Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are estimated to have fallen by 6% overall in 2020 due to the impact of Covid-19 restrictions, according to a new report.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) have jointly released an analysis of the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on GHG emissions in 2020.

The estimates show a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of almost 6% in 2020 compared to 2019.

However, agriculture emissions are expected to have risen slightly as a result of increased fuel and fertiliser use, the analysis says.

The estimates are based on monthly indicator data, allowing for earlier estimation – compared to the more comprehensive annual data used by the EPA to produce Ireland’s GHG Inventory, the authorities say.

There were significant changes in energy-related emissions, particularly transport and residential sector emissions, as a result of new living and work practices brought about by Covid-19.

The overall reduction is comparable to that seen following the global financial crisis. However, the economic rebound from the Covid-19 crisis is estimated to bring emissions back to previous levels, unless additional action is taken, the authorities say.

In a rough breakdown of the analysis by sector it was found that:
  • Emissions from the transport sector in 2020 are estimated to be over 2 Mt CO2eq less than 2019, a fall of almost 17%. For the year to the end of November, petrol consumption was down 27% compared to 2019, and diesel consumption was down 15%;
  • Energy industries are estimated to have dropped by 14% compared to 2019 levels;
  • Residential emissions increased by 9% in 2020, largely due to the impact of people working from home – at the end of November, kerosene sales were up 18% in 2020;
  • While emissions across the commercial and public services sectors, as well as from industry, have dropped due to decreased economic activity, agriculture emissions are expected to have risen slightly.

Commenting on the figures Laura Burke, director general of the EPA, said:

“While these early estimates show a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for 2020 as a result of Covid restrictions, this level of emission reductions, at a minimum, will be required annually.

Ireland needs a ‘green recovery’ to rebuild our economy, generate new jobs and respond to climate change.

As we emerge from the global pandemic, a ‘green’ stimulus and implementation of ambitious policies and measures can deliver Ireland’s current and future commitments to a climate-neutral economy and climate-resilient society by 2050.

The emissions reductions in 2020 must be built on to achieve continual, substantial, year-on-year reductions, making the 2020s the decade of climate action.’

Commenting, William Walsh, CEO of the SEAI, said: “The Programme for Government and the Climate Action Plan are very clear on the scale of ambition necessary to achieve Ireland’s clean energy transition.

This will require a national conversation to find solutions and innovate, changing the way we live, work and rebuild our economy to give us a chance of achieving our collective mission.

“The investment needed in all sectors to address the climate crisis provides tremendous opportunities for warmer and cheaper to run homes and businesses, a growth in green jobs in Ireland, cleaner air in our towns and cities and more open spaces for us all to enjoy.”