Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 3.6% last year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Major drops in emissions were recorded in some sectors of the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but emissions from agriculture rose in 2020.

The national coronavirus lockdown resulted in a 15.7% drop in transport emissions, the largest sectoral emissions reduction.

Peat-fuelled electricity generation fell by 51% last year which, combined with a 15% increase in wind generation, led to a 7.9% reduction in energy industry emissions.

Working from home resulted in a 9% increase in GHG emissions from the residential sector.


Agriculture, unaffected by the COVID-19 lockdown, recorded an increase of 1.4% in emissions last year. That equates to 0.3Mt of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq).

Emissions from agriculture are calculated based on emissions from fertiliser application, ruminant digestion, manure management, agricultural soils and fuel used in agriculture, forestry and fishing.

The EPA said that last year’s increase was driven by increased fertiliser nitrogen use, up 3.3% and higher livestock numbers. Dairy cows rose by 3.2%, other cattle rose by 0.6%, sheep up 4.8% and pigs up 2.5%.

Last year’s rise in agriculture emissions follows a drop in emissions in 2019 of 4.1% or 0.87 Mt CO2eq. That fall was driven by a 10% drop in synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use and a 25.4% drop in liming of soils by 25.4%.

Livestock numbers

The EPA highlighted that in the last 10 years, dairy cow numbers have increased by 45.5%, with a corresponding milk production increase of 60.3%. In the same 10-year period sheep numbers increased by 21.9%, pigs by 9.7% and poultry by 25.9%.

Irish targets missed

Stephen Treacy, Senior Manager, EPA said that the latest emissions inventory shows that Ireland has missed its 2013-2020 EU Effort Sharing (ESD) target has been missed “by a wide margin”, with the ESD emissions in 2020 just 7% per cent below the 2005 level, despite the COVID impact on 2020 emissions.

“In too many sectors, greenhouse gas emissions are still closely coupled with activity and output, a connection that will need to be broken in order for Ireland to meet the Climate Act target or the increased EU ‘fit for 55’ ambition,” he said.