Minister ‘wrong’ to claim agriculture is greatest carbon sink

Published by Niall Sargent on

September 18th, 2019

The Minister for Climate Action’s claim that agriculture is our greatest carbon sink is a “misleading soundbite” that ignores the latest data outlining the land-use sector as a net emitter, An Taisce has said.

In the building up to this week’s National Ploughing Championships, Richard Bruton TD stated that while agriculture is our largest single source of greenhouse gas, the sector is also our “single greatest carbon sink”.

When asked by The Green News for data to support this statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Climate Action (DCCAE) said that the Minister was referring to the wider land use sector that includes land under forestry production and substantial carbon sinks such as peatlands.

The Climate Action Plan, the spokesperson continued, includes a range of actions aimed at reducing emissions from agricultural land use, promoting increased rates of afforestation and improving the management of Ireland’s peatlands.

According to An Taisce, however, such carbon sinks can only reduce agricultural emissions where Irish land use is a net remover of carbon emissions, which the group says is currently not the case, pointing to the latest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data.

The EPA’s most recent data sent to the UNFCCC shows that Irish land use is currently a major source of carbon emissions, with emissions from grasslands and wetlands well outweighing the removal of CO2 from forestry and harvested wood products.

According to a recent report sent to the EU by the Department of Agriculture, managed forest land itself is already a net emitter with a transition from a sink to a source by 2017. The report projects a “consistent increases” in GHG emissions from 420 Gg CO2eq in 2018 to over 2,000 Gg CO2eq by 2025.

This is due to an  increase  in  the  level  of  harvesting, a declining age class of forest areas, an increase in emissions from forest fires, and an increase  in  emissions  released from  organic  soils  due  to  drainage associated with plantation afforestation.

“It would be helpful if the Minister and his advisers, together with his officials in the DCCAE consulted with the experts… before issuing such misleading soundbites,” An Taisce said.

“Those leading the State’s Climate Action policy need to understand that current land use practices in agriculture, forestry and peatlands continue on a high carbon pathway, despite the greenwashing rhetoric from vested commercial interests.”

 “Given plans for increased biomass energy from forest land timber, it seems likely that this pressure for increased harvesting may well worsen. Limiting harvesting to ensure no loss in carbon storage now seems essential,” the groups said.

Another major issue outlined by An Taisce as driving the ongoing reduction in land use carbon stocks is the “serious carbon emissions” due to drainage of organic grassland soils and peat extraction for use in horticulture.

Therefore, the environmental group wants to see regulation to prevent and reverse drainage of organic soils and a rapid cessation of all peat extraction rather than limited measures to slowly rebuild carbon stocks.

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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