IFA rails against being ‘scapegoated’ over climate change

Industry rejects need for quotas, cuts in livestock numbers and carbon tax increases

Minister for Climate Action John Bruton said the sector had a long way to go to reduce its carbon footprint. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Minister for Climate Action John Bruton said the sector had a long way to go to reduce its carbon footprint. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has committed to contributing to the national effort to decarbonise Ireland but rejects any imposition of quotas, cuts in livestock numbers and increases in carbon tax.

In a frank exchange with Minister for Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton at the IFA annual general meeting on Wednesday, president Joe Healy said the sector was being unfairly singled out in response to climate change.

Mr Bruton said there was no justification for that view. He defended the effectiveness of carbon taxes in changing polluting behaviours, and confirmed there would be sectoral targets introduced to anchor new policies and to ensure progress could be evaluated.

These would be outlined over coming months, coinciding with a Government report on scaling up the response of every sector of the economy – in a scenario where emissions from transport, agriculture and industry were continuing to rise.

The Minister acknowledged carbon efficiencies being achieved in beef and dairy . But he said the sector was a long way from reducing its carbon footprint by adopting more widespread measures and ensuring transparency on what was being achieved.

There was a “business as usual” gap of 55 million tonnes of CO2 which, over the period up to 2030, would result in a €5.5 billion fine for Ireland. The “step-up” plan had to achieve reductions across all sectors by 2025. He disagreed with “trying to create a sense that agriculture is being unfairly burdened by others who are not pulling their weight ... We are all in this together.”

He did not want to see the issue portrayed as agriculture versus industry, or rural areas versus urban areas.

Farmers ‘get it’

Mr Healy accepted the challenge “is not optional for any of us who are serious about the long-term future of farming for ourselves and the next generation. Although not always recognised, farmers get it and we are engaged when it comes to climate policy.”

He listed out areas where farmers were reducing carbon, changing the way they farmed to be sustainable and outperforming competitors in minimising carbon. “We are the only country in the world that measures, monitors and manages carbon from farm to fork.”

The IFA leader said that if Government was serious about addressing climate change and empowering farmers to participate, it should not force a farmer out of an enterprise. “It should be about creating economically and environmentally sustainable options for farmers to increase their incomes or reduce costs.”

The carrot was better than the stick, Mr Healy said. “That is why IFA remains to be convinced regarding the proposal to introduce further carbon taxes, given that climate emissions have increased since the existing carbon tax was introduced in 2010.

“I need to be crystal-clear: IFA will strongly oppose any carbon tax, which targets Ireland’s sustainable model of food production.”

Teagasc’s 2018 blueprint, containing 27 measures to reduce emissions, required “interdepartmental and inter-State agency co-ordination” led by the Taoiseach, Mr Healy said.

Mr Bruton said he regarded the Teagasc document as “a potential, not a plan” on saving nine million tonnes of carbon a year.

‘Unjustifiable scapegoat’

Mr Healy cited a Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland report on the most cost-effective measures to achieve the best climate outcomes published over a decade ago. “These proposals do not include a cull of our important suckler herd, and IFA will continue to oppose any talk of this.”

Measures on lighting, energy efficiency and better buildings were sensible proposals that all could buy in to, he said. Policy inaction by successive governments had resulted in Ireland being accused of being a climate laggard “and sectors like agriculture being an unjustifiable scapegoat for climate inaction by other sectors”.

Mr Healy singled out transport, where emissions had spiralled out of control, increasing 133 per cent since 1990. On energy, he noted the burning of coal to generate electricity contributed almost 30 per cent of climate pollution from electricity in Ireland. “This is unsustainable and avoidable.”

Many farmers “stand ready to deliver an alternative biomass crop to coal, once the right measures are put in place this round”.

Mr Bruton said his role was to ensure Ireland was competitive in a decarbonised world. “If we don’t find the paths, we will fail. I am not trying to solve a problem at the expense of agriculture.”