The Government’s proposed carbon budgets for the next decade has received a significant boost after a broad range of civil society groups have said they would not oppose its targets.
Five groups representing a wide cross-section of society - the IFA, Chambers of Commerce, the Environmental Pillar, Social Justice Ireland, and ICTU- appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Change on Thursday to respond to the carbon budgets recommended by the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC).
When each was specifically asked by Committee chair Brian Leddin if they supported or opposed the proposed reductions of greenhouse emissions over the next ten years, none of the five opposed it.
The CCAC has recommended a 4.8 per cent per annum drop in emissions between 2021 and 2025 and a much steeper 8.3 per cent per annum reduction in the second carbon budget between 2025 and 2030.
Their response contrasted to independent scientists who appeared before the committee the previous day and argued that the reductions did not go far enough.
There were sharp differences between the groups on how the burden should be shared between sectors. The IFA argued that farming should contribute no more than the lowest figure of its range which was a 22 per cent reduction (or an average of 2.2 per cent per annum) as opposed to 30 per cent.
Other groups such as Social Justice Ireland and the Environmental Pillar argued the opposite, with the latter saying it was not enthusiastic about the bulk of the reductions being back-loaded to the second half of the decade.
In his opening statement, Brian Rushe of the IFA argued that most Irish farms were not intensively stocked, that the livestock numbers had remained static over 30 years, and that a third of land was farmed under agri-environmental schemes.
“It is vital that the minimum reduction target of 22 per cent is attributed to agriculture, in recognition of the economic and social importance of the sector, the technical challenges to reduce emissions as well as the timeframe required for adoption.”
The association argued that anything above 22 per cent would have a substantial negative impact on the sector.
Another IFA official, Geraldine O’Sullivan said that in 2018, Ireland ranked 23rd out the 27 EU countries for generation of renewable energy from agriculture, producing just 2.6 per cent compared with the average of 12 per cent.
“Farmers want to be central players in Ireland’s energy transition. They recognise the opportunities offered by renewable energy to produce energy for their own use but also to diversify their farm income,” she said.
In contrast, the Environmental Pillar argued that all sectors (including farming) need to do its fair share.
“Only if we achieve the upper ranges of every sectoral reduction target will we meet the overall binding 51 per cent reduction,” said Oisín Coghlan.
The Environmental Pillar’s Andrew St Ledger was also highly critical of Coillte and the Government on forestry. Afforestation levels were now the lowest since the 1930s, he said and portrayed Coillte as a company which was too geared towards industrial forestry, and as “not fit for purpose”.
“The creation of Coillte Nature does not go far enough for the root and branch reform needed in our opinion and looks like window dressing,” said Mr St Ledger.
Social Justice Ireland was also critical of a lack of coherence in agricultural policy. In its submission Michelle Murphy and Dr Seán Healy argued that Irish dairy farms produce up to three times more greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions than other farming sectors yet the dairy sector has been earmarked by the Government for continued expansion.
“Increases in herd sizes on dairy farms are undermining any gains from more efficient and sustainable farming practices,” it said.
Elsewhere SJI said that transition was not just about reducing emissions but also about transforming society and the economy.
“Social investment must be a top priority of transition because it is this social investment that will support those people, communities, sectors and regions as we make the difficult transition.”
It added that income from carbon taxes should be geared towards those people in society most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
Chambers Ireland said it was generally supportive of the Carbon Budgeting proposal saying it was a useful tool for ensuring appropriate public policy making, if used appropriately.