According to a report published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the agriculture sector was the largest contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Ireland in 2020. The report reveals that the agriculture sector was responsible for 38% of the country’s total GHG emissions in 2020, compared to 32% in 2010. The data shows that 96% of emissions from the farming sector were due to agricultural activity, including emissions from livestock, while emissions due to fuel combustion were 3% of the sector’s total, and emissions associated with electricity consumption were a further 1%.
The report further revealed that five sectors were responsible for 78% of the country’s GHG emissions in 2020: agriculture (38%), households (27%), non-metallic minerals (6%), road and rail transport (5%), and food and drink production (3%). The data also showed that the agriculture sector was responsible for around one-third of emissions every year during the decade from 2010 to 2020. Meanwhile, the household share decreased from 31% in 2010 to 27% in 2020, despite a substantial increase in population numbers during this period.
The CSO report also highlighted that agriculture accounted for 1% of gross value added (GVA) and 4% of employment in 2020. From 2014 to 2020, GVA produced by the sector at constant prices was higher relative to 2010 than greenhouse gas emissions were. “This shows that an element of relative decoupling was achieved in these years as gross value added increased at a greater rate than emissions,” the CSO said. However, the report noted that output from agriculture is an important input for other sectors. In 2019, 35% of the value of the output of the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector was used as an input by the food manufacturing sector.
The data shows the agriculture labour force in 2020 was at 278,580 farm workers. This figure includes farm holders, family members who did some farm work during the year, and regular non-family workers. According to the CSO data, many of the family farm workers were not working full-time on the farm, hence there was a considerably lower corresponding figure in terms of annual work units of 154,304, which was 55% of the total number of farm workers. The data suggests that relative to 2010, GHG emissions and numbers of cattle and sheep in terms of livestock units showed very similar trends between 2010 and 2020. Livestock units are calculated by applying different coefficients to different species and ages of livestock, based on the feeding requirements of each animal type.
The report comes as Ireland faces increasing pressure to reduce its GHG emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. The government has committed to reducing emissions by 51% by 2030, compared to 2018 levels. The agriculture sector, which is a key part of the Irish economy, has been identified as a major contributor to the country’s GHG emissions.
In response to the report, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) said that the sector has already taken steps to reduce emissions, including the introduction of a national herd health programme, improved breeding practices, and the increased use of low-emission slurry spreading equipment. The IFA also called for increased investment in research and development to support the sector in reducing emissions.
The report highlights the need for continued efforts to reduce emissions in the agriculture sector, while also acknowledging the importance of the sector to the Irish economy. It is clear that a balance must be struck between reducing emissions and supporting the livelihoods of those working in the sector. As Ireland works towards meeting its emissions targets, it will be important to ensure that the agriculture sector is supported in its efforts to reduce emissions, while also continuing to play a vital role in the country’s economy.