If methane emissions are to be cut in agriculture by only 10 per cent over the next decade – as recommended in a new Irish agri-food sector strategy – the Government will be forced to apply much more demanding cuts on the transport, heat and electricity sectors, according to a leading energy analyst.
A 10 per cent reduction in methane – relative to 2018 – would require reductions of 73 per cent in electricity, heat and transport by 2030 to meet the Government's plan for an overall reduction of Irish emissions of 51 per cent, confirmed Dr Paul Deane of the MaREI centre in University College Cork.
Such drastic cuts, which he believes are almost impossible to achieve at present, would also be necessary to comply with the programme for Government targets and Ireland’s current climate action plan, he pointed out – the Climate Bill is also due to enshrine in law the 51 per cent target.
“The level of reduction in energy would be extraordinarily difficult to achieve in a 10-year timeframe,” Dr Deane said.
While there were many welcome aspects to the draft agri-food strategy to 2030 published this week by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, he said there is no option but to revise upwards the 10 per cent figure – and to have a difficult but sensitive conversation on reducing livestock numbers, while addressing the sustainability issue when it comes to family farms.
There is a need to provide alternatives for livestock farming as there are profitability issues with it at present, while they would need to be sustainable and climate-proofed, he added.
The livestock issue, which is responsible for the bulk of Irish agricultural emissions, has to be faced up to because new technologies or new feed additives are not yet available, he said. The reality is “negative emissions technologies” to capture and store carbon would require more land and as yet were unproven.
The strategy's approach to "carbon farming" is very welcome as it is really needed in Ireland with land currently "a net emitter". While it would involve managing land in a different way, farmers would be rewarded for capturing carbon, and in many ways the country is "already leading the charge in that regard".
Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) President Tim Cullinan said the strategy acknowledged the importance of "the three pillars of sustainability" – economic, environmental and social – with an emphasis on farm viability, but aspects of it would be challenging for farmers.
Referring to environmental NGOs who resigned from the stakeholder committee after claiming it was “full of lofty language about sustainability but the actions aren’t there”, Mr Cullinan said: “Others decided to walk away but it’s IFA’s intention to continue to work hard to influence the outcome so that commercial farming is supported.”
“The draft is a product of over 12 months of discussion. Everyone who stayed around the table had to compromise somewhat in order to allow the document to go out for consultation,” he added.
“This is a far-reaching draft strategy that will be the roadmap for our largest indigenous sector for the next decade. There is a clear commitment in the document to carry out a full impact assessment of the proposals on farmers. Without farmers, we won’t have a wider agri-food sector,” Mr Cullinan said.
Some of the proposed targets are challenging “and cannot be achieved without significant Government funding. I made this clear to the committee,” he underlined.
“Farmers are willing to play their part in climate action, and they must be at the centre of Government policy. They will be looking to the Government to provide support, investment and practical policy measures to allow them continue to produce quality food,” he said.
Common agricultural policy reform discussions are running at EU level in parallel with the agri-strategy, Mr Cullinan said. “They must also have a firm focus on farm incomes, as economic sustainability has to be part of policy decisions.”
The IFA leader reiterated his strong view that analysis of existing carbon sequestration would have to be carried out in advance of other measures. "The discussion around emissions in the sector has to take account of the carbon that is sequestered and stored on farms."