IFA blames Gormley deal for potential fines worth millions

Environment chairman says Green Party signed up to bad climate agreement in government

The Government must introduce “a climate activation programme” across key sectors, including agriculture, or risk massive climate fines, according to the Irish Farmers’ Association.

Data published by the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday showed that agriculture emissions rose by 2.7 per cent in 2016. The sector remains the largest contributor to the State’s carbon footprint.

Speaking after the publication, the IFA blamed the Green Party for signing up to a bad deal on climate commitments when in government from 2007-2011.

IFA environment chairman Thomas Cooney said it was "now clearer than ever that the bad climate deal done by former environment minister and Green Party leader John Gormley will result in Ireland having to pay millions of euro of fines for breaching its renewable-energy and climate obligations".

The money likely to have to be spent in EU fines should be re-directed and diverted into the activation programme, he said.

Mr Cooney said a biomass development scheme to displace electricity generated from peat and coal would eliminate 64 per cent of greenhouse gasses created when generating electricity.

The re-opening of the “Green Low Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme” would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an additional 65,000 tonnes each year, he predicted.

The announcement of “a zero carbon electricity tariff” for community-based renewable energy projects should be used over time to displace electricity production from gas, which accounts for 35 per cent of greenhouse gases emitted when generating electricity, Mr Cooney said.

‘Prosumer strategy’

This was part of IFA’s recent call for a €100 million “prosumer strategy”, which ring-fences 20 per cent of the public service obligation levy paid by homeowners “to encourage homeowners and farm families to replace their fossil fuels with renewable sources”, such as roof-top solar and other micro-generation of energy options.

The scaling up of on-farm emission-reduction programmes identified in the Government’s National Mitigation Plan, would be possible through expansion of “Smart Farming; Origin Green and the Carbon Navigator” schemes.

There should also be a full review by the Department of Agriculture’s forest services division of the new forestry programme and a commitment to remove all barriers, he said, as planting is down 14 per cent year-on-year. Forestry is an important “carbon sink” for capturing CO2 emissions.

“Agriculture remains the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland, reflecting the importance of the sector to the national economy, with over 300,000 employed directly and indirectly in Ireland’s largest indigenous sector. However, we produce our food sustainably and know we can do more,” Mr Cooney said.

He added the climate activation programme as proposed had the potential to boost the rural economy, especially in promoting diversification of enterprises and new approaches to energy use.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan called on the Government to get serious about reversing emissions output: "The scale of the climate change challenge facing us is growing by the day. While we are committing to cutting greenhouse gases in the Paris Agreement, the reality is that our climate emissions are once again on the rise," he said.

The Government said it wanted to make the change to a cleaner economy but they were doing nothing to make that switch happen, he said.

“Our transport emissions are rising fast because we are not funding public transport, cycling and walking. In our energy policy we are continuing to burn coal and peat as if there is no tomorrow. This is going to have to change. We cannot sign up to a green future on the international stage and keep burning everything here at home.”

He added: “The EPA is like Cassandra, fated to be ignored by the Government. Every year it records our emissions increasing when we promised to reduce them... Meanwhile, the Government continues to avoid actions to transition to a low-carbon economy, as they are legally required to do. Instead, to our national embarrassment, their efforts are going into trying to avoid fair targets for 2030.”

Cliona Sharkey, policy adviser for the development agency Trócaire, said the charity was deeply concerned by confirmation that Ireland’s emissions continue to increase, despite clear warnings of the implications.

“Climate change is already having devastating impacts in the poorest parts of the world – affecting those who have done least to cause it,” she said.

Increasingly unpredictable rainfall was eroding communities’ capacity to grow food and earn a basic living, and lives were being wiped out by increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events, Ms Sharkey added.

“If we are to have any chance of turning today’s worrying results around we need to see fair and ambitious climate action policies put in place now.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times