Carbon reduction clock is ticking for farming
Carbon has rarely weighed heavily on the minds of Ireland's farmers, not even dairy farmers hoping to significantly increase their production following the end of milk quotas.
But carbon should be a concern because Ireland, as part of the EU's climate and energy policies, has limits on the total amount of carbon it can release to the atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gases.
These limits will bite in the remaining years of this decade. By 2020, the EPA estimates that the sectors covered by our national emissions ceiling, which include agriculture, will be releasing 6-11pc more emissions than allowed under that ceiling. By 2020 agriculture will be responsible for 45pc of those emissions in Ireland, with transport the next most important sector.
This ceiling is set as part of an internal burden-sharing agreement under the EU's Effort Sharing Decision, which allocates the total EU ceiling between the EU member states. Ireland's 2020 target is to reduce its emissions by 20pc compared to 2005.
The EU has begun to put in place its climate policy targets for 2030. The European Council has agreed to an overall target reduction of 30pc in emissions from the sectors covered by the Effort Sharing Decision. It recognises that national circumstances differ, and has agreed that national targets will vary between reductions of 0pc to reductions of 40pc compared to 2005.
The allocation will be done on the basis of relative GDP per capita, but the European Council has agreed to take into account the multiple objectives of agriculture and land use, and their lower mitigation potential is acknowledged.
A best case scenario for Irish agriculture might be that the existing target of a 20pc reduction compared to 2005 is extended to 2030 but the ultimate target could be higher.
Irish negotiators are looking for the lowest possible reductions and the highest possible ceiling.