"Business-as-usual scenarios" are not enough to safeguard Ireland's reputation as a food producer "with a low environmental footprint", an Oireachtas committee has heard.

"The outlook is not optimistic unless we accelerate action", the Environmental Protection Agency said this afternoon.

The Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action is considering the reduction in carbon emissions of 51% by 2030 to which the Government has committed.

Sharon Finegan, Director of Environmental Sustainability at the Environmental Protection Agency, said that any move on greenhouse gases must also consider "the negative trends in relation to water quality, ammonia emissions and biodiversity," adding that the evidence shows these trends are being driven by agricultural practices.

She called for "a significant step-change in what is done" in all sectors, including agriculture, and suggested "that direct payments [to farmers under CAP] be linked to land use" to "encourage increased ambition".

While the pandemic has seen a reduction in transport emissions, immediate action is needed to prevent a surge as restrictions are lifted, Ms Finnegan said.

"We have to see the evidence" that the measures in the Climate Action Plan will deliver the desired results, she added.

Stephen Treacy, a senior manager at the EPA, said that dairy cattle are now producing 3% more methane per animal than they were a decade ago, and cautioned that hopes for what a stabilisation of the national herd might achieve must factor this in.