There was a small decrease in Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 according to new figures published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

However, the EPA said that most of the reduction was due to circumstances rather than deliberate action.

Ireland emitted almost 61 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere throughout the year.

This was a reduction of just under 1% from 2016. However, it still leaves Ireland's emissions three million tonnes above target for the year.

Globally carbon emissions are set to reach a record high this year, according to a report presented at the UN climate summit in Poland.

The predicted rise has been attributed mainly to fossil fuel burning, which is set to rise by 2.7% this year.

The EPA said Ireland needs to take action across all sectors to move to a low carbon economy and ensure achievement of commitments in relation to 2020, 2030, and 2050.

The EPA said warmer weather during 2017 meant less energy was required to heat our homes and this resulted in a 5% cut in carbon dioxide emissions from the residential sector.

In addition the weaker value of sterling due to Brexit led to a significant reduction in cross border petrol sales because it made the euro more expensive for motorists travelling from the north.

The result was a 1.1% reduction in overall transport fuel sales in the Republic of Ireland and a corresponding 2.4% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from our transport sector.

The EPA points out however, that when the impact of cross border fuel tourism is stripped out the total fuel used by Irish motorists actually went up by 2.1% last year.

The figures also show a significant reduction of almost 7% in carbon emissions from electricity generation.

This was the result of a sharp reduction in the use of coal and peat for generating power and a substantial increase in the use of renewable energy mostly from wind.

The figures show the use of coal for electricity generation was down 21%, peat was down 6%, while renewable sources went by 21%.

The impact of this was a 9% cut in the carbon intensity of electricity in Ireland which is now down to 436 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt of power produced - its lowest ever.

Against all of that emissions from our agriculture sector which accounts for a third of Ireland's greenhouse gases went up by 2.9%. 

The reason for this was the continued expansion of the dairy sector with the number of dairy cows up another 3.1% in 2017.

Dairy cow numbers have increased by 26% in the last five years.

This has driven a 10% increase in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture during that period.

Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of the Office of Environmental Sustainability, said the fact that the underlying drivers of this overall reduction in emissions last year were due to circumstance rather than deliberate action raises questions about the longevity and enduring nature of these decreases in future years.

Ireland's National commitment is for an 80% reduction of carbon emissions by 2050 compared to 1990 levels in energy, the built environment and the transport sector and also to achieve climate neutrality in the agriculture and land-use by that date.