The Irish Times view on agricultural emissions: farmers must play their part

There is no evidence that farmers are being unfairly treated – a claim the Minister for Agriculture has failed to correct

The temperature extremes across Europe will be the new norm if a business-as-usual attitude to carbon pollution is allowed to persist. There is no scenario where Ireland gets off lightly in that event. This is the backdrop to negotiations between Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan and Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue on what farmers need to contribute in decarbonising their sector. They need to conclude urgently if the Government is to nail down a credible carbon budget up to 2025.

This is not a minor squabble between ministers. As argued by Oisín Coghlan of Friends of the Earth, every sector has to step up and do its fair share and “if agriculture refuses, the targets for the other sectors become implausible and the credibility of our whole climate action effort could crumble”. In such circumstances, there is a strong case for intervention by Taoiseach Micheál Martin to ensure an outcome that is robust from a climate science perspective, and backed by adequate supports for farmers in re-directing agriculture to facilitate radical land-use change and to scale up carbon farming.

The Irish Farmers Association claims Irish beef and dairy production is the most carbon efficient in the world. The reality is livestock and dairy production, even with grass-based systems, are carbon intensive. Agriculture accounts for 37.5 per cent of overall Irish emissions, a figure set to increase further due to built-in intensification. This is not sustainable. Its methane problem cannot be wished away by farmer bodies and food industry lobbyists, when their position often contradicts the main body of scientific opinion. McConalogue is doing farmers a disservice by his reported stance of “22 per cent and no more” when current commitments are insufficient and lack detail. The Environmental Protection Agency has said more clarity is needed on how and when actions will be implemented to reduce methane within the timeframe to 2030. A cut of more than 40 per cent in methane by 2030 would be required for Ireland to meet the Paris Agreement goals on a globally equitable basis, according to DCU research.

There is no evidence to support the argument that farmers are being unfairly treated – a claim McConalogue has failed to correct. All sectors have committed to the higher ambition in ranges set in law – with the exception of agriculture. If 22 rather than 30 per cent is adopted, it would guarantee Ireland would miss its 51 per cent emissions reduction target for 2030.


Failure to get the balance right will fuel polarisation and probably result in further blame being heaped on farmers. It may even shorten the lifespan of the Coalition. Climatologist Peter Thorne has underlined, however, that even if agricultural emissions were to reach zero we would still have two-thirds of our emissions remaining from other sectors. We are all in this together.