Ireland’s carbon emissions cut ‘really disappointing’ in 2020

Reduction of just 3.6 per cent despite Covid lockown is wake-up call for action, says environment agency

A “really disappointing” reduction in Ireland’s carbon emissions last year despite Covid 19 restrictions is a “wake-up call” for action, the director general of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has warned.

A report by the EPA showed greenhouse gases reduced by just 3.6 per cent in 2020 compared to the previous year, while household and agricultural emissions increased, by 9 per cent and 1.4 per cent respectively.

“Overall, it is really disappointing,” Laura Burke said.

Although there was a “really dramatic” reduction in transport emissions (15.7 per cent), as people were ordered to stay within a certain radius of their homes during lockdowns, it was “short-lived” and there was a “rebound effect” once restrictions eased.


On household emissions, Ms Burke said there was a “strong demand” for energy as people were using heating more while working from home.

A dip in the price of oil at the start of the pandemic likely encouraged people to “use their heating a little bit more because it was cheaper,” she said.

Ms Burke said the latest figures also show farmers and agriculture are “on the wrong trajectory” when it comes to emissions, with an increase over the last 10 years of about 12 per cent.

“Rather than going down it is going up,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. “We are also seeing an increase, as part of that, in dairy cow numbers of 45 per cent - a really significant increase.

“Ultimately, with regard to the agriculture sector, we need a significant, sustained, strong reduction in methane emissions, which come from cattle.”

Ms Burke said farmers are not expected to achieve “net zero” emissions like other industries, but they must come up with solutions on how to transform how they operate.

“It is recognised that methane is a short-lived gas,” she said. “It is different to other greenhouse gases, but it is going in the wrong direction at the moment.

“In regard to the size of the [national] herd, what we would say is any increase in the dairy herd is unsustainable until solutions can be found, not only for greenhouse gas emissions but also on impacts, for example, on water quality.”

It is “really up to the sector now to identify how it can transform and change into the future so we can also live up to the clean, green image of Ireland that we promote when we are marketing our agricultural produce,” she added.

Ms Burke said it was getting more challenging every year to work toward meeting commitments to halve Ireland’s overall emissions by 2030.

“This really has to be a tipping point, it has to be a turning point,” she said. “This report is a wake up call that we need to take action.”