Analysis: Financial incentives needed to make climate change aspirations a reality
Last week Teagasc published an updated version of its Marginal Abatement Cost (MAC), showing the scale of possible greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions abatement using different technologies, land uses and farm practices at different costs.
This evidence base is an essential input in designing a roadmap to reduce agricultural GHG emissions in the years ahead.
Climate policy in agriculture is complex. If emissions are reduced by limiting production in a country with a relatively low carbon-intensity of production (the case for dairy production in Ireland), there is a danger that this will leave room for expansion in countries with a higher carbon-intensity of production, leading to an overall increase in global emissions.
This suggests it would be better to target the consumption of emissions-intensive production. However, emissions in agriculture are counted where production takes place, whereas emissions from fossil fuel use are attributed to the countries where they are consumed.
Emissions from agriculture consist almost entirely of methane and nitrous oxide, and the most appropriate way to compare these emissions to carbon dioxide is debated.
Agriculture and the land use sector exceptionally has the possibility to sequester carbon and to act as carbon sink. But, outside of forestry, measuring these sinks remains difficult. There are also questions about the permanence and additionality of some sinks which makes it difficult to include them in accounting frameworks.
Measurement issues are also important when it comes to abatement measures. Agriculture cannot be credited with changes in farm practices that may reduce emissions unless these are measurable, reportable and verifiable.
What the Teagasc researchers found was that the options with the greatest cost-effective abatement potential included afforestation, changes in fertiliser formulation and improved genetics through animal breeding.