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Climate must wait as ministers squabble over deal for farmers

Emissions targets for agriculture remain an issue between the the Coalition leaders


Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

A final deal to halve Ireland’s carbon emissions by the end of the decade looks set to be delayed until September after the Coalition leaders failed to resolve the ongoing impasse last night.

Ministers continue to squabble over the fine detail of the agricultural emissions targets, with political business now winding down for the summer break.

Environmental groups and the Green Party’s own chair last night criticised Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s inability to agree to higher reductions, over fears about its impact on Ireland’s agrifood industry.

But Environment Minister Eamon Ryan and Agriculture Charlie McConalogue remain deadlocked. While talks were still ongoing last night, there was no indication agreement would be reached in time to go before today’s ­Cabinet meeting.

This is the last scheduled meeting before ministers are due to break for the summer, meaning the climate deal talks are now likely to spiral towards the Budget in September.

A meeting of the three party leaders – Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Mr Ryan – was told that more time was needed for further analysis as to how targets for agriculture, which accounts for nearly 40pc of all of Ireland’s emissions, could actually be achieved.

One senior Government source categorically ruled out the possibility of a deal today, saying “everyone needs a pause”. They signalled there was now no clear timeline, with several insiders saying agreement was likely to be delayed until at least September.

The delay means the Coalition will miss its deadline of agreeing on carbon reduction targets for all sectors of the economy by the end of July as part of its legally binding commitment to reduce emissions by 51pc by 2030.

While Mr Ryan has pushed for the maximum cut of 30pc from the agriculture sector, Mr McConalogue, who is under pressure from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the farm lobby, wants a lower target. A compromise of between 24pc and 26pc remains under negotiation, with rural Fine Gael backbenchers signalling they could support this.

Mr McConalogue was said by one insider to be agreeable to a reduction of 25pc although others insisted no final figure had been decided. “Every effort is being made to complete it but gaps remain,” one source said.

Green Party chair Senator Pauline O’Reilly criticised her Coalition partners and Sinn Féin, saying: “It’s time for Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, not to mention Sinn Fein, to show their true colours. They all signed up to a 51pc reduction in carbon emissions.

“Are they going to be honest that this means massive emissions reductions in all sectors, including agriculture? Agriculture is the highest emitting of all sectors but has the lowest target range. It needs support to change, but it must change.”

Director of Friends of the Earth Oisin Coughlan called for a deal to be struck ahead of the Budget in September. “It can’t be 22pc for agriculture because then it’s impossible for everyone else, it has to be strong in all sectors. If that takes a couple of extra weeks, so be it. But we have to get on with this. We have to start now and have to start cutting emissions pretty strongly.”

Emissions reduction targets for all the other sectors, namely electricity, transport, buildings, industry and land use, are close to being confirmed.

Mr Varadkar said in recent days that industry would sign off on a 35pc reduction in carbon emissions – 2pc below the highest target of 37pc. It is understood the energy sector may face carbon emission reductions of 75pc, despite targets for the electricity sector being 62pc to 82pc under the climate action plan.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael backbenchers who criticised the “scapegoating” of farmers and rural Ireland have signalled they could support an agriculture emissions target higher than 22pc. At the weekend, Fine Gael TDs John Paul Phelan, David Stanton, Charlie Flanagan, and Paul Kehoe and Senators John Cummins and Garret Ahearn criticised the “false narrative” around agriculture and its impact on Ireland’s emissions.

However, Mr Kehoe said yesterday he would “absolutely” back a compromise in the range of 24pc to 26pc provided farming organisations were consulted and a significant financial package was provided. Former agriculture minister Barry Cowen called for a new stakeholder forum to monitor and advise on initiatives to reduce agriculture emissions over the next 18 months to two years.

Sinn Féin has refused to specify what percentage emissions reduction it supported for the agriculture sector. Environment spokesperson Darren O’Rourke said it was a matter for the Government and that he “can’t pick a figure out of thin air”.

The Social Democrats and People Before Profit have both backed 30pc, while Labour leader Ivana Bacik said that cuts for the sector would need to be “closer to 30pc than 22pc”.

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