Ireland can be world leader in climate smart agriculture

Technologies and farming practices to reduce input use, improve farm income and reduce emissions must be built upon

Ensuring food and nutrition security for all while avoiding climate change is one of the key challenges of the 21st century. The world population is projected to grow to 9.6 billion by 2050 from 7.3 billion now, requiring an increase of 70 per cent in food production.

Food security and climate change are interconnected. Agriculture is a contributor to and is affected by climate change. In recent years, climate smart agriculture (CSA), an approach linking agriculture and climate policies, has received attention. CSA seeks to increase agricultural productivity and incomes, build resilience to climate change and reduce emissions.

In the past 18 months the Institute of International and European Affairs/Royal Dublin Society Leadership Forum has worked to identify how CSA could apply to agriculture here and how Ireland could contribute to policy on global food security and climate change.

The forum brought together key stakeholders from Government departments, State agencies, the private sector, farm organisations, and development and environmental non-governmental organisations. The outcome of this process is an independent IIEA/RDS report which will be launched today by Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed.

The report concludes that Ireland should become a global pioneer in climate smart agriculture, and seek to provide policy and thought leadership at European and international level to the food security/climate change debate.

In seeking to attain such a leadership position, Ireland faces unique circumstances. Due to the structure of the Irish economy and the livestock-based agricultural sector, agriculture accounts for a higher proportion of greenhouse gas emissions here than in other EU countries. Following the abolition of the EU milk quota last year the Government is committed to expanding food production, which will increase emissions. At the same time, the State faces formidable European and international targets to reduce emissions.

Climate change

These circumstances also bring opportunities. Due to demanding EU climate targets in place since 2008, considerable innovation in policy, technology and on-farm practices has been delivered. Irish officials have been at the forefront of policy thinking on agriculture and climate change at EU and UN negotiations.

Bord Bia's Origin Green scheme brings together the Government, the agrifood sector and farmers to set and achieve measurable sustainability targets and reduce the environmental impact of food production. The Farm Carbon Navigator, developed by Bord Bia and Teagasc, promotes technologies to reduce input use, increase farm income and reduce emissions.

The IIEA/RDS report seeks to build on progress made. If Ireland is to aspire to credible international leadership in this area, however, progress must be brought to a different level. The report sets out an ambitious agenda that could deliver such leadership and the benefits that would flow from it. The agenda needs to be delivered through Government policy and political commitment; implementation by the farming and agri-food sector of an ambitious CSA programme; and policy advocacy at international level.

An ambitious programme, anchored in a credible domestic policy on climate change and supported by high level political commitment, is required.

We recommend the strategic reorientation of agricultural and food policy around agricultural productivity and incomes, resilience, and emissions reduction at Irish and European level.

The Government should detail how the progressive vision of a “carbon neutral” agriculture and land use sector by 2050, to which it is committed, can be attained, with progress measured annually and reported upon.

Progress made in introducing technologies and farming practices to reduce input use, improve farm incomes and reduce emissions must be built upon.

The end of milk quotas presents an opportunity for the expansion of dairy and beef enterprises which are climate smart and economically beneficial for farmers.

There are opportunities for farmers and rural communities investing in renewable energy: financial incentives targeting citizens should be part of an innovative sustainable development policy for rural Ireland.

Policy must recognise the importance of forestry as a carbon sink in achieving Ireland’s emissions targets as well as its role in building resilience against climate impacts such as flooding and in providing a secure income stream for farmers.

Irish Aid

The report recommends that the domestic focus on CSA leadership be complemented by mainstreaming it into our diplomacy at EU and UN level. Irish Aid should integrate climate smart agriculture into its current prioritisation of nutrition and food security, linking up with the main Irish NGOs with such programmes in developing countries.

During the next round of UN climate negotiations at COP22 in Marrakesh in November, Ireland should advocate for a specific work programme on the agriculture-climate-food nexus.

The IIEA/RDS report focuses on the potential we believe exists for Ireland to play an international leadership role on CSA. If such a role can be attained Ireland could position itself as a leader in the production of sustainable and carbon-efficient food, with obvious commercial gain.

But there is another dimension: if the State can influence policy on agriculture and climate change in developing countries, backed up by proven technologies and domestic experience of mainstreaming climate change into agricultural and nutritional strategies, we will contribute to improving the life chances of tens of millions of people. Tom Arnold is director general of the Institute of International and European Affairs. He is chairman of the Irish Times Trust and a member of the Irish Times Board.