September 19, 2023

Agriculture sector’s contribution divides climate change groups

The government’s proposed carbon budgets for the next decade received a significant boost after a wide range of civil society groups said they would not oppose its targets.

Five groups representing a wide range of society – the IFA, Chambers of Commerce, Environmental Pillar, Irish Social Justice and ICTU – appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Change on Thursday to address the carbon budgets recommended by the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC).

When committee chair Brian Leddin specifically asked each if they supported or opposed the proposed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over the next ten years, none of the five objected.

The CCAC has recommended a 4.8% reduction per year in emissions between 2021 and 2025 and a much larger reduction of 8.3% per year in the second carbon budget between 2025 and 2030.

Their response contrasts with that of independent scientists who appeared before the committee the day before and argued that the cuts did not go far enough.

There were strong differences between the groups on how the burden should be shared across sectors. The IFA argued that agriculture should contribute no more than the lower figure in its range, a reduction of 22% (or an average of 2.2% per year) from 30%.

Other groups such as Social Justice Ireland and Environmental Pillar argued otherwise, with the latter saying it was not enthusiastic about the bulk of the cuts being delayed until the second half of the decade.

In his opening statement, Brian Rushe of the IFA argued that most Irish farms were not intensively stocked, cattle numbers had been stable for 30 years and a third of the land was farmed in under agri-environmental programs.

Minimum reduction

“It is vital that the minimum reduction target of 22% is attributed to agriculture, given the economic and social importance of the sector, the technical challenges to reduce emissions as well as the time required for adoption. “

The association argued that anything above 22 percent would have a substantial negative impact on the sector.

Another IFA official, Geraldine O’Sullivan, said in 2018 Ireland ranked 23rd out of 27 EU countries for producing renewable energy from agriculture, not producing only 2.6% against an average of 12%.

“Farmers want to be central players in Ireland’s energy transition. They recognize the opportunities offered by renewable energy to produce energy for their own use but also to diversify their agricultural income,” she said.

In contrast, the environmental pillar argued that all sectors (including agriculture) must do their fair share.

“Only if we reach the upper bands of each sectoral reduction target will we achieve the binding overall reduction of 51%,” said Oisín Coghlan.

Andrew St Ledger of the environmental pillar has also been highly critical of Coillte and the government on forestry. Afforestation levels were now the lowest since the 1930s, he said, and described Coillte as too focused on industrial forestry and “misfit for purpose”.

“The creation of Coillte Nature does not go far enough for the radical reform needed in our opinion and looks like a facade,” Mr St Ledger said.

Social Justice Ireland has also criticized the lack of coherence in agricultural policy. In her paper, Michelle Murphy and Dr Seán Healy argued that Irish dairy farms produce up to three times more greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions than other agricultural sectors, but the government has planned that the dairy sector should continue to develop.

“Increasing herd sizes on dairy farms undermine any gains from more efficient and sustainable farming practices,” he said.

Elsewhere, SJI said the transition is not just about reducing emissions, but about transforming society and the economy.

“Social investment must be a top transition priority, because it is this social investment that will support these people, communities, sectors and regions as we make the difficult transition.”

He added that revenues from carbon taxes should be directed to those people in society who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Chambers Ireland said it was generally supportive of the carbon budgeting proposal, saying it was a useful tool to ensure the development of appropriate public policy, if used appropriately.