Emissions from agriculture increased by 3% in 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) provisional greenhouse gas emissions report for 2021 shows.

Across all sectors of the economy, total greenhouse gas emissions were up 4.7% on 2020 levels.

The EPA has said that the increase in emissions in the agricultural sector was driven by increased fertiliser use, which was up 5.2%, and a 2.8% increase in dairy cow numbers.

“Agricultural emissions did not reduce during COVID-19 restrictions," the EPA said. It is the second year in a row that emissions increased.

“This is the 11th consecutive year that dairy cow numbers rose. Milk output per cow also increased (by 2.5%), therefore increased production was driven by a rise in livestock numbers in conjunction with an increase in milk yield per cow. In 2021, total cattle numbers increased by 0.8%,” according to the EPA.

In 2021, liming on agricultural soils increased by 49.5%, which the EPA said is a welcome measure in improving soil fertility, which should lead to a reduction in fertiliser nitrogen use in future years.


A tripling of coal and oil use in electricity generation resulted in emissions from the energy industries sector increasing by 17.6%.

The consumption of peat has continued to decline, the EPA said, falling by 67% in 2021, and is currently at an all-time low within the power generation sector.

“There was also a reduction in natural gas use by 8.9%, as some plants were offline for a time in 2021,” it said.

Staying within the current budget now requires deep emission cuts

Electricity generated from renewables fell from 42% in 2020 to 35% and this was due to low rainfall and less wind.

“This resulted in an increase in the emissions intensity of power generation by 11.9% in 2021 to 331g CO2/kWh, compared with 296g CO2/kWh in 2020.”


Increases in traffic volumes during 2021 as COVID-19 restrictions lifted resulted in a 6.1% rise in transport emissions, according to the EPA.

“Emissions had fallen significantly in the transport sector in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. Emissions in this sector remain 10.5% below pre-pandemic levels and it is unclear if they will rebound fully to that level.

“Road transport emissions increased from 9.7mt CO2eq in 2020 to 10.3mt CO2eq in 2021. At the end of 2021, there were just under 47,000 battery electric (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric (PHEVs) vehicles in Ireland, approximately 24% of the climate action plan target for 2025 of 195,300 and ahead of a linear uptake trajectory towards that target,” it added.

Land use, land-use change and forestry

When included in national total emissions, the land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector accounted for 11.2% of the total emissions in 2021.

This sector is made up of six land use categories: forest land, cropland, grassland, wetlands, settlements and other land and harvested wood products.

“The sector is a net source of CO2 equivalent emissions in all years 1990 to 2021. The main source of emissions is the drainage of grasslands on organic soils and the exploitation of wetlands for peat extraction,” the EPA said.

Forest land and harvested wood products are a carbon sink for all years 1990 to 2021, although it said the carbon sink associated with forest land is on a declining trend due to the age profile of existing forests and a declining afforestation trend.


Greenhouse gas emissions in the residential sector, the private household sector, were 7.04mt CO2eq in 2021 and decreased by 4.9% or 0.36 Mt CO2eq compared with 2020.

“However, emissions in 2020 had risen as a result of increased working from home. Emissions are now 2.8% above pre-pandemic levels in this sector.

“A combination of warmer weather, rising fuel prices towards the end of the year and an easing of COVID restrictions contributed to substantial reductions in coal, peat and kerosene use for home heating,” the EPA said.


In 2021, total international aviation contributed 1.3mt CO2 from over 52,500 return flights from Irish airports, a significant reduction on recent trends, the EPA maintained, with international aviation emissions averaging over 3.0mt CO2eq per year prior to COVID-19 pandemic.

Although not part of Ireland’s total greenhouse gas emissions by international agreement, this is a significant reduction in greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere.

Carbon budget

These provisional figures from the EPA indicate that 23.5% of the carbon budget for the five-year period 2021 to 2025 has already been used, requiring an 8.4% average annual emissions reduction from 2022 to 2025 to stay within budget, the EPA warned.

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 2.7mt CO2eq.

Change needed

Commenting on the figures, EPA director general Laura Burke said that 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-19 restrictions, have combined to deliver an increase on pre-pandemic levels of emissions.

“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,” she said.

EPA senior manager Stephen Treacy said the estimates 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 5mt CO2 eq per annum over the succeeding four years.”