Short term emissions reductions due to the Covid 19 pandemic do not negate the need for targeted and sustained action across all sectors


  • Early estimates of 2020 greenhouse gas emissions indicate a significant impact of COVID-19.
  • Emissions from the transport sector are estimated to be over 2 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2eq) lower than last year, a fall of almost 17 per cent.
  • Residential sector emissions (mainly home heating) are estimated to have increased by 9 per cent (0.6 Mt CO2eq) in 2020 as many people have been working extensively from home.
  • Emissions from the energy industries sector are estimated to be 14 per cent lower (1.3 Mt CO2eq less) than in 2019. This was most significantly due to substituting coal and peat use with renewable energy in power generation, with the pandemic measures playing a smaller part.

29 January 2021: 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 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2020. The estimates show a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of almost 6 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019. 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.

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

“We are at a pivotal point for our economy, and the recovery steps we take now will shape Ireland for the next decade. 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 2020’s the decade of climate action."
Laura Burke, Director General, EPA

Commenting, William Walsh, CEO, 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 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.  Climate action has to be a national priority at all levels of society, led by Government, and supported by businesses, communities and individuals all working together.  The public health emergency has made us all think about what’s important. I hope that, in time, people can find that same connection and resolve when it comes to taking climate action.
William Walsh, CEO, SEAI

Full detail on the 2020 estimates is available here.

Download the report

Editors notes

The emission reductions have been driven by a number of factors across the sectors including:

Transport: The Transport sector saw the biggest impact as a result of the severe movement restrictions due to COVID, both in absolute and percentage terms. Emissions from the Transport sector in 2020 are estimated to be over 2 Mt CO2eq less than 2019, a fall of almost 17 per cent. For the year to the end of October, petrol consumption was down 26 per cent compared to 2019, and diesel consumption was down 1 per cent.

Energy Industries: The estimates for 2020 indicate a substantial drop in emissions of 14 per cent compared to the 2019 level. Overall it is estimated that 1.3 Mt CO2eq less emissions less occurred from this sector in 2020 compared to 2019. Much of the estimated drop in emissions in 2020 cannot be directly attributed to the impact of the pandemic, but rather a declining trend in the amount of electricity produced using coal and peat.

Residential: These estimates show Residential emissions increased by 9per cent (0.6 Mt CO2eq) in 2020, largely due to the impact of people working from home.  2020 also saw low prices for home heating fuel, particularly in the early part of the year. For the year to the end of October, kerosene sales were up 23per cent in 2020 compared to 2019.

Other Sectors: While emissions across the Commercial and Public Services sectors and from Industry are also estimated to have fallen as a result of the decreased economic activity, Agriculture emissions are expected to have risen slightly as a result of increased fuel and fertiliser use.

These early estimates for 2020 indicate a 4per cent drop compared to 2019 in emissions covered by the EU Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) targets, with 2020 emissions 8per cent below those in 2005. In relation to ESD compliance, an annual deficit of 6.2 Mt CO2eq in 2020 and a cumulative deficit of 11.6 Mt CO2eq over the 2013 to 2020 compliance period are now estimated.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) are the competent authorities for national greenhouse gas emissions statistics and national energy statistics respectively.