Cutting national herd to reduce emissions a ‘lazy narrative’, says IFA

Farmers’ group criticise comments from senior civil servant on climate action plan

Proposals to cut the national agriculture herd to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was a ‘lazy narrative’ the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Proposals to cut the national agriculture herd to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was a ‘lazy narrative’ the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Proposals to cut the national agriculture herd to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was a “lazy narrative” based on “flawed” calculations, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said.

The farmers’ group was responding to reports in The Irish Times that Robert Watt, Department of Public Expenditure secretary general, proposed cutting the national herd by five per cent as part of the Government’s climate action plan.

Tim Cullinan, IFA president, said there was an “obsession amongst some” to reduce the national cattle herd. “It’s also now clear the way methane from bovines is being accounted for in the climate figures is inappropriate,” he said.

“People need to stop making superficial policy proposals based on calculations that we know are flawed, just to appease a political ideology,” Mr Cullinan said.

Cutting the national herd to reduce emissions was a “lazy narrative,” and Ireland was one of the “most carbon efficient countries in the world to produce food,” he said.

In a stark April 16th 2019 letter, Mr Watt said several key targets in the Government’s climate action plan were “not credible” and it should cut the national farming herd rather than “ignoring” agriculture emissions.

The Government’s plan launched last June included a range of ambitious targets, to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Mr Watt said given agriculture accounted for a large portion of emissions the plan should include a “negligible” five per cent cut in herd numbers.

“Ignoring agriculture increases the costs for other sectors and for the economy as a whole,” Mr Watt said.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney defended the plan on Tuesday and insisted it did not ignore emissions in the agriculture sector.

“We have already committed to quite significant reductions in emissions ... We need to do it in a way that keeps farm families in business,” he said.

“Robert Watt can say what he wants to say, but the Government will make decisions,” Mr Coveney told RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke show.

However, Mr Coveney said the business model for many farmers needed to change. “We need to reshape agriculture in a way that ensures that it is profitable,” he said.

The letter from Mr Watt was obtained by Green Party Dún Laoghaire Rathdown councillor Séafra Ó Faoláin, via an Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) request.

Mr Ó Faoláin said questions raised over the climate plan’s credibility meant commitments in government formation talks “must be concrete and irrevocable,” as targets were “useless without appropriate policies to achieve them.”

The Green Party is to begin formal coalition talks with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on Thursday. The membership of all three parties will be asked to approve any final deal if one is negotiated.

Lorna Bogue, Green Party councillor for Cork city, said the high-level concerns over the climate plan targets were “unsettling” and added to fears Fine Gael could “not be trusted” to keep commitments.

“If we’re going to destroy the party again, what are we going to get from it, at the moment it doesn’t look like much,” she said.