Farmers could receive carbon storage payment under land use plans – Ryan

Ireland could play ‘catalytic role’ in helping countries decarbonise, EPA conference told

Minister for the Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan. File photograph: The Irish Times

Minister for the Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

With changes to Irish land use coming down the tracks, farmers could soon receive “a carbon storage payment” for capturing emissions on their holdings, Minister for the Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan has confirmed.

Central to the programme for government was a multi-layered land use plan including rewarding farmers for capturing carbon in their land and restoring biodiversity at the same time, he told the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2021 climate change conference.

This would also require addressing water quality issues; rewetting bogs, changing grassland management to include mixed swards, reducing nitrogen-based fertilisers and ensuring farms were better able to cope with inevitable climate impacts, said Mr Ryan.

He accepted farming would not have the same level of carbon reduction targets as other sectors. Energy including power generation would achieve “faster, larger reductions”, while reducing transport emissions may prove to be more challenging because long-settling patterns of daily lives and investment decisions up to now on housing.

Between 2016 and 2020, a third of almost 26,000 new homes built in Ireland were one-off homes in the countryside that depend heavily on car-based transport and individual fossil fuel heating systems, planning regulator Niall Cussen told the conference.

EPA director general Laura Burke said Ireland could not achieve its climate targets without the agriculture sector delivering its contribution. While farming was part of our national identity, “the data shows that policy-driven economic growth in the sector . . . is happening at the expense of the environment”.

This meant greenhouse gas (GHG) and air emissions, water quality and biodiversity were “all going in the wrong direction”, which meant Ireland’s reputation as a food producer with a low environmental footprint was at risk of being irreversibly damaged.

Prof Myles Allen of Oxford University said overhauling methane accounting methods was required, while recognising the gas mainly associated with agriculture was different to other GHGs and reducing it could make a big contribution to reducing global warming.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “pretend methane is equivalent to CO2” yet “a 1 tonne removal of methane was worth a whole lot of avoided CO2” in terms of temperature impact. Cutting methane would ensure more significant and quicker reductions in warming, he said.

Farmers should be rewarded for their contribution to reducing temperature impact, but he noted if they move to forestry they are rewarded with payments but receive no reward for reducing animal numbers or inputs.

Asked why Ireland should do anything about climate change given it is so small, Prof Allen noted if the average person around the world was Irish, “we would already be at 3 degrees” of warming. That was an argument for Ireland doing more, he added.

As a climate leader globally, Ireland could also play “a crucial catalytic role” in helping other countries to decarbonise, he believed, and should put down a marker by classifying its CO2, methane and nitrous oxide emissions separately. This would show exactly where warming effects were arising, and lead to better performance in reducing GHGs.