Environmentalists anger at hints that the agricultural sector will have reduced climate targets

Climate campaigners have accused Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue of ‘going on a solo run’ amid suggestions he is pushing to cut climate targets on farms.

In a word

Ireland now has legally binding targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 51% by 2030 from 2018 levels and be climate neutral by 2050.

To achieve this, three carbon budgets were adopted by the government in April.

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The commitments mean that the country cannot emit more than 295 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from 2021 to 2025 and 200 million tonnes between 2026 and 2030.

An interim emissions cap of 151 million tonnes from 2031 to 2035 has also been set, but could change.

Sectoral emission ceilings

Aerial view of Irish rural scene on a sunny summer day in the fields of Tipperary

Officials are currently working on ‘sectoral emissions caps’ for each of Ireland’s key industries, which are due in July.

Sectors include power, transport, buildings, industry, agriculture, land-use change and forestry and the caps set for each cannot exceed the total emissions cap set for each five-year period.

Friends of the Earth say anger is mounting over reports that McConalogue “is refusing to accept a proposed 30% pollution reduction target” for agriculture because other sectors and ministries will have to pick up the slack.

Once approved by the government, sectoral emission caps will be legally binding.

Buzz understands ministers could see their budgets cut to pay EU fines resulting from failure to meet climate targets in the sectors for which they are responsible.

what was said

A herd of cattle and bulls in a field with wind turbines in County Wexford, Ireland. (Getty)

Hannah Daly, a professor at University College Cork, said: “If emissions in agriculture are only down 22% by 2030, all other emissions – in transport, homes, businesses, industry – will have to drop by almost 70%, which is totally implausible.”

Friends of the Earth chief executive Oisín Coghlan said: “It’s not just that it’s not fair to ask the rest of society to cut pollution three times faster than agriculture. .. it is not feasible.

“If the government divides the national ‘pollution pie’ between sectors in a patently absurd way, it will undermine the credibility of the whole exercise. That would make a mockery of the climate law passed by the Oireachtas less than a year ago.

“The Taoiseach and ministers must uphold the public interest and deal with lobbyists for vested interests.

“Minister McConalogue must remember that he works for all constituents, not just the vested interests that pressure his ministry.”

The Department of Agriculture has been contacted for comment.

agriculture emissions

Herd sizes north and south of the border are under review. It is likely that herds of cows and sheep on both sides of the border will have to be cut – and soon.

Since 2015, when milk quotas in the European Union were abolished, cow numbers have increased in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

A Holstein dairy cow in a field in Northern Ireland on a summer day.

Data released last week by the Ministry of Agriculture shows that the national herd stands at 6.66 million head of cattle, and while dairy cows have increased in number, the amount of cattle raised for meat bovine has decreased.

At the end of December 2020, there were over 5.5 million sheep in Ireland.

Northern Ireland, also endowed with a large agricultural sector, has a large national herd.

According to the 2021 Northern Agricultural Census, the total number of cattle in Northern Ireland is just under 1.7 million. Northern Ireland has just under two million sheep.

However, it is likely that in the North as in the South, the number of cows and sheep will have to be reduced to achieve the climate objectives.

In April, the European Commission warned Ireland against increasing its cattle herd, saying the country needed “more ambition” to meet its climate, environment and biodiversity targets. before signing its latest strategic plan for the common agricultural policy.

The letter from the European Commission also states that the growth of the dairy sector has had “very significant implications for agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, for air, water and soil quality, and for the biodiversity “.

About a third of man-made methane emissions come from livestock, most of which comes from cattle.

When it comes to methane, the second most harmful greenhouse gas, Ireland emits far more than its fair share. This is due to our large pastoral agriculture sector.

Methane has a much stronger warming effect than carbon dioxide, but over a shorter period of time.

Globally, cows and other livestock produce about 14% of human-caused climate emissions.

In Ireland, agriculture is responsible for 37% of the country’s emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Among agricultural emissions, 80% are linked to methane. Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are proportionally higher than in any other EU country.

Ireland also leads Europe in methane emissions per person, with 111.6 kilograms of methane emitted per person. The second largest methane emitter in Europe is Romania with 47.8 kilograms.

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Lana T. Arthur