Simon Coveney says EU has ‘got it wrong’ on carbon emissions targets for agriculture

Climate change demands will harm Irish milk and beef industries, claims minister

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said he is opposed to ‘blunt national targets’ for cutting emissions

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said he is opposed to ‘blunt national targets’ for cutting emissions


The Government and the European Commission have clashed over targets that require dramatic cuts in Irish agricultural emissions by 2020.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has said EU climate change policy makes no “sense to him on any level”, and has claimed the commission has “got it wrong” in relation to the agriculture and food industries.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Coveney argued that the Irish milk and beef sectors had among the lowest carbon footprints in Europe. Restricting production would mean that Irish produce would be replaced with milk and beef from countries such as the US and Canada, which have far higher greenhouse emissions.

EU climate change targets require a 20 per cent reduction in Irish emissions by 2020. Yet Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions profile is unique in the dominance of the agriculture sector. Nearly 40 per cent of emissions are agricultural and latest projections are for a slight increase in emissions by 2020.

Detrimental consequences
Mr Coveney said he and EU commissioner for climate change action Connie Hedegaard have had fundamental disagreement over the current targets which would have serious detrimental consequences for the milk and beef sectors if carried through.

“I had a very frustrating conversation with her on this matter,” he said, recalling a meeting with the Danish commissioner this year. “My view is that the EU has got it wrong in relation to the food industry. The link between food security and climate change is all wrong in the way they have set out the policy.

“Irish-produced milk and beef is top of the class in terms of carbon footprint both EU and globally. Only New Zealand has lower milk carbon footprints.”

He said the Government’s argument to the commission was that country targets were needed for energy management, heating and transport. The carbon load was not transferred somewhere else for those sectors. In contrast, with food, a reduction in production in one region would mean that another region would take up the slack.

“If you replace petrol and diesel with electric cars you get a genuine reduction. But if you produce less milk in Ireland they will produce more milk in the US and Canada and rest of Europe. It’s the same with beef. If you displace from Ireland with its low carbon footprint to other countries with high carbon footprints then that makes no sense.”

Global targets
He said the Government’s approach was for the EU and UN to set global targets per kilo of meat or per litre of milk rather than “blunt national targets that force countries out of doing something they are good at”.

Mr Coveney said the Government had plans to increase the volume of product by 50 per cent by 2020, with a 15-17 per cent increase from the existing herd by better feed-conversion consistency and better management.

He said Ireland now produced 10 per cent of world infant formula. “Danone, Nestlé and others have come to Ireland to produce infant formula. For climate change reasons we need to limit the growth potential of this industry. That makes no sense to me, no sense on any level.”