Call for radical change in farming methods to tackle climate challenge

Ireland ‘will miss 2020 targets and is set to miss 2030 and 2050 targets’, committee told

There is a need to fundamentally change the model of agricultural production in Ireland as a consequence of climate change and the scale of carbon emissions arising within the sector, an Oireachtas Committee has been told.

Prof John Sweeney of Maynooth University said agriculture was generating 19 million tons of CO2 a year, an extra million cattle had been produced on Irish farms over the past three years and Teagasc was predicting agricultural emissions would increase up to 2025. The consequence of this would push the burden of decarbonising onto the Irish taxpayer, he predicted.

While he fully acknowledged efficiencies being achieved on Irish farms, he feared there was a mixing up of agricultural efficiency with emissions, Prof Sweeney told the Communications, Climate Action and Environment Committee.

The committee is reviewing Ireland’s progress on reducing carbon emissions and in adopting renewable energy based on EU commitments. Prof John FitzGerald chairman of the Government’s Climate Change Advisory Council said Ireland was heading rapidly in the wrong direction; so much that it would miss not only its 2020 targets, but also those for 2030 and 2050. Broad all-party support would be needed in the Oireachtas if the scale of action now required was to happen, he said.

Irish Farmers’ Association president Joe Healy also addressed the committee on Tuesday, saying farmers could help to deliver on Ireland’s renewable and climate targets if there was clarity on policy and the right kind of supports.

Already, Irish dairying was the most carbon-efficient in Europe, while beef production was the top-five globally in that regard, he said.

He added there were tangible ways in which farmers could help Ireland meet its renewable and climate targets, including renewable energy projects, afforestation, and the use of biomass – or organic matter as fuel.

“Ireland has a responsibility to act to address climate change, and within this context, agriculture has an important role to play – while respecting the need to safeguard food production.”

He accepted farmers could do more, and renewed his call for a “climate activation programme” for the sector to be put in place. “Funding for the programme could be diverted from Ireland’s potential compliance bill of up to €610 million for breaching 2020 renewable-energy and emissions targets.” Currently, credits from carbon sinks were not attributed to agriculture in the calculation of emissions, Mr Healy said. Reductions achieved through natural carbon sinks, such as forests and permanent pastures, must be included in the overall measurement of the contribution of the agriculture sector to emission reductions, he added.

To date development of the bioenergy sector has been thwarted by lack of supports to stimulate market development or a plan to give a strategic focus to the sector. “We welcome the renewable heat support scheme to be introduced this year, but this must be properly funded and embedded in the local economy to create new revenue streams for farmers and valuable new job and business opportunities in rural areas.”

Community renewable projects had been a goal of Government, since 2015. “We have seen large developers, foreign equity funds pension funds and venture capital sign up large areas of Irish farm land. What we have not seen is clear Government policy to deliver on the ambition of community renewable projects,” Mr Healy said.

‘Brexit approach’

Politicians should adopt a Brexit approach to climate change, suggested Oisín Coghlan of Friends of the Earth. “Politicians should approach climate change like they approach Brexit: an external threat that is only beginning and will unfold over years and decades, that poses risks to all parts of Irish society, that requires action now from all sectors of the economy, coordination across all Government departments and political leadership from the Taoiseach on down, working with all parties in the Dáil.”

As with Brexit, “the sooner we act, the more we prepare, the better off we will be, and there could even be opportunities for Ireland in the transition to a climate safe future”, he added.

Mr Coghlan said the Citizen’s Assembly recommendations on climate change should treated with the same seriousness as its recommendations on the Eighth Amendment. “An all-party committee should consider them and report to the Oireachtas and the Government before the summer recess.”

The National Mitigation Plan was not fit for purpose and Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten, who has described it as “a living document”, should immediately begin the formal process to revise it in light of advice from the EPA and the Climate Change Advisory Council, Mr Coughlan said. Budget 2019 was an opportunity to look a significant increase in the carbon tax offset by decreases in other taxes, he added.

Committee member Deputy Timmy Dooley (FF) said Ireland was facing a crisis arising from the inability of the Oireachtas and the Government to address climate change. “During the financial crisis, we took really tough decisions. Some people suffered electorally but it was the right thing to do. With climate change there’s a crisis of equal proportion,” he said.

He added there were tangible ways in which farmers could help Ireland meet its renewable and climate targets, including renewable energy projects, afforestation, and the use of biomass – or organic matter as fuel.

“Ireland has a responsibility to act to address climate change, and within this context, agriculture has an important role to play – while respecting the need to safeguard food production.”

Reference list: Kevin O’Sullivan. 2018. Retrieved from  https://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/call-for-radical-change-in-farming-methods-to-tackle-climate-challenge-1.3374933

 

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