Agri-policy in new climate plan may fail to deliver on emissions reduction targets

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June 21st, 2019

The agricultural section of the Government’s new climate plan may not deliver the necessary emissions reduction required for the industry, multiple non-governmental and political organizations have said.

The Climate Action Plan to Tackle Climate Breakdown released on Monday outlines a number of proposed agriculture actions, including improving nitrogen use efficiency, on-farm slurry management and methane-mitigating feed additives for livestock.

The plan cites the new Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) for 2021 to 2027 as being a “central driver of change” which has already supported decarbonization efforts in the agriculture sector to date.

The challenge for Ireland’s largest greenhouse emitting sector is to approach carbon neutrality without compromising “our capacity for sustainable food production”, the plan states.  

Green Party agriculture spokesperson Councillor Pippa Hackett welcomed the plan but said that “it is hard to see how the measures outline for agriculture and land use will result in the dramatic emissions reduction that is required”.

Cllr Hackett, a farmer in Co Offaly, stressed that in order to naturally reduce carbon emissions, farming must move away from intensive practices and move towards more “extensive, nature-friendly farming practices”.

“I believe that if we adopt the farming practices which serve to protect and enrich our soils, improve biodiversity, and benefit water and air quality, then the carbon emissions will naturally reduce,” she said.

John Brennan of farmer grassroots organization Talamh Beo said that the Government has “again failed to make a bold move to transform Irish agriculture” and has instead “made a few woolly statements”.

Mr Brennan said that plans to review the effectiveness of the Teagasc programme that promotes organics and farm income diversification options are “vague platitudes” and added that “the effectiveness of Teagasc of promoting organic farming is nothing short of tokenistic and abysmal”.

Forestry policy is also outlined in the agriculture section, and the Government aims to plant 8,000 hectares of new forest per annum. Currently, under the National Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020, afforestation rates have been an average of 5,500 hectares a year.

However, An Taisce said in reaction to the plan that plantation forestry would deliver little carbon sequestration when “compared to permanent native woodland that also supports far greater biodiversity and delivers landscape water buffering in drought and flood conditions”.

The Irish Farmer’s Association (IFA) noted that targets set in the plan will demand a lot from the sector, with IFA President Joe Healy stressing that “the critical issue for farm families is that our low-carbon agri-food sector, which is Ireland’s largest indigenous sector, is fully recognized and not jeopardized by this climate plan”.

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