Today, 1st September 2022, marks the end of the first third of Ireland’s five-year carbon budget to 2025. You’d be forgiven for not knowing this, given the lack of political focus and communication on the matter. The current carbon budget expires in just over three years with no measurable sectoral roadmap yet in place, despite this being a key step in the carbon budgeting process.

Earlier this year, the Oireachtas adopted a series of legally binding carbon budgets, the first of which is set at 295 million tonnes CO2 eq and runs until 2025. Since that milestone, political and media attention has been focussed on an incomplete range of more distant and ill-defined emissions indicators for the year 2030. This distraction from the immediate actions necessary to comply with the carbon budget mechanism serves neither the citizens of the State nor the legal obligations of the Government’s climate legislation.

In recent pronouncements [1], the Government has muddied the waters and misled (whether deliberately or not) the national conversation around climate action by describing their emission indicators for 2030 as ‘sectoral ceilings’ [2]. This is clearly not in line with what the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act defines for that term - there is no ambiguity about this:

‘6C. (1): The Minister shall prepare, within the limits of the carbon budget, the maximum amount of greenhouse gas emissions that are permitted in different sectors of the economy during a budget period (in this Act referred to as a ‘sectoral emissions ceiling’)...’

Dr. Ciara Beausang, Acting Chair of the An Taisce Climate Committee said:

“The question that must be asked is - where is the Government’s statement of sectoral ceilings to stay within a carbon budget of 295 million tonnes CO2 eq over the period 2021-2025? In other words, what is the five-year budget allowance in tonnes for each sector up to 2025?”

The failure to state these amounts is the latest indication that politicians in Ireland are not treating climate breakdown as an emergency, contrary to their declaration over three years ago. We are seeing the can being kicked down the road to avert political tensions and Ministers setting aspirational carbon targets for periods beyond their immediate term of office despite the fact they are required by law to act to meet a legally binding limit for the 2021–2025 carbon budget. 

Similarly, the Act does not support the Government’s decision to postpone the emissions profile of one sector - in this case, the emissions from LULUCF (Land Use Land Use Change and Forestry) to some point in 2024. At the very least, a provisional Land Use sectoral ceiling is required now as part of a full suite of sectoral ceilings to guide immediate and commensurate policy measures.


Moreover, the Act does not allow for the Government to define a substantial amount of “unallocated emissions”, a nebulous separate “sector” that does not exist in EPA carbon accounting, which might better be termed “magical thinking” being dependent on techno-fixes. Precautionary early action to limit high emitting activities is needed now to avoid depending on unknowns that may not materialise. Future technologies were not permitted for individual sectors, a magical emissions ‘black hole’ cannot now be created to offset insufficient sectoral ambition.

Crucially, any failure to stay within the limits of the first five-year budget up to 2025 will be taken from the following five-year budget. Failure to recognise this now by taking appropriate urgent action condemns future decision makers to making radical sectoral cuts in areas such as agriculture and transport that will be even more unpalatable than those they are procrastinating on today. 

Dr. Beausang continued:

“In the coming weeks, the Government will approve a financial budget, with monetary limits for each Department and Minister. Even though a carbon budget was agreed in February, no sectoral emission limits have been set. The same departmental discipline is required for both budgetary processes. How can the Government have confidence that the carbon budget will be met without the limited available emissions being allocated between departments?”

As part of the annually reviewed Climate Action Plan, Ministers are supposed to increase their commitments where the emissions trajectory is not in line with the agreed national budget. Provisional emissions data from the EPA indicates that 2021 emissions increased, so the remaining carbon budget to 2025 is already under serious pressure. 

There is little indication of any reduction in emissions so far in 2022, particularly from the two major sectors (agriculture and transport [3, 4]). A scenario where 2022 emissions were (at best) only in line with 2021 would require that an extraordinary sustained year-on-year decrease of 14% in emissions would be required in each of the next three years in order to stay within the 295 million tonnes CO2 eq budget [5]. In such a situation, emissions in 2025 would need to have fallen by over a third compared with 2022. Is this the scale of cuts that are being actively planned for? Every year of insufficient action necessitates even more stringent cuts for every year after.

We appear to be seeing a set of Government decisions that are at variance with the law they themselves championed through the Dail last year. As stated by An Taisce in the initial response to July’s announcements, these are more than political failures, or failures of leadership; there is a real possibility that the Government’s announcement in July was a legal failure as well [6]. As a matter of urgency to guide societal planning, it is vital that the sectoral budgets be fully aligned with what was signed off on by the Oireachtas this year and are published immediately.


[1] “Government announces sectoral emissions ceilings, setting Ireland on a pathway to turn the tide on climate change”: 

[2] Public letter from  Irish academics to the Government Leaders in relation to the Sectoral Emissions Ceilings process: (Several of the authors serve in an advisory capacity on the An Taisce Climate Committee.)

[3] Fuel Excise Clearances May 2022, CSO: 

[4] “Bovine cattle herd 140,000 head higher on 1 February 2022”, Darren Carty, Irish Farmers Journal, 17th April 2022:

[5] Projected depletion of Irish GHG budget, 2022-2025, calculations published by Prof. Barry McMullin of DCU (who also serves in an advisory capacity on the An Taisce Climate Committee), 19 August 2022: 

[6] “Sectoral Budgets must align with legal requirements”, An Taisce Statement, 29th July 2022.