The Environmental Protection Agency has warned that Ireland needs to adopt a much greater sense of urgency about reducing its dependence on fossil fuels after official figures showed a 3.5% increase in greenhouse gas emissions last year.

Ireland is one of only four countries in the European area where greenhouse gas emissions are still above 1990 levels.

Experts are warning that a failure to tackle the issue could cost the country hundreds of millions of euro for carbon credits by 2020.

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A report by the EPA shows that while greenhouse gas emissions are falling in most European countries, they are rising strongly in Ireland.

Stronger economic activity, more traffic on the roads, more fossil fuels used in electricity generation, and a significant expansion in dairy herds were the factors behind the rise.

Last year was the second year in a row that greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland rose by 3.5%, and with economic growth expected to continue, there is little sign of a reversal in the trend anytime soon.

The figures confirm yet again that Ireland is falling behind most other European countries in living up to its climate obligations.

For instance, greenhouse gas emissions in Britain fell by 6% last year compared to the strong rise recorded in Ireland.

With further emissions increases forecast for the year ahead, experts are now warning that it could cost Ireland more than €400 million to buy carbon credits by 2020.