Ireland’s government agrees on climate bill to set 2050 net zero goal in law

The bill would commit Ireland to cut emissions 51% between 2018 and 2030, raising tough questions about the future of cattle farming

Ireland's government coalition led by Micheál Martin has approved a climate bill that puts the country on track to net zero by 2050.


Ireland’s coalition government has approved a climate bill that enshrines emissions reduction targets in law and puts the country on a path to carbon neutrality by 2050. 

The proposed law would commit Ireland to cutting its emissions by 51% between 2018 and 2030 and to net zero no later than 2050. Government is pushing it through parliament as priority legislation.

The country’s environment minister Eamon Ryan previously said Ireland would match EU emissions targets. EU environment ministers continue to push for a 2030 reduction target of at least 55% from 1990 levels.

Ireland’s 2030 goal works out at a 45% reduction if the baseline is set t0 1990, according to campaign group Friends of the Irish Environment.

Ireland formed a three-party coalition government in June, including the Republican party Fianna Fáil, the more liberal Fine Gael party and the Green Party. The coalition agreed to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by an average 7% per year, in line with Paris Agreement commitments. 

The bill was first presented in December to the country’s committee on climate action, which suggested 78 recommendations to the draft legislation after hearing expert testimony. The strengthened bill was approved by the coalition this week. 

The new law will require the government to adopt a series of five-year carbon budgets across all sectors over the next 15 years. Ministers will be required to appear before a climate committee each year to report on how individual sectors have performed. Ireland will introduce its first carbon budget later this year.

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Sectors such as transport and agriculture will require significant reform if they are to halve their emissions by 2030. Agriculture accounts for 33% of Ireland’s carbon emissions and is especially challenging to reform given the high methane output of livestock farming. 

Micheál Martin, Ireland’s prime minister, or Taoiseach, warned this week that “there will be difficult annual phases of engagement with different stakeholders”. 

“But by hard-wiring it into legislation we do create an added imperative to drive change”, Martin said.

One contentious issue is the scale of beef and dairy farming.

Green leader and environment minister Eamon Ryan said that farmers would play an important role in the transition to net zero, adding there would be fewer cattle in future but farmers would earn more for their product.

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However, Martin said his focus was on “stabilising the herd number” rather than reducing it. Ireland’s deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar said it would be difficult to lower emissions without reducing the size of the herd.

Climate groups welcomed the approval of the new bill, describing the proposed legislation as a “historic moment” for Irish climate action. 

“This climate bill is a big step in the right direction. The first draft had too many loopholes. Now, the targets are tighter, the duty to act is stronger, and the language is clearer,” Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan said. 

Last year the Irish Supreme Court ruled that the government’s emissions mitigation strategy fell “well short” of what was needed to meet the country’s climate commitments and ordered it to draw up a more ambitious plan

Read more on: Agriculture | EU | Net zero |