Pandemic restrictions, less peat and more wind energy lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions in 2020

Date released: October 21, 2021

Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 3.6 per cent in 2020, less than the reduction seen in 2019.

  • Lockdown measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a 15.7 per cent decrease in Transport emissions, the largest sectoral emissions reduction.
  • Peat fuelled electricity generation decreased by 51 per cent in 2020. Together with a 15 per cent increase in wind generation - this led to a 7.9 per cent reduction in Energy Industry emissions.
  • Residential greenhouse gas emissions increased by 9.0 per cent, with a substantial increase in carbon intensive fossil fuel use driven by low fuel prices and working from home.
  • Agriculture emissions increased by 1.4 per cent in 2020, driven by increased activity in all areas, including a 3.2 per cent increase in the number of dairy cows.
  • While the overall reduction in emissions is welcome, the majority (almost 2 Mt) of the reduction was due to a short term decrease in transport emissions due to the Covid 19 pandemic, which is likely to be once-off.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has today published its provisional greenhouse gas emissions for Ireland for 2020. The figures show a reduction in emissions of 3.6 per cent compared to 2019, which although significant, is 0.4 per cent less than the reduction seen in 2019.

Significant emission reductions were recorded for the Energy Industries sector due mainly to reductions in peat fuelled electricity generation and increases in wind electricity generation. This reduction was despite a similar level of electricity demand to 2019, indicating the positive impact of a transition towards renewable energy in power generation emissions. The lockdown measures put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic lead to significant emissions reductions in the Transport sector but increases in the Residential sector.

The figures indicate that Ireland exceeded its 2020 annual EU emissions allocation by 6.7Mt and cumulatively exceeded its allocation over the lifetime of the 2013-2020 Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) by over 12 Mt. Emissions covered under the ESD in 2020 had only decreased by 7 per cent on the 2005 level compared to the overall target of a 20 per cent reduction.


Commenting on the figures Laura Burke, Director General, EPA said:

“Greenhouse gas emissions decreased again in 2020 following the decrease seen in 2019, with a continuation of some positive trends in the data, such as the phasing out of peat burning in electricity generation. The behavioural changes required to deal with the COVID pandemic also led to a reduction in emissions in sectors such as transport, while there was an increase in emissions from the residential sector.”

“The limited reduction in emissions during 2020, at a time of profound change to economic and social activity due to the Covid 19 pandemic highlight the scale of action needed across all parts of our economy and society to meet the 51 per cent emissions reduction by 2030 set within the 2021 Climate Act. Urgent action is also necessary to avoid a growth in greenhouse gas emissions during post-COVID economic recovery.”


The overall emission reduction was driven by two main factors, the reduced emissions intensity in electricity generation and decreased transport emissions as a result of the COVID lockdown measures.  A summary of the main sectoral emission trends is below.

Energy Industries: Emissions in the Energy Industries sector decreased by 7.9 per cent, or 0.74 Mt CO2eq in 2020, mainly due to a 51 per cent decrease in peat used in electricity generation.

This builds on the reductions seen in 2019, as a result of the phasing out of coal used in electricity generation. Electricity generated from wind also played a part, increasing by 15.3 per cent in 2020. The reduced peat use, and increased wind and hydro-electricity, resulted in an 8.1 per cent decrease in the emissions intensity of power generation in 2020 to 295g CO2/kWh, a new record low. With peat and coal use at a relatively low level in 2020, further emissions reductions in line with the Climate Act ambition will depend largely on continued rapid deployment of renewable generation.

Agriculture: Agriculture emissions increased by 1.4 per cent, or 0.3 Mt CO2eq in 2020 and have increased by 12% over the last 10 years. 2020 increases were driven by increased fertiliser nitrogen use (3.3 per cent) increased numbers of livestock including dairy cows (3.2 per cent), other cattle (0.6 per cent), sheep (4.8 per cent) and pigs (2.5 per cent). In the last 10 years, dairy cow numbers have increased by 45.5 per cent with a corresponding milk production increase of 60.3 per cent. In the same 10-year period sheep numbers increased by 21.9 per cent, pigs by 9.7 per cent and poultry by 25.9 per cent.

Residential: Greenhouse gas emissions from the Residential sector increased by 9.0 per cent or 0.59 Mt CO2eq as many people worked from home due to the COVID lockdown measures. The impact of this increased demand was exacerbated by low fuel prices. Coal use increased by 6 per cent, peat by 3 per cent and Kerosene by 19 per cent. Natural gas use decreased marginally by -0.3 per cent. Overall since 2014, emissions per household have gradually increased, indicating that an acceleration of energy efficiency retrofit and renewable energy deployment is needed to avoid a continued increase in emissions from the sector.

Transport: Greenhouse gas emissions from the Transport sector decreased by 15.7 per cent or 1.92 Mt CO2eq in 2020, driven by the impact of COVID restrictions on passenger car and public transport usage. At the end of 2020, there were just under 26,000 battery electric (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric (PHEVs) vehicles in Ireland, highlighting the extent of the challenge in meeting the over 936,000 EVs by 2030 Climate Action plan target. Freight transport emissions didn’t decrease as significantly as passenger transport emissions and accounted for almost 40% of road transport emissions in 2020. Options to decarbonise freight transport emissions therefore also need to be progressed with urgency.

International aviation emissions to and from Ireland decreased by 65 per cent. Although not part of Ireland’s total greenhouse gas emissions by international agreement, this reduction represents over 2 Mt CO2 eq. less greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

Commenting, Stephen Treacy, Senior Manager, EPA said:

 “The latest Inventory numbers show that the 2013-2020 EU Effort Sharing (ESD) target has been missed by a wide margin, with 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.”

Full detail on the Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory 1990 to 2020 is available on the EPA website and the EPA Greenhouse Gas web resource is also available online.


Tables and Notes

An overview of changes in emissions since the previous year is presented in Table 1 and distance to EU targets in Table 2.

This publication updates a special publication by the EPA and SEAI in January 2021, which was designed to give an early indication of the impact of the pandemic on GHG emission in 2020. In that publication a 6 per cent reduction in emissions as a result of the pandemic was estimated based on monthly indicator data. The methodology used for today’s publication is in line with the UN Inventory Guidelines and uses more comprehensive annual data. The divergence in overall trends between the January 2021 publication and now are as a result of the availability of 2020 Agriculture activity data (including livestock numbers) data and final Energy Balance data that updated the fuel mix used in electricity generation.

More trend figures, tables and background information is available here.


Table 1. Provisional greenhouse gas emissions for 2019 and 2020 for Ireland*

Million tonnes CO2 eq20192020% Change
Agriculture 21.15 21.44 1.4
Transport 12.22 10.30 -15.7
Energy Industries 9.43 8.68 -7.9
Residential 6.53 7.12 9.0
Manufacturing Combustion 4.59 4.52 -1.5
Industrial Processes 2.27 2.11 -7.0
F-Gases 0.92 0.79 -14.4
Commercial Services 0.94 0.94 -0.3
Public Services 0.89 0.90 1.0
Waste 0.91 0.91 -0.8
National Total 59.84 57.70 -3.6

* Final figures will be submitted to the EU and UN in March and April 2022 in line with the agreed reporting timetable.


Table 2. Compliance with EU Effort Sharing Decision Targets 2013-2020

A    Total greenhouse gas emissions without LULUCF 57,903 57,626 59,878 61,546 60,744, 60,912 59,777 57,699
B NF3 emissions 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
C Total greenhouse gas emissions without LULUCF and without NF3 emissions 57,903 57,625 59,877 61,545 60,743 60,911 59,776 57,697

Total verified emissions from stationary installations under

Directive 2003/87/EC
15,686 15,953 16,830 17,737 16,896 15,515 14,179 13,294
E CO2 emissions from 1.A.3.a. domestic aviation 10 9 10 10 17 17 18 18
F Total ESD emissions (= C-D-E) 42,207 41,663 43,037 43,798 43,829 45,379 45,579 44,385
G EU ESD Targets 46,892 45,761 44,630 43,499 40,885 39,807 38,729 37,651
  Distance to target (= F-G) -4,685 -4,098 -1,593 299 2,944 5,571 6,850 6,733

Note: Shaded cells show data that has been reviewed, and compliance agreed, by the European Commission under Article 19 of the MMR No. 525/2013



Units: 1 Mt = 1,000 kilotonnes

CO2 Equivalent: greenhouse gases other than CO2 (i.e. methane, nitrous oxide and so-called F-gases) may be converted to CO2 equivalent using their global warming potentials. 

F-gases: These gases comprise HFCs (Hydroflurocarbons), PFCs (Perfluorcarbons), SF6 (Sulphur Hexafluoride) and NF3 (Nitrogen Trifluoride).  They are much more potent than the naturally occurring greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide).

Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Sectors:  include the following ten sectors for analysis;


  1. Energy Industries (electricity generation, waste to energy incineration, oil refining, briquetting manufacture and fugitive emissions)
  2. Residential (combustion for domestic space and hot water heating)
  3. Manufacturing Combustion (combustion for Manufacturing industries in ETS and non-ETS)
  4. Commercial Services (combustion for Commercial Services space and hot water heating)
  5. Public Services (combustion for Public services space and hot water heating)
  6. Transport (combustion of fuel used in road, rail, navigation, domestic aviation and pipeline gas transport)
  7. Industrial Processes (process emissions from mineral, chemical, metal industries, non-energy products and solvents)
  8. F-Gases (gases used in refrigeration, air conditioning and semiconductor manufacture)
  9. Agriculture (emissions from fertiliser application, ruminant digestion, manure management, agricultural soils and fuel used in agriculture/forestry/fishing)
  10. Waste (emissions from solid waste disposal on land, solid waste treatment (composting), wastewater treatment, waste incineration and open burning of waste).