Ireland's environmental performance is improving in some areas but it has much more to do in others, according to a new report issued today.
The fifth and latest edition of Environmental Indicators Ireland, published annually by the Central Statistics Office, looks at 65 indicators covering ten domains to see how Ireland is faring in comparison with other countries.
In the context of a rising global population, increased life expectancy and fluctuating greenhouse gas emissions by different countries around the world, Ireland has performed better in some areas and worse in others.
Air quality has improved here since 1990 for all indicators except ammonia, emissions of which were 7.9% higher in 2017 than in 1990.
In addition, Ireland performed poorly compared with the emissions of other EU Member States in 2017 when it ranked 18th worst for PM2.5 (atmospheric particulate matter); 11th worst for sulphur dioxide; worst for nitrogen oxides; seventh worst for ammonia; and worst for NMVOC’s (Non-methane volatile organic compounds).
The most recent figure for Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions (2017) stood at 60.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent - down from peak emissions of 70.5 million tonnes in 2001, but 9.6% higher than in 1990.
Ireland had the third-highest emissions of greenhouse gases per capita in the EU in 2017 at 13.3 tonnes of CO2equivalent and Agriculture was responsible of total greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland that year.
Last December Ireland had the fourth largest cattle herd in the EU28, and while the amount of land here farmed organically has increased by 267% in 20 years, it is still the second-lowest among the EU28.
Ireland had the same low ranking when it came to total land area covered by forestry (10.7% in 2016).
While the proportion of unpolluted river water in Ireland fell from 77.3% in 1987 to 68.9% in 2015, the percentage of bathing sites classified as having good water quality increased, as did the percentage of urban wastewater supplies which secondary treatment with nutrient reduction (30% in 2017).
Renewable energy accounted for 30.1% of electricity generation in Ireland in 2017, close to the EU28 average of 30.7%, and while the number of international passengers going through Irish airports has soared, rail passengers here travelled an average of 444 kilometres per capita in 2017 - just a third of the comparable figure for France.
In terms of Biodiversity, in 2017 Ireland had the joint third smallest area in the EU28 designated as terrestrial Special Protected Areas under the EU Birds Directive, and the eighth smallest area designated as terrestrial Special Areas of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive, while there has been a fall in the level of municipal waste generated in the decade to 2016 and a significant increase in the recovery rate for packaging waste in the 15 years to 2016.
Dr Paul Deane, a research fellow at MaREI, the Environmental Research Institute at UCC, said: “Ireland has a big challenge in reconciling the green image we sell abroad to attract tourists and investment with environmental scorecard data like this. Clearly, we have a lot to do, not just for the natural environment but also for the people living as all these indicators impact our well being.”