Increasing use of groundwater for irrigation is linked to high energy demand, depleting resources and resulting in a high carbon footprint. This paper explores how improved on-farm irrigation management can help in reducing groundwater extraction, limiting energy consumption and CO2 emissions. In Pakistan, every year about 50 billion cubic metres (BCM) of groundwater is pumped for irrigation, which consumes more than 6 billion kWh of electricity and 3.5 billion litres of diesel. Carbon emissions attributed to this energy use amount to 3.8 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 per year. Considerable research carried out in Pakistan has suggested that improved irrigation management can significantly reduce the irrigation water applied to different crops. This study revealed that by adopting improved irrigation schedules, water productivity will increase and groundwater withdrawals for irrigation can be reduced by 24 BCM. Reduced groundwater extraction will result in a 62% decline in energy demand (1.5 billion litres of diesel as most of the private tubewells run on diesel) and a 40%reduction in carbon emissions. In addition, a reduction in irrigation applications will also be beneficial for stabilizing groundwater tables and groundwater quality. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.