Groundhog day for climate debate


Sir, – I must respectfully demur from Prof Ray Bates’ (“Climate action: Preoccupation with level of farm emissions is misguided”, July 1st) idiosyncratic downplaying of the stark warnings contained in recent reports from the highly respected UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Contrary to Prof Bates I would say the thing that is most absent from Irish policy debates is the appropriate level of absolutely rational “alarm”.

Nonetheless, on one specific point, Prof Bates does raise a very legitimate policy concern, that is, if we constrain Irish agricultural production – in order to meet our overall emissions reduction commitments – is there not a real danger that other, less emission-efficient, producers will simply take over this production, leading to increased total emissions, on a global basis? This problem of so-called emissions-reduction “leakage” is a genuine one.

Such problems can only be fully addressed through effective international agreements. But we should be clear on the consequences: prioritising, as we must, those agricultural practices having maximum nutritional output relative to greenhouse gas emissions will necessarily favour a major shift in global dietary mix away from beef and dairy toward increased cereal and vegetable consumption. This will have profound implications for the strategic future development of Irish agriculture.

Prof Bates and The Irish Times are to be commended for raising this crucial issue. Or rather: you were to be so commended the last time you did so on May 13th, 2014. As you have decided to again offer Prof Bates an opinion column to repeat the same talking points (albeit beloved of certain Irish interest groups), I hope you will extend the same facility to me, by again featuring essentially the same letter from me that you kindly first printed over a year ago.

I apologise sincerely to your readers for the inevitable “Groundhog day” sensation this may engender; however, despite its comic aspects, this squandering of yet another year without honest engagement with the true challenges both to Irish agriculture and global food security is a genuine tragedy. – Yours, etc,


Dublin City University,

Chair, An Taisce climate