Environmental Policies

Key Findings
With a strong focus on emissions reductions, Ireland falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 16) with respect to environmental policies. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points since 2014.

The country’s climate plan foresees a 51% in greenhouse gas reductions by 2030, with net-zero emissions reached by 2050. By 2030, the government hopes to generate 80% of electricity from renewable sources, while phasing out coal- and peat-fired plants. Wind accounted for 36% of total electricity demand in 2020.

Agriculture accounts for 35.3% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions, with 95% of this coming from livestock agriculture. However, the country is a leader in the area of carbon-efficient agriculture. It has thus asked for EU-level concessions on its reduction target, arguing that displacing production would lead to higher overall global emissions.

The carbon tax has been increased, prompting considerable controversy. Funds go toward defraying fuel poverty and green-agriculture incentives. Grants are in place to encourage reforestation. About 35% of NextGenerationEU funds will be spent on climate-related activities.



How effectively does environmental policy in your country protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and environmental quality?


Environmental policy goals are ambitious and effectively implemented as well as monitored within and across most relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.

Environmental policy goals are mainly ambitious and effectively implemented and are monitored within and across some of the relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.

Environmental policy goals are neither particularly ambitious nor are they effectively implemented and coordinated across relevant policy sectors.

Environmental concerns have been largely abandoned.
Environmental Policy
Climate Policy:

The Irish government’s Climate Action Plan of 2021 aims to take action to achieve a 51% reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to reach net-zero emissions by no later than 2050, as committed to in the 2020 Programme for Government. The plan hopes to create new jobs in areas such as offshore wind, cutting-edge agriculture and retrofitting (CAP, 2021).

To meet the required level of emissions reduction, by 2030, the government has committed to increasing the share of electricity generated from renewable sources to up to 80%, with an emphasis on facilitating local community-based projects; delivering three new transmission grid connections to Northern Ireland, Great Britain, and the European Union; phasing out coal and peat-fired electricity generation; and ensuring that 20–30% of system demand is flexible by 2030 (CAP, 2021).

Agriculture makes up 35.3% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions, of which 95% are emissions from livestock agriculture (DFHER, 2021). However, Ireland is a world leader in carbon-efficient agriculture and food production. Ireland has argued strongly at the EU level for concessions on its carbon-emission reduction targets outside the Emission Trading System. The country’s negotiators have claimed that displacing this production from Ireland to countries outside the European Union would ultimately result in higher global emissions.

In 2018, the ban on smoky bituminous fuels, which had been progressively extended to the main cities and towns since 1990, was applied countrywide in Ireland.

Building on previous commitments, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan has continued to take steps toward a nationwide ban on the use of smoky coal to combat air pollution and to protect public health (DECC, 2021).

In the 2022 budget, the carbon tax was increased by €7.50 per ton, from €33.50 to €41 per ton, coming into effect in 2022 (CI, 2021). This was one of the most controversial elements of the 2021 budget and subsequently became entangled with the global increases in the cost of energy.

The government’s approach is a graduated one, with the carbon tax increasing by €7.50 per ton in every budget until 2029. The 2020 Programme for Government aims to levy €100 per ton on carbon by 2030. This is an increase on the previous commitment of €80 per ton by 2030.

The funds raised through the carbon tax are ringfenced and spent in the following areas: initiatives to prevent fuel poverty and to ensure a just carbon transition; a national retrofitting program; and measures to incentivize farmers to farm in a greener and more sustainable way.

Ireland has one of the highest proportions of electricity provided by wind power in the world, second only to Denmark in 2020. Wind is the second greatest source of electricity generation in the country, after only natural gas, and wind energy is currently the largest source of renewable energy in Ireland. In 2020, wind provided over 86% of Ireland’s renewable electricity and 36% of total electricity demand (SEAI, 2022). The figures vary daily according to weather conditions. About 2.5% of Ireland’s electricity generating capacity comes from hydropower (Teagasc, 2022).

Renewable water resources:

In 2000, Ireland signed the EU Water Framework Directive into national law. Article 16 of the directive required the introduction of charges for domestic water. Full implementation of this measure was included in the Troika agreement with Ireland. In July 2013, Irish Water (Uisce Éireann) was incorporated as a semi-state company under the Water Services Act 2013. The creation of Irish Water merged the water and wastewater services of 34 local authorities together within one national service provider. Irish Water is now responsible for public water services, including the management of national water assets, and making capital investment decisions regarding the country’s water infrastructure. Irish Water is accountable to the Commission for Energy Regulation and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The installation of domestic water meters began in 2014 amid sustained opposition. Substantial up-front costs were incurred. The proposed structure of the domestic water tariffs, which became the focus of fierce public protests, were repeatedly revised. The water charge element was greatly attenuated, so that the levy became little more than a property-tax surcharge, providing only a weak incentive for conserving water usage.

In June 2016, the then minister of environment appointed the Expert Commission on Domestic Public Water Services. Its final report, the Report on the Funding of Domestic Public Water Services in Ireland, was published on 29 November 2016. The commission recommended that “the optimal arrangement is one involving the funding of water services, for domestic and personal use, as a charge against taxation.” It also suggested that “excessive or wasteful use of water will be discouraged by charging for such use and therefore is consistent with the “polluter pays principle.” Essentially the commission marginalized the issue of water charges, suggesting that the “question of metering is one of policy and is outside the Expert Commission’s terms of reference.”

Finally, in 2015, Eurostat ruled that the mechanisms proposed by the Irish government to fund Irish Water did not meet the criteria for classifying it as a commercial company. As a result, for national accounting purposes, its budget would need to be included in the public sector budget (for further details see “Policy Communication”).

Following sustained opposition, the water charges were ultimately suspended by the Fine Gael-led minority government in May 2016, as part of a confidence-and-supply agreement with Fianna Fáil. At the time of writing, domestic customers don’t have to pay charges for water supply and wastewater services. However, Irish Water plans to introduce household charges for excess water use in 2022, according to the Irish Water Charges Plan (IW, 2021). Ireland thus stands out in EU terms as the only member state that does not charge consumers for water.

Forest area:

Significant grants for increasing the proportion of the territory under forestry have been in place for some time. The state-owned forestry service operates forests that now cover about 7% of the country’s land area. The privatization of the harvesting of some of these forests was recommended in the Troika agreement but shelved in response to concerns about the potentially adverse effects on the amenity value of these land assets. Increased afforestation has been proposed in exchange for leeway on the emissions from the Irish dairy sector. The government’s Forestry Policy and strategy (2014 – 2020) sets an ambitious plan to increase the amount of afforestation activity through an enhanced licensing scheme, forestry grants and initiatives to protect woodlands (DAFM, 2021).


Ireland is broadly compliant with EU directives on biodiversity, and engages in enforcement measures to protect wildlife and flora. An extensive rural environmental protection scheme has sought to encourage farming in a sustainable and environmentally sensitive manner. In addition, a large number of protected areas have been designated.

CAP (2021)

CI (2021) Budget 2021, Citizens Information, available at:,fuels)%20on%201%20May%202022.

DECC (2021) Environment Minister takes first step towards national ban on smoky coal to protect public health, Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, 18 February, available at:,pollution%20and%20protect%20public%20health.

DFHER (2021) Project to make 5,000 dairy farms climate neutral awarded €2 million by Minister Harris, Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, 21 June, available at:,are%20emissions%20from%20livestock%20agriculture.

DAFM (2021) Forestry policy and strategy, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, 07 March, available at:

IW (2021) Irish Water Charges Plan, Irish Water, 01 October, available at:

SEAI (2022) Wind Energy, Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, available at:,in%20Ireland%20after%20natural%20gas.

Teagasc (2022) Small Scale Hydro Generation, Teagasc, available at:’s,kilotonne%20(kt)%20CO2.

Global Environmental Protection


To what extent does the government actively contribute to the design and advancement of global environmental protection regimes?


The government actively contributes to international efforts to design and advance global environmental protection regimes. In most cases, it demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, contributes to their being advanced and has introduced appropriate reforms.

The government contributes to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes. It demonstrates commitment to existing regimes and occasionally contributes to their being advanced and/or has introduced some appropriate reforms.

The government demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, but does not contribute to their being advanced and has not introduced appropriate reforms.

The government does not contribute to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes.
Global Environmental Policy
Ireland’s environmental policies are largely framed within an EU context. The taoiseach (prime minister) attended the COP26 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in October–November 2021. The taoiseach stated that “climate change is real – we are seeing its serious impacts already. The IPCC Report in August confirmed to us that it is widespread, it is rapid, and it is intensifying.” Moreover, the taoiseach acknowledged that to achieve the goals of the 2016 Paris Agreement “immediate, large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are essential.” Ireland’s plan for spending Next Generation EU funds, approximately €1 billion, was accepted by the European Commission and commits about 35% of the budget to climate-related activities (EU Commission Representation in Ireland, 2021).

At the COP26 conference, the taoiseach set out Ireland’s commitment to a legally binding target for reducing emissions by 2030 to 51% below 2018 levels, reach climate neutrality by 2050, working closely with EU partners to achieve a green transition, and the implementation of a statutory system of carbon budgeting and emissions ceilings for each sector of the economy. The taoiseach also noted Ireland’s commitment to working on the U.N. Security Council to address the destabilizing impacts of climate change. Regarding support for the developing world, the taoiseach also announced that Ireland would more than double its contribution to developing countries to support the fight against climate change, delivering at least €225 million a year toward this endeavor by 2025 (Government of Ireland, 2021). Notably, Ireland’s sustained requests for exemptions regarding carbon emissions from the agricultural sector seem at odds with these commitments.

EU Commission Representation in Ireland (2021), The Recovery Plan for Europe in Ireland’,
Government of Ireland (2021) National Statement by the Taoiseach, COP 26, Glasgow, Department of
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