climate Action Plan requires considerable investment and financial resources, but these have not been sufficiently assessed (EC, 2020a). Given public finance constraints, mobilising the private sector and financial markets is crucial. Planned actions such as massive home retrofitting and expansion of EVs call for households’ willingness to invest. Providing stronger price signals (e.g. carbon tax, vehicle taxes and road pricing) would encourage businesses and households to make low-carbon investment, production and consumption choices. Consideration should be given to affordability issues, employment impact and regional disparities (Chapter 3).

Ireland has made considerable progress in expanding the use of renewable energy sources and improving energy efficiency on the way towards SDG 7 on affordable and clean energy. However, progress has been insufficient to put the country on track to meet its 2020 renewables and energy efficiency targets. Therefore, additional measures are needed to reduce fossil fuel use and energy consumption.

The Climate Action Plan aspires to reach 70% of electricity generated from renewables by 2030, nearly double the 2019 share. This, together with the phase-out of peat and coal power generation, could reduce emissions from energy industries by 34% in 2018-30 (EPA, 2020c). Decarbonising the electricity sector is essential to meet growing electricity demand due to forecasted population and economic growth, localisation of data centres in the country and electrification of heating and transport.

Ireland depends heavily on fossil fuels, including solid fuels, for both electricity generation and residential heating. In 2019, fossil fuels accounted for about 90% of total primary energy supply (TPES), well above the OECD average and among the ten highest shares in the OECD (Figure 1.6). In particular, peat, a carbon-intensive fuel, was about 4% of TPES. Ireland is the second most important producer of peat in the OECD, after Finland.8 Coal and peat-fired plants generated 8% of Ireland’s electricity in 2019 (Figure 1.7).9 Ireland committed to phase out coal and peat electricity generation by 2025 and 2028, respectively. About a third of active peat bogs have already been closed to extraction.

The share of renewable sources in the energy mix has more than doubled since 2010. This, together with a partial shift from coal and oil to natural gas for power generation and heating, has contributed to reducing CO2 emissions from fuel combustion (Figure 1.6 and Figure 1.7). Total GHG emissions from energy industries declined by 30% in 2010-19 (Figure 1.4). The carbon intensity of electricity generation improved by almost 30% since 2010 to below the OECD average.

The share of electricity generated from renewable sources nearly tripled in 2010-19, reaching 37% (Figure 1.7). This largely reflects the surge in wind power generation, which generated 85% of total renewable electricity in 2019. Wind energy represents about half of Ireland’s renewables supply and 6% of its TPES, the second highest share in the OECD after Denmark. Offshore wind represents a minor share of wind power, despite Ireland’s vast potential (IEA, 2019). Waste and solid biofuels made up about one-quarter of renewable energy supply in 2019.

Three consecutive renewable energy feed-in tariff programmes have supported power generation from onshore wind, hydro and biomass technology development. A new auction-based renewable electricity support scheme was launched in 2020. A support scheme for renewable heat became operational in 2020, and the government plans to launch a micro-generation support programme in 2021 (Chapter 3).

Despite progress, Ireland is not on track to achieve its 2020 renewables target. In 2018, renewables accounted for 11% of gross final energy consumption, one of the lowest shares in the European Union. This compares to the 2020 target of 16%. The 2020 National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) indicates that the overall and sectoral 2020 targets – for renewables in the electricity, heating and transport sectors – are unlikely to be met (Figure 1.7).

Ireland is not on track to achieve its 2020 target of reducing final energy consumption by 20% compared to the 2001-05 average. The 2020 NECP indicates that Ireland will achieve 16% energy savings by 2020. Primary energy supply dropped considerably in the aftermath of the global financial crisis but went back to growth in 2015 (Figure 1.6). Similarly, total final energy consumption (TFC) has been on the rise since the mid-2010s, due to growing consumption in the transport, industry, residential and commercial sectors (Figure 1.8). As a result, GHG emissions from all these sectors grew in 2014-19 (Figure 1.4).

Like in many countries, transport is the main energy user. Transport, mainly road, represented more than one-third of TFC in 2018 (Figure 1.8). Reducing energy use and GHG emissions from transport will require substantial changes in mobility patterns and land-use planning, as well as the massive shift to EVs foreseen by the Climate Action Plan (Chapter 4). EPA (2020c) estimates that achieving the target of 1 million EVs by 2030, jointly with increased biofuel use, would reduce transport GHG emissions by 38% in 2018-30.

The residential sector accounted for nearly a quarter of energy use in 2018 (Figure 1.8). Several grant schemes have supported energy efficiency improvements in buildings and contributed to reducing energy use from households (Chapter 3). The energy used for residential heating (per unit of floor area) declined by 17% in 2010-17 in Ireland, one of the largest improvements across the European Union. However, in 2017, energy consumption per dwelling (scaled to the EU average climate) was among the ten highest in the European Union (Odysssee-Mure, 2020). Per capita emissions from fuel combustion in the residential sector declined by about 30% in 2010-18. However, at 1.9 tonnes of CO2 per capita, they were still 52% above the OECD Europe average in 2018.10 This is because carbon-intensive fossil fuels (coal, peat and oil) still provided about half of home heating in Ireland (Figure 1.9). This is the highest share in OECD Europe.

There is evidence of a recent move away from oil boilers in favour of electricity in new residential buildings. Only 4% of new dwellings (built in 2015-20) use oil for heating, compared to more than one-quarter of dwellings built in the previous five years, and 47% have electric heat pumps installed. All houses built in 2015-20 have a high building energy rating (BER), but on average 19% of the audited building stock was in the highest energy-efficient BER categories (A, B1, B2 and B3) in 2020 (CSO, 2020).11 The near-zero energy building standard for all new buildings was implemented from late 2019. It is expected to improve the energy performance of new dwellings by 25% over the 2011 building regulations requirements and to help phase out the use of oil and gas boilers in new housing constructions.

The Climate Action Plan pledges to retrofit half a million buildings, or a third of the stock, and install 600 000 heat pumps by 2030, of which two-thirds in existing buildings.12 In addition, the plan commits Ireland to upgrade all public sector buildings to a B BER. It also sets the target to improve energy efficiency in public sector buildings by 50% by 2030. This compares with the target of 33% by 2020; in 2018, the public sector had made 27% energy efficiency gains from the 2009 baseline (SEAI, 2019). EPA (2020c) estimates that full implementation of the energy efficiency measures outlined in the Climate Action Plan will reduce GHG emissions from the residential sectors by 53% and from the commercial/public services sector by 36% in 2018-30.

GHG emissions from agriculture rose by 10% between 2010 and 2019 (Figure 1.4) as the dairy herd and milk production increased following the abolition of the EU milk quotas in 2015. Ireland has one of the highest livestock densities in the OECD (Figure 1.10).

Measures in the Climate Action Plan (including agri-environmental schemes, use of fertilisers with reduced emissions of nitrous oxide, improved animal health and low-emission slurry spreading) are expected to cut GHG emissions from agriculture by 12% in 2018-30. However, a higher than expected increase in dairy herds would lead to steadily increasing emissions (EPA, 2020c), as well as nutrient losses to water bodies and biodiversity degradation (Sections 1.5 and 1.6). In 2019, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) released a draft roadmap “Ag-Climatise” for consultation. It aims to translate the targets set for the agriculture and land-use sector in the Climate Action Plan into more detailed actions. DAFM expects to finalise the roadmap by end of 2020 or early 2021.

Ireland’s approach to managing the carbon footprint and environmental impact of farming (especially of ruminant livestock) has focused on increasing production efficiency. In addition to mandatory requirements, the policy mix relies on agri-environmental support schemes, guidelines and advisory services to encourage famers to improve their technology and practices, as well as the genetics of the herds (Henderson, Frezal and Flynn, 2020). The Green, Low Carbon, Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS), for example, provides grants for farmers to implement agricultural practices that address GHG emissions, water quality and biodiversity loss. Applicants are required to implement a nutrient management plan as a prerequisite. The Beef Data and Genomics Programme provides per hectare payments to participants to reduce GHG emissions by improving the genetic merits of the beef herd.

However, the steady increase of GHG and ammonia emissions and the degradation of water quality suggest the current policy approach may be insufficient to achieve further environmental improvements while maintaining livestock numbers and expanding production (OECD, 2020e). There are concerns over Ireland’s ability to reconcile increased agro-food production and exports with climate, air, water and biodiversity objectives.

Completing the policy mix with pricing instruments could help improve its effectiveness (OECD, 2020f). This would require developing tools such as the Carbon Navigator for modelling and reporting emissions and pollution at farm level. Within the framework of the new EU Common Agricultural Policy, Ireland should further orient income support to farmers towards reducing GHG emissions. This could support actions to reduce herd numbers and/or use land more profitably, as recommended by the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC, 2020). Transitionary compensation measures could help maintain income security and well-being of farmers. The Council also recommended setting a separate target for biogenic methane emissions consistent with the carbon neutrality goal.

The LULUCF sector is a net GHG emitter in Ireland. LULUCF emissions have averaged about 7% of total net GHG emissions. Over the same period, the carbon sequestration capacity of forest land increased, although it was partly offset by conversion of grassland and wetlands. The Afforestation Scheme has provided grants to landowners to convert agricultural land to forestry since 1990. Forest cover has increased from 6% to 11% since 1985. The government plans to maintain the scheme to encourage an expansion in forest cover up to 18% by 2050, thereby increasing carbon sequestration capacity. However, uncertainty remains about whether the forestry incentives will be sufficient to overcome both the opportunity costs of afforestation and the cultural preferences for land use by farmers and local communities (Henderson, Frezal and Flynn, 2020). The Climate Action Plan expects additional GHG emission reduction from lowering the management intensity of grasslands on organic soils and the improved management of tilled land, grasslands and non-agricultural wetlands. Overall, actions in the LULUCF sector are expected to provide emissions credits equivalent to 26.8 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2eq) in 2021-30.

Ireland’s climate has been changing at a scale and rate consistent with regional trends, with more warm days and increasingly intense precipitation. The highest climate-related risks in Ireland are sea-level rise and higher frequency of wind storms and intense precipitation events, with associated flooding and damages to agriculture, the built environment and infrastructure. More than half the population lives near rivers and coasts, where risks are highest. Over 1980-2017, economic losses due to extreme weather and climate-related events were about EUR 1 000 per capita in Ireland, among the highest losses per capita in the European Union (EEA, 2019).13

Ireland has made considerable progress in preparing for the impact of climate change. It adopted a National Adaptation Framework in 2018, followed by sectoral and local adaptation plans. In 2020, the EPA and the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy (MaREI) released the national climate risk assessment, which should be used to review the sectoral and local adaptation plans. The web-based platform “Climate Ireland” provides information and practical guidance to help decision makers, adaptation practitioners and citizens plan for a changing climate and take preventive measures (e.g. flood defence at individual property levels). Ireland could build on these efforts to continue to advance the knowledge base on the impact and risks of climate change, as well as on adaptation options and related investment needs.

The 2018 National Planning Framework aims to integrate climate change considerations into land-use plans at all levels. In 2019, the EPA updated its guidelines on integrating climate factors, including resilience to climate-related risks, into strategic environmental assessment of plans and programmes. The National Development Plan 2018-27 includes public funding for investment in flood defence and enhancement of infrastructure resilience. The private sector needs to be further engaged in climate-proofing investment. The flood insurance market is well-developed in Ireland, but the use of insurance against climate-related risk could be extended. Greater collaboration between the government and insurance companies is needed to quantify climate-related risks and to collect and share information. Ultimately, this would help provide well-targeted insurance schemes and improve insurability of housing and business facilities.

Emissions of major air pollutants, with the exception of ammonia, have declined since 2010, partly due to the 2008-12 economic recession (Figure 1, Assessment and recommendations). Other contributing factors include the reduced use of coal and peat in power generation and residential heating, the upgrade of power plants and renewal of the car fleet. The 2016 retrofit of the coal-fired Moneypoint power plant helped reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur dioxides (SO2).

Ireland is well on track to meet the 2020 and 2030 targets for emissions of SO2 and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) under the EU National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive (EPA, 2020d) (Figure 1.11). SO2 emissions more than halved in 2010-18, largely due to the switch to lower sulphur content in fuels in electricity generation and transport.

PM2.5 emissions decreased by 26% between 2010 and 2018, mostly thanks to the reduced use of coal and peat in the residential and service sectors. However, combustion of fossil fuels in these sectors remains a major source of PM2.5. It was responsible for around 55% of all national emissions in 2018 (EPA, 2020d). Despite the growing number of vehicles, progress in engine technology and the renewal of the car fleet contributed to reduce PM2.5 emissions from road transport by 37% in 2010-18. Transport, mostly from road, accounted for 15% of PM2.5 emissions in 2018 (Figure 1.11).

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, emissions of NOx and non-methane volatile compounds (NMVOCs) were projected to exceed the 2020 ceilings (EPA, 2020d; Figure 1.11). Emissions of NOx dropped by about 6% between 2010 and 2013 but have since stabilised. The transport sector, and particularly road transport, contributed nearly half of NOx emissions in 2018 (Figure 1.11). Reducing NOx emissions from transport has proven difficult in the last decade. This is because the benefits of improved technology have been offset by the increasing number of vehicles, especially diesel vehicles (Chapter 4). Emissions of NMVOCs rose in the second half of the 2010s, largely due to increasing pressures from agriculture (manure management) and the food and beverages industry (mainly spirit production).

Agriculture is the second largest source of NOx and NMVOCs emissions and accounts for nearly all ammonia emissions (Figure 1.11). Livestock manure accounts for 90% of ammonia emissions from agriculture, while nitrogen fertilisers are responsible for the remainder. With the increase in both cattle numbers and fertiliser use, ammonia emissions have grown steadily since 2011 (Figure 1.10). Ammonia emissions are projected to continue rising and to exceed the 2020 target (EPA, 2020d; Figure 1.11). The 2019 Code of Good Agricultural Practice for Reducing Ammonia Emissions from Agriculture aims to help farmers reduce emissions linked to fertiliser use, manure management, and animal feeding and housing. The DAFM strategy, Ag-Climatise, is expected to help curb ammonia emissions as well (Section 1.2.4).

The National Air Pollution Control Programme (forthcoming in 2021) will consider the 2019 Climate Action Plan, as many measures outlined in the plan (e.g. in the transport and residential sectors) will help reduce local pollutant emissions as well. Only by fully implementing these measures, especially the shift to electric mobility, will NOx emissions stay below the 2030 NEC target (Figure 1.11). Compliance with the 2030 ceilings for NMVOCs and ammonia will require new on-farm measure, in addition to those in the 2019 Climate Action Plan (such as protected urea fertilisers and low-emission slurry spreading) (EPA, 2020d). The DAFM’s roadmap, Ag-Climatise (Section 1.2.4), is expected to include new measures to address ammonia emissions.

Air quality has improved and is generally good. The mean population exposure of Irish citizens to PM2.5 decreased by 21% in 2010-19 to 7.8 microgrammes per cubic metre (μg/m³). This is below the guideline value of the World Health Organization (WHO) of 10 μg/m³ and among the lowest in the OECD (OECD, 2020d). Only a minor share of the population was exposed to PM2.5 levels above the WHO guideline value in 2019, compared to about 45% in 2010 and over 60% on average in the OECD in 2019 (Figure 1.12).

However, there are episodes of localised air pollution, mostly associated to road transport in urban areas and the burning of solid fuels for home heating. In 2019, due to traffic pollution, the EU annual average limit values for NO2 were exceeded at one urban monitoring station in Dublin. EPA (2020e) indicates that future exceedances are likely. The restrictions on people’s movement to contain the spread of COVID-19 led to less NO2 pollution in the second quarter of 2020. This is because NO2 pollution is mostly linked to road transport. NO2 concentration increased again with the easing of restrictions.

In 2019, concentrations of PM2.5 exceeded the WHO guideline value at more than a third of monitoring stations, mostly due to the burning of solid fuels (coal, peat, wood) in cities and towns. For the same reason, concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs (a toxic chemical) were above the reference level of the European Environment Agency (EEA) at four monitoring sites (EPA, 2020e).

The welfare costs of mortality from exposure to PM2.5 are among the lowest in the OECD (OECD, 2020d). The EEA estimates that 1 300 premature deaths were attributable to pollution from PM2.5 in 2018. Premature deaths due to exposure to PM2.5 are lower in Ireland than on average in the OECD (110 per million inhabitants, compared to 275 per million in the OECD in 2019). Nonetheless, most of the Irish population consider air pollution as a serious problem. About 90% of the adults who responded to a special Eurobarometer survey on air quality expressed growing concern for respiratory and cardio-vascular diseases linked to air pollution in the country (Figure 1.12).

A ban on the marketing, sale, distribution and burning of bituminous coal (or “smoky fuel”) was first introduced in Dublin in 1990. It was gradually extended to other cities and selected larger cities (so-called Low Smoke Zones or LSZs). The ban has helped reduce pollution from particulates, as well as CO2 emissions from dwellings (Section 1.2.2). In September 2020, the ban was extended to all cities and towns with a population of more than 10 000, bringing total LSZs to 29 and half of Ireland’s population under the scope of the ban. The extension of the ban on bituminous fuels should be accelerated, with a view to establishing a nationwide ban. The scope of the ban could also be extended to other “smoky” fuels (peat and wet wood) in selected locations, while supporting people at risk of fuel poverty in shifting towards cleaner heating fuels (Section 1.2.3).

In 2017, the EPA launched the National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme, bringing the number of monitoring stations in the country to 84. Other stations were upgraded to provide real-time data on fine particles (EPA, 2020e). Modelled and forecasted data supplement the information generated by the monitoring stations. These data have allowed identification of locations with air quality concerns. They have also helped raise public awareness about the impact of people’s heating and transport choices on air quality in their communities. These monitoring, information dissemination and awareness-raising efforts should be continued.

In line with the EU framework, Ireland’s policy focus has gradually shifted from waste management to resource efficiency and, most recently, the circular economy. The 2012 waste management policy, “A Resource Opportunity”, provided a roadmap to reduce Ireland’s dependency on landfill by reducing waste generation and increasing waste recovery. It focused on achieving the EU waste legislation targets. The EPA-led National Waste Prevention Programme (NWPP), launched in 2004, provides tools and information to businesses, households and the public sector to support sustainable consumption and production choices. The NWPP priorities have been revised several times since the programme’s inception, shifting from an initial focus on preventing generation of solid waste to averting wasteful use of materials and resources.

The Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy (WAPCE) 2020-25, adopted in September 2020, supersedes the 2012 national waste policy. It outlines a more consistent approach to a circular economy in Ireland. The WAPCE aims to mainstream the circularity concept in all economic sectors. It includes a wide range of actions to encourage waste prevention, recycling and material recovery along production chains. Among the actions are a ban on single-use items, extended producer responsibility obligation for all packaging producers and deposit-return schemes. The WAPCE foresees the introduction of levies on disposal cups, virgin plastics in packaging and virgin aggregates in construction projects, as well as on incineration and exports of reusable and recyclable waste. Revenue from these levies will be ring-fenced for the Environment Fund to support circular economy projects at all territorial scales. The government also intends to use public procurement as a lever for the circular economy. A whole-of-government circular economy strategy and legislation were under preparation at the time of writing.

Domestic material consumption (DMC) has been increasing since 2011. It has grown at a faster pace since 2014 with the rebound of the economy (Figure 1.13). DMC consists mainly of non-metallic materials and biomass, food and feed. This reflects the role of the construction and agriculture sectors in the Irish economy. Material consumption per capita is among the highest in the OECD (OECD, 2020d). In 2019, Ireland’s circularity rate, or the share of materials recovered and fed back into the economy, was less than 2% – the lowest in the European Union (the EU average was about 12%). The circularity rate has not improved in the 2010s, and it decreased slightly in 2016-19 (Eurostat, 2020b).14

Total waste and municipal waste generation have increased with the rebound of the economy, although not as fast as before the 2007-12 recession (Figure 1.13). The COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased disposal of medical and household waste, including plastic and household items (e.g. from home clear-outs) (DCCAE, 2020).15

In 2018, Ireland primary waste was 15% above the 2012 level, although it had declined slightly in 2016-18. Total waste generated per capita was 2.9 tonnes, slightly above half the EU average. The industry sector accounted for about a quarter of total waste generated, the same amount as the agriculture and service sectors combined (Figure 1.13). Industry is the largest source of hazardous waste, which increased by 70% between 2012 and 2018. This increase was mainly linked to increased ash from waste incineration, as well as contaminated soil (EPA, 2020f).

The EPA estimates that Ireland generated about 1.05 million tonnes of food waste in 2018. Half of this waste, excluding the agricultural residues, is generated by the manufacturing sector. The commercial sector (restaurants/food service and retail/distribution) and households accounted for the remaining half. A significant amount of food waste in Ireland is not properly sorted for separate collection. Food waste makes up over one-third of commercial residual waste bins instead of being discarded in separate bins (EPA, 2020f). The 2019 Climate Action Plans and the WAPCE target a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030.

Ireland exports a large part of its (hazardous and non-hazardous) waste for recycling, recovery or disposal due to infrastructure capacity constraints. Exported waste for recycling includes the majority of segregated municipal waste, including plastic packaging. More than 70% of hazardous waste is exported for treatment to other EU countries (EPA, 2020f).

Municipal waste generation per capita is higher than the OECD average (OECD, 2020d). Municipal waste generation declined during the economic recession in 2008-12, as a result of lower household disposable income and consumption. Generation of municipal solid waste increased by 11% between 2014 and 2018, although less quickly than private final consumption (Figure 1.13). Household waste accounted for half of municipal waste. Plastic waste, particularly packaging, represents an important and increasing waste stream, amounting to about 20% of total household waste (EPA, 2020f).

Ireland introduced a landfill tax in 2002 (Chapter 3). The progressive increase of the landfill tax rate (up to EUR 75/tonne), together with limits on disposal of biodegradable waste, has helped divert waste from landfills (Figure 1.14). In 2018, landfilling accounted for about 15% of treated municipal waste, less than half the OECD average. The number of landfills accepting municipal waste fell from 120 to 4 between 1992 and 2019, and illegal landfills were closed down. Ireland is on track to meet the 2020 EU target on landfilled biodegradable waste, but it may be challenging to achieve further shifts away from landfills. Landfilling has been replaced mostly by waste incineration with energy recovery, which accounted for over 40% of municipal waste treatment in 2018 (Figure 3, Assessment and recommendations).

Extended producer responsibility programmes have helped increase recycling of several waste streams, including packaging, electrical and electronic equipment, batteries, end-of-life vehicles, farm plastics and tyres. This allowed meeting the related EU recycling targets. Ireland is on track to meet the 2020 targets of the EU Waste Framework Directive on reuse, recycling and recovery (EPA, 2020f). However, municipal waste recycling stagnated for most of the decade, and slightly declined in 2016-18 (Figure 1.14). Increased incineration and composting may discourage recycling and prevent Ireland from meeting the post-2020 recycling targets (EC, 2019). Additional efforts may be needed to achieve the more ambitious recycling targets beyond 2020.

A large share of municipal waste is not properly sorted. Over 20% of material in the household recycling bins should not be there. Less than half of Irish households had a bin for collection of organic waste (brown bin) in 2018. Two-thirds of plastic waste are excluded from Ireland’s recycling list (EPA, 2020f). There is scope to improve household sorting behaviour by raising awareness and applying economic incentives.

In 2017/18, Ireland rolled out waste collection fee systems that take the weight or volume of the waste collected into account. This is in line with a recommendation from the 2010 OECD Environmental Performance Review (OECD, 2010). However, not all service providers apply differentiated fees to recycling or organic/food bins.

The transition to a circular economy calls for developing new recycling industries and secondary raw material markets to better use the stock of materials contained in waste. There is potential to better exploit synergies with policies in other sectors, including industrial and innovation policies, education and active labour market policies, and green public procurement (Chapter 3). This is all the more important in response to the disruption of global trade caused by the COVID-19 crisis. A circular economy approach will help increase resilience of supply chains and self-sufficiency. Initiatives such as CirculEire (Chapter 2) and the Green Business Fund (Chapter 3) go in the right direction.

The quality of Ireland’s abundant water resources has deteriorated since 2010. Ireland did not achieve the water quality improvement objectives set by the River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) 2009-14. Quality data collected over 2013-18 indicate that 52.8% of surface water bodies are in at least good ecological status, down from 55.4% in 2010-15, the previous assessment period.16 Between 2007-09 and 2013-18, water quality deteriorated the most in rivers. Nonetheless, the quality of Irish rivers, as measured by the five-day biochemical oxygen demand (BOD5), is among the best in the European Union (Eurostat, 2020a).17 Most transitional waters (estuaries and lagoons) are in a less-than-good ecological status (Figure 1.15). On the other hand, 80% of coastal waters are in good ecological status and none of them failed to achieve good chemical status.18 A quarter of surface water bodies have poor chemical status, mostly due to ubiquitous and persistent toxic substances (such as mercury and PAHs). Excluding these substances, 99% of surface water bodies have good chemical status (EPA, 2019).19

Groundwater quality (chemical and quantity status) is generally good. However, more groundwater bodies present high nitrate (NO3) levels. The share of monitoring stations with average concentrations above 25 milligrammes per litre (mg/l) of NO3 has increased since 2013 (Figure 1.15). Nonetheless, the average nitrate concentration was below the threshold value for the protection of drinking water source (37.5 mg/l NO3) at the vast majority of groundwater monitoring locations. On average, Irish groundwater bodies have among the lowest nitrate concentrations in the European Union (Eurostat, 2020a).

The main pressure on Ireland’s water bodies is nutrient pollution (nitrogen and phosphorus). Agriculture and inadequate wastewater treatment (Section 1.5.2) are the main sources of nutrient losses and, thus, drivers of declining water quality in Ireland. Nitrogen balance has been rising since 2011, together with livestock and nitrogen fertiliser use (Figure 1.10). The intensity of nitrogen fertilisers, measured by the tonnes of fertilisers used per square kilometre (t/km2) of agricultural land, increased to 8.8 t/km2 in 2018, much higher than the OECD average (2.6 t/km2). Discharge of untreated or insufficiently treated wastewater has led to high phosphorus concentrations in many areas of the country (EPA, 2019).

The RBMP 2018-21 identifies 1 460 water bodies at risk of not achieving their water quality objectives and prioritises 190 Areas for Action.20 The Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO) is a local government shared service that conducts targeted assessments and promotes measures to improve water quality at local level. The Teagasc (Agriculture and Food Development Authority) and the dairy co-operatives operate the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP). The programme provides free and confidential advice to farmers on measures to improve water quality. Initiatives such the LAWPRO and ASSAP appear to be contributing to some water quality improvement in the selected Areas for Action. Water quality has improved in 16.7% of the water bodies in these areas (EPA, 2019).

However, urgent measures are needed to address the causes of water quality deterioration, and particularly nutrient losses from agriculture. Ireland could consider introducing pricing instruments to address nutrient losses from agriculture (e.g. charges on nutrient losses or water quality trading). Transitionary compensation measures could help maintain income security and well-being of farmers. As part of the national strategic plan under the new EU Common Agriculture Policy, Ireland should shift farmer income support towards agri-environment payments based on environmental outcomes, including reduction of nutrient losses, as well as GHG and ammonia emissions (Sections 1.2.4 and 1.3.1).

Ireland has considerably improved the management of water services with the establishment of Irish Water (the national water utility) and the adoption of a water services policy statement and funding framework. The transfer of responsibility over water services from a multitude of local authorities to a single utility aimed to overcome fragmentation and improve efficiency. The new institutional setting has enabled to better identify investment and financing needs in the water sector and to re-launch investment in infrastructure and services (Chapter 3). The water supply and wastewater treatment infrastructure is ageing and needs to be upgraded.

Water losses are high; about 45% of the treated water is unaccounted for. Water losses have resulted in high and increasing water abstraction for public water supply (Figure 1, Assessment and recommendations). For this reason, Ireland has one of the highest levels of freshwater abstraction per capita for public water supply in the OECD (OECD, 2020d). In 2014-17, as part of the water conservation measures, Irish Water implemented a programme to equip 60% of its customers (about 1.5 million households) with water meters. Irish Water also launched a programme to help households identify and fix water pipe leaks. An excessive use charge will be payable starting in 2022 by all domestic customers with water use above a certain allowance (Chapter 3). In many case, excessive water use is attributable to leaks.

There is sporadic non-compliance with drinking water quality parameters, including for pesticides and trihalomethanes. The quality of water supplied from small private supplies is generally poorer than that from public water supplies. Private systems, including household wells, serve 20% of the population. About one-third of private wells are not adequately sealed and are vulnerable to contaminations (e.g. from E. coli and Verocytotoxigenic E. coli, or VTEC). Ireland has the highest incidence of VTEC infection in Europe due to water contamination from cattle slurry (EPA, 2020g).

Less than two-thirds of the population is connected to wastewater treatment systems that provide at least secondary treatment, one of the lowest rates in the OECD (Figure 1.16).21 Almost a third of the population, mostly living in dispersed settlements in rural areas, relies on independent water treatment systems (i.e. facilities not connected to a wastewater treatment plant through a public sewage network). While the development of sewerage networks in isolated areas may not meet cost-efficiency criteria, there is a need to ensure full compliance of the independent treatment systems (e.g septic tanks). In 2017/18, nearly half of the inspections of independent domestic wastewater treatment systems revealed non-compliance with legal standards. The government provided grants of up to EUR 5 000 per household for improving their facilities.

Ireland has upgraded its wastewater treatment plants. About one-fifth of the population was connected to plants that provide tertiary treatment in 2017, up from 14% in 2011 (Figure 1.16).22 However, in 2019, treatment in 19 of 172 large urban areas (agglomerations), including Dublin and Cork, still did not conform to the quality requirements of the EU Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (compliance was required by 2005). These account for 56% of collected wastewater from large urban areas. Some 1.5% of the population lives in 35 smaller town and villages that discharge wastewater without treatment. In many areas, the sewers also collect rainwater run-off from roads and other impermeable surfaces, which can cause stormwater overflows (EPA, 2020h).

Overall, the rate of improvement in wastewater infrastructure has been slow. In 2019, Irish Water completed about half of the infrastructure extension and upgrades that were required by EPA’s wastewater discharge licences. It planned to provide all areas connected to the public wastewater network with treatment facilities by 2022. This was postponed to 2024 (EPA, 2020h). The RBMP 2018-21 identifies 57 priority areas where wastewater is the main pressure on water quality. As of 2018, Irish Water had scheduled, started or completed improvement works at 35 of these priority areas (EPA, 2019). Accelerating investment in wastewater infrastructure is needed to reduce water pollution and advance towards the SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation.

Ireland has strengthened its biodiversity policy framework. It adopted the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-20 and the third National Biodiversity Action Plan 2017-21. Together, the plans aim to mainstream biodiversity across sectors, improve the information base, expand protected areas and improve their management, reinforcing the governance of ecosystem services. Ireland is one of the few EU countries with a geographic information system service for data on ecosystems and their services. It completed a pilot study on mapping and assessing ecosystem services.

However, more efforts are needed to achieve SDGs 14 and 15 on terrestrial and marine biodiversity. Implementation challenges remain, due to the variety of sectors that impact on biodiversity (e.g. agriculture, fishery, wind energy) and the multitude of actors involved. An assessment of financial needs for biodiversity will be concluded in 2021 by University College Dublin, with the financial support of the Irish Research Council and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (Biodiversity Finance Ireland). This assessment is expected to form the basis for a biodiversity financial plan and a strategy to mobilise private finance for biodiversity. There is a need to extend the whole-of-government approach adopted for climate mitigation to biodiversity policy.

Agricultural land (grassland and cropland) covers three-quarters of Ireland’s territory. Grassland covers 67% of the country, by far the largest grassland cover among OECD members (OECD, 2020d). Ireland has abundant freshwater bodies; inland waters and wetland jointly cover about 15% of the country. Peat soils cover 16% of the country, the third largest peatland cover in Europe (after Finland and Estonia). The share of artificial surface (1.3%) is among the lowest in the OECD. Ireland lost only 0.2% of natural and semi-natural vegetated land in 2014-18, the second lowest share among member countries and less than half the average loss in the OECD as a whole (OECD, 2020d).

The quality of key habitats (as defined by the EU Habitats Directive) has deteriorated. Only 15% of habitat assessments in 2013-18 indicated a favourable status, one of the lowest shares in the European Union (EEA, 2020). The remaining assessments indicated habitats in either poor or bad status. Conditions have been deteriorating in almost half of the assessed habitats and improving in just 2% of them (Figure 1.4, Assessment and recommendations). Most freshwater habitat area is in not-good condition (Section 1.5.1). Large areas of scrub, bogs and grasslands habitats are also in not-good condition (Figure 1.17).

There are large knowledge gaps about the conservation status of coastal areas (Figure 1.17). However, there is evidence of pressures from aquaculture, wastewater discharges and marine plastic littering on these habitats. While most coastal waters are in at least good ecological status (Section 1.5.1), the share of bathing coastal sites with excellent water quality declined from 85% in 2013 to 70% in 2018. This is below the EU average of 88% (Eurostat, 2020a). Fishing is the main driver of over-extraction and abrasion of the seabed. Impacts on the marine environment and wildlife from pressures on coastal habitats, as well as fishing, marine shipping and extractive industry, are becoming more apparent (DCHG, 2020).

Ireland is home to more than 31 000 species (DCHG, 2019). The 2013-18 assessment showed that 57% of assessed species were in favourable status (Figure 4, Assessment and recommendations), the highest share among the EU countries that are also part of the OECD (EEA, 2020). Conditions are stable for most species, although knowledge gaps remain. However, the conditions of species in unfavourable status have not been improving. The bird population of over 40% of the assessed breeding species in Ireland increased in 2007-18. This is the best result in the European Union. However, the population of half of the assessed wintering species declined in the same period (EEA, 2020).

Agriculture, housing and infrastructure development, alien species and resource extraction are among the main pressures on Ireland’s biodiversity (Figure 1.17). Agriculture practices have intensified, with a shift from mixed farming with small-scale cereal growing to a specialisation in livestock production, notably dairy farming (DCHG, 2019). Organic-farmed land more than doubled in 2012-18 but accounts for just 2.5% of total agricultural area, among the lowest shares in the European Union. The grass-based nature of the Irish agriculture system, the small average size of farms and the low domestic demand for organic products have slowed the development of organic farming. The June 2020 Programme for Government aims to triple the country’s share of organic land to bring it in line with the EU average (7.5%).

Agri-environmental schemes account for most government transfers for biodiversity conservation. The flagship GLAS made up nearly 70% of biodiversity-related government transfers in 2015-18. A minor share of agri-environment scheme funding targets organic farming. Funding directly targeting species and habitat conservation is limited and largely EU-funded. The declining conditions of habitats raise questions about the effectiveness of spending.

Peat extraction exerts major pressures on fragile bog ecosystems, particularly raised bogs and blanket bogs. As of 2018, Ireland had closed 17 of 62 active bogs, in line with the commitment to phase out peat electricity generation by 2028 (Section 1.2.3). There has been some recent progress in conservation and restoration of bogs with the implementation of a national peatland programme. The COVID-19 recovery package, launched in July 2020, and the 2021 Budget both allocated funds to peatland restoration. These moves aim to create jobs that tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis, while improving quality of life for communities dependent on peat extraction in the Midlands (Chapter 3). However, Ireland should ensure that remaining peat harvesting is compatible with the conservation of bog habitats (EC, 2019).

Little progress has been made in extending the protected area network. According to national estimates, nearly 17% of land surface and inland waters are protected in Ireland, in line with the 2020 Aichi target. This percentage may be overestimated, as some terrestrial protected areas include marine and coastal waters. Several sources, including the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), indicate that about 14% of terrestrial areas are protected, among the lowest shares in the OECD. This share has remained stable in the last decade and the level of protection (according to the IUCN classification) is relatively low (OECD, 2020d). Ireland completed its terrestrial Natura 2000 network under the EU Birds and Habitats directives, but site-specific conservation objectives and measures are lacking for many sites (EC, 2019). The vast majority of sites are privately owned and nearly 60% are farmed. Engaging land owners is, therefore, crucial to implement effective conservation and restoration measures.

The marine Natura 2000 network is incomplete and Ireland has not extended its protected marine areas. These represent less than 2% of the country’s exclusive economic zone, far from the Aichi target of 10% by 2020. Little progress has been made in designing and implementing specific measures to achieve good environmental status of marine waters by 2020 (as required by the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive) (EC, 2019). The June 2020 Programme of Government pledges to protect 30% of Ireland’s marine waters by 2030, as well as to complete a national marine planning framework and an overarching 20-year strategy to manage the country’s seas (Project Ireland Marine, 2040).


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← 1. Ireland successfully exited the European Union-International Monetary Fund financial assistance programme in December 2013. The programme was largely based on the 2010 government’s National Recovery Plan 2011-14.

← 2. Modified gross national income (GNI) adjusts standard GNI for the depreciation of foreign-owned domestic capital assets and the retained earnings of relocated firms, both of which are not considered relevant for explaining the resources available to the domestic population.

← 3. The Greater Dublin Area includes Dublin City, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal, Kildare, Meath, South Dublin and Wicklow.

← 4. The draft text of the bill was under pre-legislative scrutiny at the time of writing.

← 5. Ireland’s 2020 target was the most demanding among EU countries. Only Denmark and Luxembourg had the same target. The 2030 targets for all EU countries range from 0% to -40%.

← 6. The 2018 EU Effort Sharing Regulation maintains the flexibilities under the EU Effort Sharing Decision (e.g. banking, borrowing and buying and selling between EU member states) and provides two new flexibilities: use of ETS allowances and credits from action undertaken in the LULUCF sector. The LULUCF flexibility amounts to a credit of 26.8 Mt CO2eq over the compliance period (2021-30). Under the WAM scenario, LULUCF actions would bring non-ETS emissions down by 34% in 2030, compared to their 2005 level, and ensure Ireland’s compliance with the target.

← 7. EPA (2020a) projected total GHG emissions to decline by 6% by 2030 below 2005 levels, under the with-existing-measures (WEM) scenario, which assumes implementation of policies and measures in place by the end of 2018. Using the LULUCF flexibility would bring emissions down by 12%. Using the ETS flexibility (18.8 Mt CO2eq over 2021-30) as well would bring emissions 15% below their 2005 level.

← 8. Finland and Ireland jointly account for 90% of total peat production in the OECD.

← 9. There are two peat-fuelled power plants in operation (West Offaly and Lough Ree), one biomass-peat co-fired plant in Enderry and one coal-fired plant (Moneypoint).

← 10. Per capita emissions from fuel combustion in the residential sector with electricity and heat allocated to the consuming sector.

← 11. A BER is an indication of the energy performance of a dwelling (represented in units of kWh/m2/year) on a scale varying from A to G. A BER is based on the characteristics of major components of the dwelling. A BER certificate and advisory report is compulsory for all homes being sold or rented (since 2009), for new dwellings that apply for planning permission (since 2007) and to benefit from the grants under the Better Energy Homes scheme.

← 12. The building renovations aim at achieving at least a B2 BER.

← 13. Economic losses refer to the estimated monetary value of direct damage to assets, excluding human and ecosystem losses (EEA, 2019).

← 14. The Eurostat indicator “circular material use rate”, referred to as the “circularity rate”, measures the contribution of recycled materials towards the overall use of materials. It is the share of material resources used that came from recycled products and recovered materials. The higher the circularity rate, the more secondary materials replace primary raw materials (thereby contributing to reducing the extraction of primary materials) (Eurostat, 2020b).

← 15. In normal times, household items from home clear-outs would have been reused or resold through charity shops. However, these shops were closed for several weeks in the second quarter of 2020 due to COVID-19 containment measures.

← 16. The ecological status measures the damage to a natural water body caused by pollution or habitat degradation. It is an assessment of the quality of the structure and functioning of surface water ecosystems, based on biological quality elements (e.g. phytoplankton, macroalgae, aquatic plants, macroinvertebrates and fish) and supporting physico-chemical and hydromorphological quality elements.

← 17. The BOD5 measures the amount of oxygen that aerobic microorganisms need to decompose organic substances in a water sample over a five-day period in the dark at 20°C. Organic pollution caused by discharges from wastewater treatment plants, industrial effluents and agricultural run-off increase concentrations of this parameter.

← 18. The chemical status is assessed against compliance with environmental quality standards for priority substances and priority hazardous substances as listed in the EU Environmental Quality Standards Directive (2008/105/EC) and amended by the Priority Substances Directive (2013/39/EU). These substances include metals, pesticides and various industrial chemicals.

← 19. Ubiquitous substances are widely distributed in the environment and tend to persist in the environment for many years since they have been discharged.

← 20. The RBMP 2018-21 aims to improve the quality of 726 water bodies in the priority areas, bringing 152 of these water bodies to at least good ecological status.

← 21. Secondary treatment is a process generally involving biological treatment with a secondary settlement or other process, which removes organic material and reduces biochemical oxygen demand by at least 70% and chemical oxygen demand by at least 75%.

← 22. Tertiary treatment includes the treatment of nitrogen and/or phosphorous and/or any other pollutant affecting the quality or a specific use of water (microbiological pollution, colour, etc.).

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