Ammonia emissions down one per cent in 2022, however further reductions needed to protect health and the environment

  • Ireland’s ammonia emissions decreased by one per cent in 2022. Despite this, Ireland remains non-compliant in 2022 with our EU Emissions Reduction commitment for ammonia.
  • The decrease in ammonia emissions reflects lower pig and poultry numbers, an increase in low emission slurry spreading and use of inhibited urea fertiliser on farms.
  • Compliance with the EU Emissions Reduction commitment for ammonia is only possible with full implementation of all Government policies and measures.
  • In contrast, Ireland is compliant in 2022 with the EU Emissions Reduction commitment for the following four air pollutants: non-methane volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter. Reductions in 2022 were driven by less fossil fuel use in power generation and heating in homes and businesses.

Ammonia emissions down one per cent in 2022, however further reductions needed to protect health and the environment

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today published its 2022 assessment of five key air pollutants which impact air quality, health and the environment. The pollutants are:

  • ammonia
  • non-methane volatile organic compounds
  • sulphur dioxide
  • nitrogen oxides
  • fine particulate matter

Agriculture accounts for over 99% of ammonia emissions in Ireland. A decrease of one per cent in ammonia emissions was driven by:

  • lower pig and poultry populations (down 5.9 per cent and 2 per cent respectively)
  • increased use of low emission slurry spreading (59 per cent of all cattle slurry) and
  • a 52 per cent increase in inhibited urea fertiliser.



Commenting on the findings Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment said:


“High ammonia emissions impacts local air quality and human health and causes significant environmental damage to valuable ecosystems . Ireland’s ammonia emissions have exceeded the EU Emission Reduction commitments in ten of the past 11 years.”


She added.

“Encouragingly, good farm practices are beginning to have a positive impact on emissions. For example, the use of low emissions slurry spreading for cattle slurry in 2022 avoided the release of 6,000 tonnes of ammonia to the atmosphere. However, we have much further to go. Faster and sustained implementation of all ammonia reduction measures set out in Government plans and policies are needed if we are to achieve compliance and protect our air quality.”


Ireland is in compliance with EU Emission Reduction commitments for the other air pollutants with decreases recorded for these pollutants in 2022. Sulphur dioxide decreased by 27 per cent; fine particulate matter by 12 percent; nitrogen oxide by four per cent and non-methane volatile organic compounds by one per cent.


Commenting on these findings Tomás Murray, Senior Manager said:

“This assessment shows positive results in terms of a reduction in emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter in 2022. These reductions are driven by less coal and fuel oil used in power generation and also less fossil fuels used in homes and businesses. Our data are clear: reducing fossil fuel use benefits both our climate and air quality and increasing the pace of this reduction will be better for our health and environment.”

For further detail on these figures, see the EPA report Ireland’s Air Pollutant Emissions 1990-2030 on the EPA website.


UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP)
The LRTAP Convention of 1979 was the first international treaty to deal with air pollution on a broad regional basis. The signatories to the Convention agreed the principles of international cooperation for air pollution abatement. The number of substances covered by the Convention and its protocols has been gradually extended over time, notably to include ground-level ozone, persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals and particulate matter. The Gothenburg Protocol sets out national commitments to abate acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone and the European Union has set binding national emission reduction commitments for Ireland in the EU transposition of the Protocol, the National Emission Reduction Commitments Directive.

National Emission Reduction Commitments Directive
Directive (EU) 2016/2284 (replacing 2001/81/EC) ‘on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants’ sets national emission reduction commitments for Member States and the EU for five important air pollutants: nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide, ammonia and fine particulate matter. The NEC Directive, which entered into force in December 2016, sets 2020 and 2030 emission reduction commitments for five main air pollutants.

Five main air pollutants

  • Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is the major precursor to acid deposition (including “acid rain”), which is associated with the acidification of soils and surface waters and the accelerated corrosion of buildings and monuments. Emissions of SO2 are derived from the sulphur in fossil fuels such as coal and oil used in combustion activities.
  • Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) contribute to acidification of soils and surface waters, tropospheric ozone formation and nitrogen saturation in terrestrial ecosystems.  Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is also associated with diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. Power generation plants and motor vehicles are the principal sources of nitrogen oxides, through high-temperature combustion.
  • Ammonia (NH3) emissions are associated with acid deposition and the formation of secondary particulate matter. The agriculture sector accounts for virtually all (99 per cent) of ammonia emissions in Ireland.
  • Non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) are emitted as gases by a wide array of products including paints, paint strippers, glues, cleaning agents and adhesives. They also arise as a product of incomplete combustion of fuels, from the storage and handling of animal manure and fertilisers in agriculture and from spirit production.
  • Fine particulate matter (such as dust) of diameter less than 2.5 micrometres is termed PM2.5. Sources include vehicle exhaust emissions, soil and road surfaces, construction works and industrial emissions and agriculture. Particulate matter can be formed from reactions between different pollutant gases and is responsible for significant negative impacts on human health.

In 2023, Ireland was one of nine EU Member states issued with a reasoned opinion calling on countries to respect their emission reduction commitments as required by Directive 2016/2284. In Ireland’s case the letter related to the exceedance of the 2020 emission reduction commitment for ammonia and the reasoned opinion related to exceedances in 2020 and 2021 of the reduction commitments for ammonia.

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