Ireland’s carbon emissions decline by almost 6% in 2020 due to pandemic

Reductions ‘do not negate the need for targeted’ action, says environmental bodies

Greenhouse gas emissions declined in 2020 by 5.9 per cent mainly due to Covid-19; the biggest annual fall since the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, according to analysis by the EPA and Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).

Emissions from the transport sector are estimated to be more than 2 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2eq) lower than 2019; a fall of almost 17 per cent due to shutdown of much of the economy.

Residential sector emissions – mainly arising from home heating – are estimated, however, to have increased by 9 per cent (0.6 Mt CO2eq) due to so many people working from home.

“Short-term emissions reductions due to the pandemic do not negate the need for targeted and sustained action across all sectors,” they stress.


Emissions from the energy industries sector are estimated to be 14 per cent lower; mostly due to substituting coal and peat use with renewable energy in power generation with pandemic measures playing a smaller part.

The Global Carbon Project suggested in December total emissions for 2020 will clock in at 34 billion tonnes of CO2 (GtCO2) – a fall of 2.4GtCO2 compared to 2019. This decline “is the largest absolute drop in emissions ever recorded . . . and the largest relative fall since the second world war”.

Fossil fuel emissions fell in all the world's biggest emitting countries, it estimated – by 12 per cent in the US; 11 per cent in the EU, 9 per cent in India and 1.7 per cent in China.

Reduction target

The Irish decline is modest, underlining the difficulty of a achieving a 50 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 as committed to under revised EU targets.

The economic rebound from the Covid-19 crisis is estimated to bring emissions back to previous levels unless additional action is taken, the EPA warns.

EPA director general Laura Burke said: "We are at a pivotal point for our economy, and the recovery steps we take now will shape Ireland for the next decade. While these early estimates show a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for 2020 as a result of Covid restrictions, this level of emission reductions, at a minimum, will be required annually."

Ireland needed a “green recovery” to rebuild its economy, generate new jobs and respond to climate change, she added. “A ‘green’ stimulus and implementation of ambitious policies and measures can deliver Ireland’s current and future commitments to a climate-neutral economy and climate-resilient society by 2050.”

Last year’s emissions reductions “must be built on to achieve continual, substantial, year-on-year reductions, making the 2020s the decade of climate action”, Ms Burke underlined.

SEAI chief executive William Walsh said the programme for government and 2019 climate action plan were clear on scale of ambition necessary to decarbonise Ireland. "This will require a national conversation to find solutions and innovate, changing way we live, work and rebuild our economy to give us a chance of achieving our collective mission," he added.

While investment was needed in all sectors to address the climate crisis, it provided “tremendous opportunities for warmer and cheaper-to-run homes and businesses, a growth in green jobs in Ireland, cleaner air in our towns and cities and more open spaces for us all to enjoy”.

Petrol and diesel

Climate action had to be a national priority at all levels of society, led by Government, and supported by businesses, communities and individuals all working together, Mr Walsh believed. “The public health emergency has made us all think about what’s important. I hope that, in time, people can find that same connection and resolve when it comes to taking climate action.”

The SEAI confirmed petrol consumption was down 27 per cent compared to 2019 for the year to the end of November, and diesel consumption was down 15 per cent, while kerosene sales were up 18 per cent – reflecting home heating demand.

While emissions across commercial and public services sectors and from industry are estimated to have fallen as a result of decreased economic activity, agriculture emissions are expected to have risen slightly as a result of increased fuel and fertiliser use.

The estimates are based on monthly indicator data, allowing earlier estimation than usual, compared to the more comprehensive annual data used by the EPA to produce Ireland's greenhouse gas inventory. The 2020 estimates are available at and atwww.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times