Ireland could be ‘world leader’ in climate smart agriculture

Survey shows that vast majority of experts believe State should take a leadership role

Joseph Curtin of the IIEA pictured speaking at the Leadership From in Climate Smart Agriculture held in the RDS on Thursday. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Joseph Curtin of the IIEA pictured speaking at the Leadership From in Climate Smart Agriculture held in the RDS on Thursday. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Ireland needs to develop its agricultural sector to be climate smart but also economically rewarding to farmers and to food producers, a new group has urged.

The Leadership Forum on Climate Smart Agriculture is a joint initiative between the Royal Dublin Society and the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA).

It held its first session Thursday in the RDS at which it presented the findings of a survey, which suggested Ireland could take a leading role in sustainable farming globally.

The Forum’s is sponsored by two major Irish food and drink sector companies: Glanbia and Diageo.

The online survey assessed attitudes to climate-smart agriculture.

It was confined to interested parties in Ireland and abroad: farmers; food producers; academics; researchers; as well as government and non-government agencies:

About 210 of the 1,540 people who received emailed requests participated in the survey.

The findings showed that an overwhelming majority (95 per cent) though it important reducing greenhouse gas emissions be reduced.

Almost the same number agreed that adaptation measures were important.

At the same time 88 per cent of respondents believed that increasing agriculture productivity and incomes was also important.

The concept of Irish leadership in climate smart agriculture was also strongly supported.

Specifically, the most popular measure listed more efficient use of less-polluting fertilisers; more investment in research; better agricultural land use; and improving biodiversity.

Matt Dempsey, the president of the RDS said the focus on farm incomes, climate resilience and mitigation was a “triple-win at the heart of climate-smart agriculture, future-proofing Irish agriculture for the years to come.”

Like several other speakers Mr Dempsey said while there were risks, the change to better and more efficient practices would be economically beneficial. He said if Ireland faced up to those challenges, it would be better placed to avail of the opportunities.

“Enlightened self-interest a powerful motivating force,” he said.

IIEA director general Tom Arnold said Ireland needed a “serious national conversation on this issue of immense importance to Ireland and the globe.”

He added: “We should be trying to work towards a well-informed policy formation that is economically and environmentally sustainable.”

Ireland is an outlier in Europe in that is emissions from agriculture takes up a much higher proportion of non-trading emissions than other EU States.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has argued that Ireland should be given recognition for the fact that agriculture remains such an important part of the economy and that we produce food more efficiently than others.

He has contended that cutting Irish producing to meet onerous emissions targets would allow the gap to be filled by products from far-less efficient producer countries from elsewhere.

One contributor from the floor said Ireland’s dairy sector is the joint first in terms of efficiency and pro rata emissions in the EU while the beef sector is fifth best.

However, given the centrality of the beef sector to Irish agriculture, Mr Coveney would need to show politically that the State was close to being the most efficient beef producer in the EU in order to win concessions from other Member States.

Joseph Curtin of the IIEA and a member of the Government’s new advisory council on climate change presented the findings of the survey.

He said the results showed an opportunity for Ireland to become a global leader in a way that was economically and environmentally sustainable.

Asked was 210 respondents enough to make the survey authoritative, he responded that the respondents were specifically targeted and were interested parties and experts.

“It is a reasonably robust sample size in the study. I am happy to stand over its size and robustness,” he said.

Ruminant cattle and sheep are large contributors to emissions and some environmental groups have called for the size of the national herd to be reduced. The survey did not specifically address this issue, although a few respondents called for this measure to be adopted in the comments section of the survey.

Mr Curtin said: “We did not include a question on reducing ruminant numbers. We thought a question of land-use optimisation between beef, dairy, forestry, and tillage sectors was a more mature way of framing the question.”

Several contributors from the floor advocated a strong focus on more environmentally sustainable use of fertiliser and slurry.

There were also divided views from the large audience in attendance on whether farmers should be paid a premium for adopting climate-smart measures.

One speaker who spoke against premia said: “Sustainability is not sustainable if you have to pay more for it.”

Former MEP Avril Doyle said this issue was a very low priority for politicians. Mr Arnold said he thought there has been a shift in focus among politicians, which will be accelerated by what happens in Paris (the UN international summit on climate change) in December.