'Citizens Assembly totally out of touch on proposal to charge farmers for emissions'

There are attractive incentives to plant forestry but Ireland is not meeting half its targets.
There are attractive incentives to plant forestry but Ireland is not meeting half its targets.
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Calls at the Citizens Assembly to charge farmers for emissions are "totally out of touch" according to Michael Fitzmaurice.

The Roscommon/Galway TD said he had listened with "disbelieve" the views put forward at the assembly over the weekend that farmers should be made pay for the greenhouse gases (GHG) their arming activities produce.

"Such an action would impact seriously on the price of food which would in turn have major implications for the entire economy and particularly the less well off members of our society.

"It is easy to go into the Citizens Assembly and make statements to attract headlines but I wonder did any of these people actually consider the implications of making farmers pay for greenhouse gas emissions."

He said he wanted the members of the Citizens Assembly to tell the ordinary people of the country that they will have to pay extra for their food.

"Tell the people who can hardly afford to pay their mortgages, people who are struggling to send their children to third level colleges, people who cannot afford the rent that they are being charged and people who are homeless."

Professor Alan Matthews said at most 30pc of emissions could be absorbed through carbon sinks and that agriculture accounts for 33pc of GHG emissions in Ireland.

"But it has almost 45pc of emissions from sectors that will have EU-binding targets...and agricultural emissions are set to flatline."

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He said if we don't tackle the agricultural emissions, it puts the burden on other sectors, but that d it was a hugely controversial question if we should limit agricultural output to meet these targets.

Ireland reduce its agricultural output, while it would allow Ireland reduce its emissions would mean global emissions would increase, he said, due to Ireland's low-emission agriculture.

"We should privilege agriculture emissions by exempting them, nor should we penalise agricultural emissions when the economic value added is higher than in other sectors."

There should be a charge on carbon produced, he said, but if farmers are sequestering (capturing) carbon, they should be rewarded for that.

"When a dairy farmer is deciding how much milk to produce, the look at the cost to produce and price they get." At the moment the carbon cost is not taken into account at the moment, he said.

This is not about penalising farmers, he said, but other sectors are working where producing carbon has a cost and farmers should be aware of carbon costs. The other option, he said, is to buy carbon credits and that's a cost to the taxpayer and an indirect subsidy to the agri-food sector.

He also said that a carbon charge might reduce our competitiveness in agriculture. Despite generous incentives in forestry, which is a carbon sink, we are not meeting half our targets, he said.

Farmers don't make money on beef production, he said, and they could still receive their EU payments if they moved to another activity.

"No country has moved in this direction - to reduce agricultural emissions," he said, and New Zealand is the only country that has come close, but did not include agriculture in its emissions trading scheme.

"Unless we seriously attempt to get that agricultural emissions curve to move down, we are not really seriously taking about a position of climate leadership."

Commenting on the day’s proceedings Jerry Mac Evilly, the Stop Climate Chaos policy coordinator said all the evidence it needs to adopt robust recommendations for climate action.

He said that Ireland needs to better fund organic farming and support related R&D. "The Government must also take action on food demand, including supporting a shift to a more balanced plant-based diet and, like other EU countries, immediately implement policies to reduce food waste."

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