The Government’s decision after days of internal wrangling to demand a 25 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector by 2030 has criticised by farming, environmental and business groups.
But senior Coalition figures were optimistic that the compromise reached on Thursday would gain grudging acceptance, with several interest groups stopping short of rejecting the plan outright.
The target was announced just before the summer break amid fears that allowing the debate over the contentious issue to drift into September could see attitudes among farmers and environmental NGOs harden.
Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan and Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue opted to split the difference between their respective higher and lower goals for the cut and settled on 25 per cent, offering special treatment to the sector because of its importance to rural Ireland and food production.
Considerably larger cuts are being sought from other areas, including a 75 per cent reduction from electricity, 50 per cent from transport, 45 per cent from commercial and public buildings, 40 per cent from residential buildings and 35 per cent from industry. The plan promises to build more offshore wind farms to produce more green energy in the future and to incentivise the production of biogas and solar energy on farms.
However, the total of all sectors’ emission cuts will not achieve the 51 per cent reduction by 2030 that has been set down in law. Instead, 26 million tonnes of carbon reductions are “unallocated” between 2026 and 2030, meaning further measures will be required to achieve them. It is expected that technological breakthroughs in the coming years will help to make up the shortfall.
The Government insisted that any measures asked of farmers would be voluntary and incentivised rather than mandated, though senior Government sources said that inevitably the size of the national dairy herd would be reduced.
Speaking at a press conference at Government Buildings, Mr Ryan, the Green Party leader, said it was a “hugely significant and important day”.
Mr McConalogue said the plan “stretches all sectors of the economy”, but that “farmers are up for this and what they need to know is that we will back them”.
Some Opposition parties immediately said the deal did not go far enough in demanding emissions cuts from the agriculture sector. The Social Democrats said the 25 per cent goal was evidence of “a shocking lack of leadership”. People Before Profit said “no one who takes the issue of climate change seriously could support this deal”.
But Sinn Féin continued to avoid declaring a position on the issue, with the party’s climate spokesman, Darren O’Rourke, saying “every sector must do its fair share”. The party declined to say whether it thought 25 per cent was a fair share for agriculture.
There was a mixed response from farm organisations, environmental and climate campaigners and business groups.
The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, which represents 10,000 farmers, condemned it as a “sell-out of our family farm model” which would make “whole classes of farms unviable”. But the larger Irish Farmers’ Association, which has 74,000 members, did not dismiss the deal outright, saying the Government would “have to come forward with real proposals and proper funding to support climate measures”.
Friends of the Earth chief executive Oisín Coghlan said the 25 per cent cut was “lower than we need from agriculture” and meant other sectors would face great challenges in picking up the slack. But he added: “Now that these binding emissions ceilings are set, Government urgently need to get on with transformative action in every sector and in every community. The time for talking is finally over, it’s time for a relentless focus now on delivery, delivery, delivery.”
Chambers Ireland head of policy Shane Conneely said the Government had “blinked” when it came to the agricultural target.
“In practical terms, farming accounts for 1 per cent of our national income. Even in regional areas its job creation effect is marginal. Farming is, however, an outsized part of our CO2 emissions, with farming making up more than a third of our national output,” he said.
“The reason why farming is such an important part of this conversation is that Ireland is one of the highest CO2 emitting countries per capita in the world, because of farming.”