Ireland will have to cut its emissions by a third by 2030, according to new targets to curb greenhouse gases.
There are 11 other member states throughout the EU that have higher targets for agriculture, transport and housing than Ireland – including France, Netherlands and Belgium. The cuts are based on each country’s emissions level in 2005.
Officials here have pressed the case for forestry to be allowed contribute as a carbon sink, with the commission granting Ireland 5.6pc flexibility from land use.
The country has also been granted a 4pc one-off flexibility from emissions trading, which comes in at the highest end of the ranking.
The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Joe Healy described the 30pc greenhouse gas emission reduction target as challenging but more balanced than previous targets set by the commission.
“The reduction obligation announced for Ireland’s non-emissions trading sector, which includes agriculture, transport and housing, will be extremely challenging, given the low mitigation potential of sectors such as agriculture,” he said, with the agri-food sector accounting for 220,000 jobs and €10.8bn in food and drink exports last year.
“However, farmers’ focus will remain on the sustainable intensification of food production in Ireland, which has the lowest carbon footprint in milk production and the fifth lowest in beef production in Europe.”
He said agriculture could also support other sectors through the greater use of indigenous bio-energy fuels and renewable fuels such as miscanthus for heating family homes.
“Today’s targets reflect the reality that we cannot address the climate challenge in isolation. Wider policy objectives and societal and political implications must also be considered,” he said.
Mr Healy said the emissions intensity per calorie of food output in 2013 is around 14pc below 2005. He said this figure was projected to reach 25pc by 2030.
“However sustainability must also deliver an economic return for farm families,” he said.
Meat Industry Ireland (MII), which represents the country’s meat processing plants, said Ireland has unique national advantages for farming in an environmentally friendly way and the sector has faced up to the challenges of addressing agricultural emissions. It pointed out Irish beef has the fifth lowest carbon footprint in Europe.
“A range of programmes are in place aimed at improving carbon efficiency, reducing and mitigating emissions, while protecting water quality and biodiversity,” said MII’s spokesman.
“These new targets, challenging though they may be, will be faced with even greater vigour in upholding Ireland’s position as a world leader in sustainable agri-food production.”
The spokesman said MII fully understands that a high proportion of greenhouse gas emissions are accounted for by agriculture, however, it must be stressed that this is due to agriculture making up an extremely important component of the national economy. He pointed out it was also due to the absence of a traditional heavy emitting industrial sector in our economy.
The factory body stressed curbing production of meat in a country that is extensively grass-based and an efficient producer would simply lead to additional production in other higher carbon emitting countries.
“It would be counterproductive to reduce production in Ireland, only to import food from less sustainable systems abroad. The risk of such carbon leakage must be highlighted in terms of international commitments and trade negotiations. This would do nothing to further the climate change targets set in Paris last year,” MII added.
“We should continue to pursue a course to which the Irish meat sector is committed, adopting the latest in science and technology, beef genomics for example, where we are the world leader, and which will, in time lower the intensity of GHG emissions by improving the quality and efficiency of the national beef herd,” said a spokesman.