No 'free pass' for agriculture sector on emissions, warns Coveney
Farmers and the agriculture sector will not be given a "free pass" to avoid having to make reductions in their carbon emissions to help combat climate change.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has said plans to massively increase food production will be achieved at a lower environmental cost, but serious challenges remained to reduce emissions from the sector.
"Agriculture should not get a free pass when it comes to climate change. Sustainability is at the heart of what we're about," he said. "Any fool can reduce emissions by simply producing less food, but that is not the answer globally. The answer is much more complex."
Mr Coveney's comments come in advance of climate talks in Paris later this month where it is hoped to strike a global deal to help prevent dangerous global warming.
Emissions from the agriculture sector have fallen by 9pc between 1990 and 2013, compared with 1pc for energy and a 115pc increase for transport, but as much as 30pc of Ireland's emissions come from this sector and must be reduced.
But the minister said while food had to be produced in a way which protected the environment, it could not result in a drop in output. This was because production would move to other, less efficient countries.
"Ireland is a key global leader in producing food sustainably. Ireland is one of the most efficient producers in terms of output, and the fifth lowest for dairy production," he said.
He said the rural development programme, worth €4bn over seven years, would help bring the latest research to farmers and would reduce emissions from beef by 86,000 tonnes by 2020.
Around 50,000 beef farmers are currently calculating and capturing emissions from their herds.
"Nobody in this department is suggesting that agriculture should be immune from the responsibility, targets and moral obligation, frankly," he added.
The Government is hoping that a massive forestry programme will be taken into account as helping to reduce carbon emissions. It plans to plant new forest covering 43,000 hectares by 2020.