John Downing: Farmers face climate change day of reckoning
Government is finally unveiling its plans to tackle emissions across all sectors, including agriculture
On of the less remarked upon damaging effects of Brexit is that other pressing issues can almost disappear from view.
The upcoming reckoning about climate change, and its inevitable knock-on effect on Irish farming, is a prime example.
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Today, in a little-noticed move, a draft climate energy plan, or NECP, will go before Cabinet for approval. In essence it is a big-picture declaration of intent which must be lodged with the EU Commission before this year ends.
Its main focus will be on energy issues, and we can expect Bord na Móna's historic abandonment of peat harvesting to loom large. But this is just the first of many steps with which Climate Change Minister Richard Bruton has been charged.
Not even the Brexit din can downplay the reality that we are among the worst performers in the developed world on this issue.
And there is a dangerous day of reckoning, with hefty EU fines, hovering in the middle distance.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe got a pasting for dodging the issue in his Budget 2019 plans outlined on October 9. The words of sincere commitment by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, on many international state occasions, were juxtaposed with this climate inaction.
At the Fine Gael árd fheis, the Taoiseach sent out Minister Bruton, newly switched into a government "gap of danger", which includes this issue and rural broadband.
Mr Bruton, a very experienced politician who has been at Leinster House since 1982, started talking and at least giving the appearance of movement.
Unveiling a climate action fund a fortnight later, he frankly conceded the extent of this country's problems about climate change. He said Ireland would achieve reductions in emissions of only 1pc by 2020 when compared to 2005 levels.
Let's recall that Ireland is committed to a 20pc reduction target set by the European Union. Mr Bruton said the country needed to "step up dramatically" in waste, home, transport, industry and agriculture if we are to be taken seriously about tackling emissions.
We know that Irish farming basically accounts for about one third of emissions. The Government has now promulgated a "whole of government approach" to the issue, with each department being obliged to state what it intends doing.
People at Leinster House do not expect the fruits of that exercise to emerge until some time around St Patrick's Day. But it will be 'bite-the-bullet time' for Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, and his Fine Gael colleagues will face some pretty tough calls.
Events last week suggest we are unlikely to have a general election in 2019. That means we will definitely have one in 2020. What is the Government - already being heavily reproached for having an anti-rural inclination - going to do?
There are some standout moves, such as ending coal-burning at the Moneypoint generation station in Clare, and other initiatives.
But, as beef and dairy are in a continual bind to expand, there will be some fretful times in the agriculture sector.
Credit here is due to the IFA, who have already identified improved energy and other efficiencies in the farm sector which might even halve agri-greenhouse emissions.
That is encouraging but it will require funding - and this may well become a major point of conflict.
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