Fears of agriculture sector being ‘demonised’ as Taoiseach heads off to COP26 climate change summit
The Government’s climate action plan contains a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the agriculture sector by 22pc to 30pc — but the national livestock herd will not be cut, the Sunday Independent has learned.
The disclosure comes as leading climate scientist Tara Shine, who was appointed by the United Nations to work towards global climate goals, warns that Ireland must stop “demonising” farmers in the drive to reduce carbon emissions.
Yesterday Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said farmers will be given longer to adjust to climate changes. “All sectors must play their part, but some can go faster than others. Agriculture will take longer,” Mr Ryan told the Sunday Independent.
However, confirmation today that agriculture emissions are to be reduced by up to 30pc will anger farmers.
The Irish Farmers Association has warned that many farms would not remain viable if agriculture had to reduce emissions by that level. Its president, Tim Cullinan, has said such a move would have “profound implications for the rural economy”.
Separately, the Sunday Independent has learned the Government’s Climate Action Plan, still being finalised and to be published soon, contains a range of measures related to transport.
The plan includes details of a new scheme to install 200 on-street electric vehicle charge points a year, bringing the number nationally to 2,000 points by 2030.
There will be measures to phase out the public fleet of fossil fuel vehicles, as well as schemes to incentivise sustainable trucks, buses and vans. Around €360m will be announced for new walk and cycle ways nationally.
A centrepiece of the plan is said to be “major investment” in offshore wind energy in Dublin Bay and along the east coast, according to political sources.
However, much focus will remain on the agriculture sector. The Climate Action Plan will contain wide-ranging incentives for farmers aimed at achieving an overall national emissions reduction of 51pc by 2030.
Across the EU agriculture accounts for 11pc of all emissions but in Ireland accounts for more than 32pc of total emissions, according to a recent study.
This has led to considerable focus on the national dairy and beef herd, with speculation that the climate action plan could lead to a livestock cull.
In recent weeks, Government figures have referred to the intention to “stabilise” the national herd.
The Sunday independent understands the plan does not refer to a herd cull but will recommend a significant reduction in agriculture greenhouse gasses of 22pc to 30pc.
This is in line with a recommendation contained in the carbon budget technical report published last week by the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC).
Speaking to the Sunday Independent ahead of her attendance at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Dr Shine said the high level of agriculture emissions was a direct result of “completely contradictory” Government policy and “incentives from Europe” over the past decade.
Yesterday she said it was no surprise that farmers felt “victimised”. The Government was telling farmers to “produce more, that Ireland is going to be the biggest exporter of food in the world, but at the same time we have to cut emissions”.
She said the time had come for leaders to “start a conversation” with farmers about how they can get value from their land through alternative sources to livestock. But farmers’ livelihoods “must be protected as part of the transition”, she said.
“That’s absolutely critical. They have to be part of shaping the policy response and their livelihoods have to be protected as they make a change, otherwise this is unjust,” Dr Shine said.
“If farmers are the villains then we are all the villains because we eat the food, we use energy, we drive cars, we go on holidays.
"We are all the villains. That is the problem with climate change. There is no one evil force. The evil force is us. Human beings. We caused climate change. But we can also find the answers.”
Her comments come days after IFA president Tim Cullinan said carbon budgets will have serious repercussions for farming.
He was speaking after the CCAC submitted proposed carbon budgets to Government which will see the country cut its carbon emissions by 51pc by 2030.
Mr Cullinan said the most productive farmers could not remain viable if agriculture had to reduce emissions by up to 30pc. He warned it will have “profound implications for the rural economy”
Yesterday he said he would not rule out further protests in the coming weeks. “Farmers are genuinely fearful about their futures,” he said. “The Government is doing a lot of talking, but rhetoric is all we have seen.”
Mr Cullinane said the term ‘national herd’ was being “bandied about” as “the be-all and end-all” of the climate debate.
"But we don’t have a ‘national herd’. We have 100,000 farmers in all parts of the country with an average of 70 cattle. These farmers feel like they are being unfairly targeted.”
Meanwhile climate instability elsewhere could be a “danger” to Ireland if we are seen as a lifeboat country by those fleeing uninhabitable zones, the Green leader warned.
Micheál Martin will make Ireland’s national statement at COP26, with Minister for the Environment and Climate Mr Ryan looking over his shoulder.
“If we are to leave a habitable planet to future generations we must act now,” the Taoiseach said. “The challenge is big, but I have faith in the capacity of humans to work together to overcome it.
“Science is leading the way. Leaders must put the right policies in place, as we are doing in Ireland.”
Mr Ryan will be attending as leader of Ireland’s negotiation delegation in the second week of COP26, when the wrangling over efforts to find a containment of global carbon emissions will really begin.
“We’ve seen the footage of flooding in Germany, the extraordinary heat in the Pacific Northwest and the ice melt in the Arctic,” Mr Ryan told the Sunday Independent on the eve of today’s conference in Glasgow.
“The impact of climate change is visible on every continent.
“The dangers for Ireland aren’t just the impacts of more storms and flooding — we would also be affected by global insecurity caused by events elsewhere.
COP26 in Glasgow will see Ireland seeking agreement that countries live up to the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5C, he said.
And Ireland will be supporting the call for a $100bn (€87bn) a year climate finance fund to help less well-off countries to adapt. These will be worst affected, having done least to cause climate change.
“Ireland is going to COP26 having made really good progress putting our own house in order,” Mr Ryan insisted.
“We’ve passed the Climate Act, committing in law to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and to reaching net zero by 2050,” he said.
“We’ve just had the proposed carbon budgets from the Climate Change Advisory Council which set out the emissions limits we need to live within over the next decade.”
There is going to be a “decade of change” once the Climate Action Plan is announced shortly, he said.
“We will set out what those changes will look like. By taking action now we can build a country where homes are warmer and cheaper to heat, where walking, cycling and public transport are cleaner and more accessible.
“Our power will come from our own indigenous renewable resources including offshore wind, and our food will be produced in a greener, cleaner way that also improves biodiversity, protects nature and supports farmers’ incomes.”
Citizens, communities and businesses alike have a role to play, but Government does need to drive it, he said.
Large-scale public investment had already been committed through the National Development Plan to projects such as retrofitting homes and electrifying our transport fleet.
“The building blocks are all in place and now it’s time to deliver, both at COP in Glasgow and here at home,” Mr Ryan declared.
“I think most people understand that we have to do this. It's a challenge but it’s also an opportunity and a responsibility.”
Ironically the pandemic had shown the way, the Green Party leader said.
“When it came to Covid we rightly put our older and more vulnerable people first, and now it’s time to put our young people first.
“Many of them are worried about climate change and they need reassurance that another future is indeed possible — where we cut emissions, create green jobs and protect both people and planet.”
Earlier yesterday Health Minister Stephen Donnelly announced Ireland’s support for two global initiatives on healthcare linked to climate change.
“The increasing impacts of climate change are being felt both in Ireland and across the world,” he said, referring to the “stark warnings” contained in the recent IPCC Report.
All key sectors in Ireland, including health, have developed response plans, he said.
“Across the world, the vulnerability of health systems to the impacts of climate change is a growing concern.”