Analysis: The future of Irish farming won't be dictated by the Paris conference

Paul Melia

Paul Melia

The outcome of the 21st Conference of the Party (COP21) talks in Paris will not dictate the future direction of Irish farming.

That battle will be won, or lost, at the European Commission next year, when member states will agree the 40pc emission cuts required by each sector of the economy by 2030 - agriculture, industry, transport, buildings and, possibly, aviation and shipping too.

The UN climate summit is solely concerned with high-level goals. COP21 is not concerned with how parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change make cuts in emissions. It only wants to see the necessary steps taken towards decarbonisation.

The State will seek a special case for agriculture during the EU talks, arguing that Ireland's agri-food emissions should be treated differently than those in other members states.

A number of reasons will be proffered. Our grassland-based system means food is produced more sustainably than other countries.

If we are forced to reduce output, it will result in food being produced elsewhere at a higher environmental cost.

It will also make the case the recession severely impacted economic growth and that growing agriculture will allow us to invest in research and development, and transfer this knowledge to other countries, a measure known as technology transfer.

As outputs from Irish farms are monitored, we have already made enormous strides towards accountability, and the system allows us more readily identify issues which need to be addressed.

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But that might not be enough to convince our EU counterparts. The global agriculture sector is an enormous problem in relation to climate change, and has to be addressed.

Despite our 'green' image, we have a lot of work to do.

Although our emissions have fallen in recent years, largely due to the recession, they are still among the highest in the EU per head of population.

Agriculture makes up the largest part of the total produced - 32pc. It is followed by energy (22pc), industrial and commercial (15pc), transport (19pc) and residential (11pc).

If we are to argue for a special case exemption, we will have to dramatically ramp-up efforts in other sectors, something we have failed to do to date.

IFA Environment Committee chairman Harold Kingston makes the point that we are a world leader in sustainable food production.

Agriculture targets

"No other country in the world monitors, measures and manages carbon from farm to fork.

"This commitment to environmental improvement by so many farmers is verified by Bord Bia's Origin Green initiative," he says.

The IFA is seeking support and incentives to innovate, and for money to be advanced to farmers in developing countries to make the transition.

But the big political question is whether EU leaders will agree for Ireland's agriculture sector to be given less onerous targets.

The difficulty is that if Ireland is given special status for agriculture, other countries will row in with demands specific to their own economy, and that could scupper the entire process.

Indo Farming