Ireland among three EU states to record increase in agricultural emissions

EU’s €100 billion CAP spending fails to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, report finds

The report examined efforts by member states to reduce emissions from three key sources: livestock, chemical fertilisers and manure, and land use.  Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

The report examined efforts by member states to reduce emissions from three key sources: livestock, chemical fertilisers and manure, and land use. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

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Ireland is one of just three EU member states to record an increase in greenhouse gas emissions from livestock over the past seven years and is one of the highest emitters per hectare of agricultural land.

The findings are contained in a report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA), which examined efforts to reduce emissions from agriculture.

It found that despite more than €100 billion being spent on climate mitigation measures via the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), emissions from agricultural activity across the bloc are continuing to rise.

This is because most measures supported by the CAP have a low climate-mitigation potential and did not incentivise the use of effective climate-friendly practices, it said.

The report singles out Ireland as one of only a few countries that is falling further behind its emissions reduction targets under the EU’s effort sharing legislation.

It had signed up to cut overall emissions by 20 per cent – on 2005 levels – by 2020, but ended up reducing them by just 10 per cent. It noted that the gap between Ireland’s 2019 levels and its 2030 target is now even wider.

The report examined efforts by member states to reduce emissions from three key sources: livestock, chemical fertilisers and manure, and land use.

Livestock emissions represent around half of emissions from agriculture and have not decreased on an EU-wide basis since 2010.

For most member states, livestock emissions are unchanged, the report said. Only Greece, Croatia and Lithuania showed significant emissions reductions between 2010 and 2018 and largely as a result of reductions to their dairy herds rather than CAP-targeted mitigation policies. Ireland, Hungary and Poland, on the other hand, have seen substantial emissions increases, the report said.

Peatland conservation

Ireland’s dairy herd is almost 30 per cent larger than it was before the ending of EU milk quotas in 2015, while the island’s milk pool is close to double what it was before the ending of quotas.

The report noted that as of 2020, Ireland was one of four countries to obtain a derogation from the EU Nitrates Directive on the limit of applied manure but was among the highest greenhouse gas emitters per hectare of utilised agricultural land.

On a positive note, the report highlighted that Ireland was one of several member states to promote peatland conservation through the CAP.

The Government’s Climate Action Bill enshrines emissions reduction targets in law, and puts the State on a path to carbon neutrality by 2050. This will involve strict and binding targets for reducing agricultural emissions, which account for 34 per cent of total emissions here, the highest on a per capita basis of any EU member state.

“It is difficult to reach goals for reducing greenhouse emissions when the CAP does not incentivise the use of effective climate-friendly practices,” said Tony Murphy, the Irish member of the ECA .

“Combined with an increase in a demand for animal products, it is important that the new CAP will need to be more focused in effective climate mitigation measures,” he said.