Dairy-driven agri-policy ‘not compatible’ with zero emissions pathway

Published by Niall Sargent on

November 21st, 2018

Ireland’s export-driven dairy policy is not compatible with the level of ambition needed to limit rising emissions, international climate experts told the Climate Action Committee today.

Speaking before the special committee today, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) experts outlined the need to reach net zero emissions by 2050 in order to have any chance of limiting global warming to a 1.5°C rise.

Valérie Masson-Delmotte, a co-chair of the IPCC Working Group on the physical science of climate change, warned that mean surface temperature is already expected to hit this threshold between 2030 and 2050.

Limiting the global mean surface temperature to this level will require “rapid changes on an unprecedented scale” across energy, land, urban, infrastructure and industrial systems, she said.

“Each half degree matters, each year matters and each choice matters,” she said. “Political will to accelerate transitions is key.”

Liming global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C would reduce the rate of sea level rise by around 10 cm by 2100, she said, exposing 10 million fewer people to coastal submersion.

Limiting warming at 1.5°C would also reduce the number of people exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred million by 2050.

Cows eating fodder Photo: pxhere

Agri-sector ‘massively affected’

Pierre Marie Aubert, a senior research fellow at the European Agriculture Initiative, told the committee that the agri-sector’s move toward “intensification, concentration, and specialization” in the dairy sector is not compatible with the 1.5 Special Report.

The export-oriented Food Harvest plan outlines ambitious targets to raise the total milk production by 50 per cent in volume between 2010 and 2020, and by 20 per cent in value over the same period.

He warned that it is “unlikely” that increasing the herd is a viable option going forward, even if Irish dairy products are amongst the most carbon efficient in Europe.

While the State considers that the sector can become carbon neutral by offsetting emissions through carbon sequestration, Mr Aubert warned that such a path “would hardly be compatible” with that envisioned in the IPCC report.

“A transformative pathway of the Irish agricultural sector compatible with the 1.5 Special Report should differ in several respects from the one envisioned in Food Harvest 2020,” he said.

Reorienting the sector towards “more diversified and less intensive livestock farming systems” could be an option and could also generate greater employment in rural areas, he said.

Irish Flooding in 2016 Photo: Niall Sargent

More frequent weather extremes

Much like the rest of Europe, the Irish agricultural sector will be “massively affected” by climate change in the coming decades from increased flooding and drought events, Mr Aubert said.

Professor Sonia Seneviratne, one of the authors of the recent IPCC report, told the committee that the effects of human-induced climate change can already be seen on our island, including the drought and heatwave in Ireland this summer.

It is also probable that human-induced global warming influenced severe flooding in Donegal in 2017, Prof Seneviratne said.

As air can hold more moisture at higher temperatures, we are likely to see “increases in very extreme precipitation events” as temperatures continue to rise, she said.

Oil Drill Oil well sea

Oil Drill Oil well sea

Climate Emergency Bill

People Before Profit’s Bríd Smith said that the statements from the IPCC witnesses served to highlight the need to pass her Climate Emergency Bill to ban the State from issuing any new fossil fuel licences.

“This is urgently needed and would set Ireland up as a world leader in the fight against climate change instead of us remaining as laggards,” she added.

Ms Smith said that the hearing showed clearly that “Ireland’s agricultural policy has to change” and that our current policy will leave us well short of our emissions targets up to 2050.

“Increasing the herd numbers, which seems to be the government policy, will only contribute to our CO2 emissions,” she warned.

“For the government to talk about taking an all of governments approach to fighting climate change and increasing herd numbers is totally contradictory and detrimental to our climate goals.”

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London