€1.5 billion climate package for agriculture aims to soften blow of emissions reduction targets

Scheme encouraging more environmentally friendly practices to target 50,000 farmers who could earn up to €10,500 each

The Government is to approve an agri-environment package worth €1.5 billion just weeks before climate change targets requiring dramatic reductions in emissions from the sector are announced.

The scheme is to be set out after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and Ministers of State Pippa Hackett and Martin Heydon. It will target 50,000 farmers who could earn up to €10,500 each under the scheme, which will encourage more environmentally friendly practices including reduced fertiliser use, more growth of clover and multi-species grass, and changes that will encourage more biodiversity on farms.

The scheme is to be run as part of the next round of the Common Agriculture Policy, between 2023 and 2027, and is viewed as a measure designed to “soften the blow” of the impact that the need for a 22 per cent reduction in agriculture emissions will have.

It was confirmed on Monday that the Government is to decide before the summer Dáil recess on the specific reductions to be sought in each sector as it aims to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Senior sources said the details of the emissions ceiling for the sectors – agriculture, heating, transport, electricity and land use – will have been identified by mid-July.

The Government has already given upper and lower bands for each sector but has been working out the specifics required. For example, the requirement for electricity is a reduction of between 40 and 50 per cent.

Proposals for the agriculture sector have drawn the most controversy, despite it being asked to make the smallest contribution. Agriculture accounts for a third of emissions in the State but will be asked for reductions between 22 and 30 per cent. Government sources expect the sector will be permitted to reduce emissions close to the lowest allowable level, resulting in other sectors being asked for deeper cuts.

In a letter to the Taoiseach last week, Irish Farmer’s Association (IFA) president Tim Cullinan wrote that the 22 per cent target was highly challenging but “potentially achievable”. He argued that the Government could not arbitrarily impose higher targets without fair and detailed consultation with the IFA.

In the run-up to the final decision there will be a series of high-level meetings between Minister for the Environment and Climate Change Eamon Ryan and Mr McConalogue to decide on targets and what measures will be taken. The first of those meetings is scheduled to take place on Tuesday.

If the agriculture target is to remain close to the lower band, it is likely that transport emissions will have to be cut to the upper end, meaning an 80 per cent reduction on 2018 levels will be needed by 2030. To achieve the intermediate target of the first carbon budget, which runs to 2025, this would require up to 700,000 fewer petrol and diesel cars on the road by the end of 2025. This seems a highly ambitious target given there are only about 50,000 electric vehicles on the State’s roads at present.

It was confirmed on Monday that the aggregate emissions from all sectors for the first carbon budget will have to total 295 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. That will require an average of 4.8 per reduction in emissions in each year between 2021 and 2025. However, emissions increased last year and look likely not to fall this year, meaning the requirement for the final three years will be above 5 per cent annually.