Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan has agreed tochanges to the Climate Action Bill, which recognise where carbon is removed or stored in agriculture.
This follows Mr Ryan’s acceptance of amendments proposed at committee stage in the Seanad yesterday. The reference agreed to recognises carbon removals by sequestration in farming, including storage of CO2 in soils, hedgerows and forestry.
This will have to be considered in setting five-yearly carbon budgets and legally binding sector limits to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
As well as counting polluting emissions the Government will count “removals”– as in, land-use change that absorbs pollution – when measuring compliance with the carbon budgets and emissions ceilings.
Farmers have claimed their contribution to sequestration is not sufficiently acknowledged in national emissions accounting.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Senators proposed the main amendment and confirmed it emerged from discussions with farming bodies. The key change adds "minus removals" to the definition of a carbon budget.
Stop Climate Chaos environmental group wrote to Senators outlining its concerns that the amendment “threatens to undermine the scientific veracity of the greenhouse gas accounting mechanisms that underpin the carbon budgeting approach”. The amendment “could undermine or further obscure climate action in the agricultural sector”, it added.
Proposing the main amendment, Senator Tim Lombard (FG) said it gives due recognition to carbon sequestration in agriculture and would be seen as an acknowledgement of farming efforts to reduce their carbon footprint and willingness to do more. Having farmers on board was critical, he added, as farming was the only sector that could remove and store carbon.
Independent Senator Alice-Mary Higgins warned of the dangers from blending emission cuts and carbon sequestration figures because of the risk of “double counting”.
Mr Ryan said he wanted to encourage use of carbon sinks, especially in agriculture, and underlined the amendment “does not remove the need to reduce emissions”.
He underlined the sector would have to reduce its methane, nitrous oxide and ammonia emissions as well as sequestration and use of carbon sinks.
The sector could not pursue expansion in production with more chemical fertiliser use and slurry, “where land and water quality take the hit”, he warned.
There was “huge income potential” for farmers in rewetting land, bringing back biodiversity and storing carbon, he said.
Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) president Tim Cullinan welcomed the carbon budget amendments, saying the organisation had lobbeyed intensively for three amendments to the Bill which were accepted.
Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan said he was concerned the amendments to count removals as well as emissions in carbon budgeting process “will encourage the IFA to continue to mislead its members on climate action”.
“Polluting emissions from agriculture have to start coming down.”