The Social Democrats have described the agreement between the Government parties to target a 25% reduction in agriculture sector emissions by 2030 as "a dishonest deal", while a network of environmental groups has said it fails to meet "the existential crisis of our age".

Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore, the party's climate spokesperson, told Prime Time that the deal demonstrated "a complete lack of leadership" by the Government, suggesting it was "not capable of making the tough decisions when it comes to our climate challenge".

Ms Whitmore noted that the Government had received independent advice that emissions from the sector needed to fall by 30% in order for Ireland to meet its climate commitments.

"They did not listen to it and, instead, they listened to some very loud voices in a sector that really needs to be reformed in order to meet these targets," she said.

Speaking on behalf of the Environmental Pillar, Elaine McGoff, an Taisce’s spokesperson on the natural environment, said that the 30% emissions reduction earmarked for agriculture last year was already a concession, and described Thursday’s deal as "a further concession on a concession".

"It's made things very much more difficult for sectors like transport and energy", she said.

"We're going to see cars having to be put off the road, increasing costs to householders. It's going to be a much bigger challenge than we are already facing."

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) figures from 2021, released earlier this week, show that Ireland is already on the back foot when it comes to emissions targets.

When they should be going down, emissions rose by almost 5% last year. Energy emissions increased by 17.6%, while transport emissions climbed by 6.1%.

The increases come down to three things: coal, cows and fertiliser.

But the EPA report pointed out that more coal was used in electricity generation because Ireland’s renewable energy depends on wind and rainfall, and there was less of both last year.

Agriculture continues to be the largest emitter, and it rose by a further 3.1% last year.

Ms McGoff said that the evidence pointed to the need for "a reduction in the amount of fertiliser and a reduction in the amount of cows".

She noted that this would also have a positive impact on other environmental indicators, such as water pollution.

While Ms McGoff noted that "all roads lead to a herd reduction", she said that farmers could not be left "high and dry".

"Farmers have invested in their herd, they've invested in dairy, so we need a just transition," she said.

Thursday’s agreement will see supports for farmers to make a transition, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said.

He said that the 25% target for emissions reductions would be a "very challenging but ultimately achievable ambition for the sector".

But both the Social Democrats and the Environmental Pillar queried whether the 25% target could be met, given current Government policy.

"This is actually a dishonest deal for the agricultural community", Ms Whitmore said.

"We have targets for 2030. I think it is going to be absolutely impossible for the other sectors to do more than what we're already asking them to do. And I think it will actually come back to agriculture to make up emission reductions coming up to the 2030 target."

Ms McGoff said the only way the 25% target would be met was if the Government recognised that its policy to date has been a failure for the environment.

"Agricultural policy since the lifting of the dairy quotas has driven all of our environmental indicators off a cliff", she said.

"To date, the Government has been telling them to expand, to go into livestock, to intensify their dairy enterprises. But now we have realised that there are significant environmental impacts of that."

"The Government are asking them to pivot and to move away from that, but without giving them clear alternatives. Farmers are currently looking into a void," she said.