Ireland has been ranked bottom of a new European league table on the environment after failing to meet key international targets in four out of nine areas.

It is significantly overshooting EU targets for producing greenhouse gases, acidifying substances, ozone and municipal waste. Urban sprawl in the countryside is also growing faster in Ireland than anywhere else in Europe, according to a scorecard comparing 32 states in a new report, The European Environment: State and Outlook 2005.

The wider report issues a stark warning about climate change on Europe's environment and warns of huge costs if greenhouse gas emissions are not cut further than the recommended proposals in the Kyoto Protocol. It links recent increases in the number of severe weather events, such as floods and heatwaves, to climate change, and warns that these phenomena could spark an abrupt and catastrophic climatic event.

Two potential disaster scenarios mentioned in the report are the irreversible melting of the Greenland ice-cap and the collapse of warm ocean currents - such as the North Atlantic Drift - which keeps waters around Ireland warm. The Irish scorecard in the report shows greenhouse gas emissions in the Republic increased by 25 per cent from 1990 to 2003, significantly beyond its Kyoto target of limiting emissions to 13 per cent above the 1990 level.

Ireland produces more greenhouse gas emissions for each person than every state except Luxembourg, which topped the polluter's list by producing 24 tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita during 2002. The report warns that Ireland faces a major challenge to meet its final Kyoto target set for the period 2008-2012, which is designed to slow global warming. It is the worst-performing EU state for emissions of acidifying substances, such as sulphur dioxide and ammonia, the principal causes of acid rain. The Republic is also the worst performer for municipal waste generation, producing 735kg of waste for each person every year. This compares with just 230kg of waste produced by people in Poland. Ireland is also singled out for experiencing the most intense urban sprawl and associated development over the past 15 years.

If the current rate of urban development of more than 3 per cent growth a year continues, the amount of urbanised land is predicted to double in just 20 years. The scorecard shows Ireland met its EU targets in four sectors: renewable energy, energy consumption, freight transport demand and organic farming.