Ireland’s emissions have surpassed pre-Covid levels, EPA warns

21 Jul 2022

Image: © Seroma72/

EPA figures suggest agriculture was responsible for 37.5pc of Ireland’s total emissions in 2021, while the energy sector tripled its oil and gas use.

Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by nearly 5pc last year and have risen above pre-Covid levels, according to figures from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The provisional figures show an increase of 4.7pc in emissions in 2021 compared to 2020, when Covid-19 restrictions caused a “significant lowering” of emissions, the EPA said.

The increase puts Ireland’s emissions 1.1pc higher than in 2019. The EPA noted that this rise is largely due to the energy industries sector, which tripled its oil and gas use in electricity generation last year.

EPA director general Laura Burke said a return to coal use, agriculture’s “continued growth in emissions” and a “partial rebound” in transport emissions have all contributed to rising greenhouse gas levels.

“The data show the scale of change needed within and across all sectors of Ireland’s economy to make sustained progress in reversing this trend and to meet our EU commitments and national greenhouse gas emission reduction targets,” Burke said.

Last month, the EPA warned that “urgent” measures are needed for Ireland to meet its climate targets, based on greenhouse gas emissions projections for the period 2021 to 2040.

The big contributors

Emissions from Ireland’s energy industries sector were up by 17.6pc last year due to increased fossil fuel use. There was also a reduction in natural gas use of 8.9pc as some plants were offline for a period in 2021.

Electricity generated from renewables fell from 42pc in 2020 to 35pc last year, which the EPA attributed to low rainfall and less wind.

Earlier this month, a report by Wind Energy Ireland said it is “just about possible” for Ireland to meet its 2030 climate targets if there is a “complete transformation” of the planning system and grid policies. The report urged investment in the electricity grid and to accelerate onshore wind and solar power generation.

Agriculture is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland. Excluding land use, land-use change and forestry, the sector represents 37.5pc of the country’s emissions.

A circle showing different percentages, used to represent Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions.

Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 per sector. Image: EPA

Agriculture recorded a 3pc increase last year, which is the second year in a row that emissions rose in the sector. Agricultural emissions did not reduce during Covid restrictions and are now 15pc higher than in 1990.

The transport sector saw emissions rise by 6.1pc as Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, but this level was still 10.5pc lower than 2019.

The EPA said there were roughly 47,000 battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in Ireland, which is around 24pc of the Government’s target for 2025.

There were some decreases in the figures such as a 4.9pc reduction in residential emissions, which the EPA attributed to a mild winter, less home working and increased fuel prices.

“The provisional greenhouse gas emission estimates for 2021 are a cause for concern in relation to achieving Ireland’s binding carbon budget targets,” said EPA senior manager Stephen Treacy.

Updated, 11.45am, 21 July 2022: The EPA incorrectly stated that 2021 was the third year in a row that agriculture emissions increased. The article was updated to amend this detail.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic