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Eamon Ryan says 'we have to do more' as greenhouse gas emissions top pre-pandemic levels

The figures show an increase in emissions of 4.7% in 2021 compared to 2020, when Covid restrictions had led to a significant decrease in emissions.

LAST UPDATE | 21 Jul 2022

CLIMATE MINISTER EAMON Ryan has said that “we will have to do more” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after a new report found that emissions have risen to above pre-Covid-19 pandemic levels. 

The Environmental Protection Agency published its provisional greenhouse gas emissions for Ireland for 2021 this morning, raising concerns about whether the State can achieve binding Carbon Budget targets.

The figures show an increase in emissions of 4.7% in 2021 compared to 2020, when Covid-19 restrictions had led to a significant decrease in emissions.

Ireland has a number of climate targets in place all centred around the requirement to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 51% by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050.

But the EPA report highlights that further, transformative measures will be needed to meet national climate ambitions.

In total in 2021, 61.53 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2eq) were emitted, with emissions 1.1% above 2019 pre-Covid restriction levels.

Emissions had previously decreased by 3.6% in 2020 compared to the previous year. They had also decreased by 4.5% in 2019.

Speaking to reporters this afternoon at the launch of a number of new grants for electric vehicles, Ryan said that due to the rise in emissions, we will have to do more in the coming years.

“The main reasons those figures went up was because Moneypoint was running much longer than previously. Increasing transport and farming and fertilizer use, they’re the key reasons,” he said.

“Householders went down by nearly 5%, so we’ve shown we can do it. We are starting to make the changes that will deliver this. All that money we’re putting into retrofitting people’s homes, that will save the emissions. What we’re doing here, one in five new cars now are plug-in electric, battery and plug-in hybrid vehicles, that’ll lower emissions.”

According to the report, the increase was driven by a 17.6% increase in emissions from the energy industries sector, attributable to a tripling of coal and oil use in electricity generation last year, as well as increases in the agriculture and transport sectors.

The use of peat has continued to decline, a 68% reduction in 2021, and is currently at an all time low within the electricity generation sector. There was also a reduction in natural gas use by 8.9% as plants were offline last year.

3963 Zero Emissions Vehicle Climate Minister Eamon Ryan speaking at the launch of Zero Emissions Vehicle Ireland (ZEVI). Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

Electricity generated from renewables accounted for 35%, a fall from a high of 42.3% in 2020, due to low rainfall and less wind. This resulted in an increase in the emissions intensity of power generation by 11.9% in 2021, the report states.


Agriculture emissions increased by 3% to 23.1 Mt CO2eq last year, the second year in a row that emissions have risen in the sector.

Emissions in the sector did not reduce during Covid restrictions and are now 15% higher than the 1990 level.

According to the report, the most significant drivers for the rise in agricultural emissions were increased use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use of 5.2% and higher dairy cow numbers of 2.8%, with an increase in milk production of 5.5%. 

Dairy cow numbers increased for the 11th consecutive year, while milk output per cow also increased by 2.5%. Increased production was therefore driven by an increase in livestock numbers in conjunction with an increase in milk yield per cow.

Total cattle numbers increased by 0.8% last year.

The Government’s Climate Action Plan states that agricultural emissions must be reduced to between 22%-30% by 2030, bringing its emissions down to between 16 and 18 Mt.

However, during a meeting last month, Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue told Ryan that “impossible” targets for reducing emissions would undermine the sector’s “well-established green image”.

Ryan said that the agriculture sector “will play its part” and that farmers understand that emissions need to be reduced. 

No one disagrees that we have to do this, it’s just how quickly can we do it. Yes, we’re going to have to go faster. Yes, we’re going to have to do more, but it’ll only work if it’s good for the country.

He said he hopes that the sectoral emissions targets will be concluded “in the coming days”, but that they will have to go further than 22%. He added that other measures can also lead to that reduction. 

“The European Commission this November will introduce a regulation which pays for storage of carbon, and that could be in forestry or it could be in the field, carbon farming, and I believe there’s real opportunity to open up a whole range of private capital, which will go into paying for young farmers to manage and tend our land. That’s what myself and Charlie [McConalogue] have been discussing,” he said.

“We were talking yesterday and we agreed on this. What we really need is momentum. We need to make sure that every farmer knows: ‘this is the way the world is going, I’m going to be part of it’, and also know that they are going to get a good income from it.”

Asked about comments he made where he said farmers will not be forced to reduce or cull their cattle herds to meet emissions targets, he said that he believes introducing “measures to pay farmers” is key.

“Some of them will lead to less intensive farming and smaller numbers in a particular farm, but it’s not going out with a systemic ‘you have to get rid of half your herd’. It is actually how can we increase the incomes? What’s the type of farming that deliver this less polluted system? And we pay for that,” he said.

“As a consequence, you will have lower animal numbers, but you’re going at it with the income approach, rather than the cull approach.”


Increases in traffic volumes during 2021 as Covid restrictions lifted resulted in a 6.1% rise in transport emissions. Emissions had fallen significantly in the transport sector in 2020 as a result of the pandemic restrictions.

Transport emissions remain 10.5% below pre-pandemic levels, and it is unclear if they will rebound fully to that level.

Residential greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 4.9% in 2021, driven by a combination of less time in the home, a milder winter and increased fuel prices.

However, fuel use per household has increased by 12% since 2014, with CO2 emissions per household at 3.8 t CO2 in 2021.

The figures indicate that 23.5% of the Carbon Budget for the five-year period 2021-2025 has already been used.

This leaves 76.5% of the budget available for the succeeding four years, meaning an average annual emissions reduction of 8.4% per year would be required from 2022-2025 to stay within budget.

The report also shows that Ireland will exceed its 2021 annual limit under the European Union’s Effort Sharing Regulation (EU 2018/842), without the use of flexibilities, by 2.7 Mt CO2eq.

Commenting on the report, Director General of the EPA Laura Burke said: “A return to coal use in electricity generation, together with continued growth in emissions from the agriculture sector and a partial rebound in transport emissions following the easing of Covid restrictions, have combined to deliver an increase on pre- pandemic levels of emissions.”

The data shows 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.

Senior Manager at the EPA Stephen Treacy said: “The Provisional greenhouse gas emission estimates for 2021 are a cause for concern in relation to achieving Ireland’s binding Carbon Budget targets.

“Staying within the current budget now requires deep emission cuts of over 5 Mt CO2 eq per annum over the succeeding four years,” he said.

The Government is currently preparing to approve specific targets for individual sectors  that detail how much they must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by as part of Ireland’s efforts to protect the climate.

While the precise figures aren’t out yet, the concept was outlined last November in the government’s Climate Action Plan, which set out ranges for what level of reduction each sector would be expected to make by 2030 compared to 2018:

  • Electricity – 62% to 81%
  • Transport – 42% to 50%
  • Buildings – 44% to 56%
  • Industry – 29% to 41%
  • Agriculture – 22% to 30%
  • Land use, land use change and forestry – 37% to 58%

At the weekend, Ryan said he would put forward the plan for Cabinet’s approval in the coming weeks – “hopefully” by the end of the month.

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