Climate change isn’t the end of the world. Or at least climate action needn’t be. That is the message to farmers from junior agriculture minister Martin Heydon. In an interview in the Irish Independent today, the Fine Gael TD warns against “catastrophisation” when it comes to measures to reduce agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25pc by 2030.
He paints a vision that is more carrot than stick. Farmers making up to €8,000 a year selling solar energy back to the grid. Producing gas and heat from general waste. Growing “grass for gas”. Claiming subsidies for organic produce.
Such measures would no doubt ease the transition to lower emissions. But they are in no way the whole picture. As Gary Lanigan, Teagasc’s principal research officer, tells the Farming Independent today, it would be “very challenging” for Irish agriculture to reduce its emissions by 25pc through science alone. What about those cattle numbers? Once again, we must wait for the details.
Last Thursday’s deal came after a long process of discussion and preparation, so it is surprising that detailed schemes were not ready to be put before farmers for their consideration.
There is a need now to abandon the recent bitter squabbles
The Irish Farmers’ Association is scheduled to hold an online briefing session on the climate change package tomorrow evening. One wonders how much its leaders can tell their members, because so far detail has been scant.
Farming is, of course, not the only sector that will have to cut its greenhouse gas output by 2030. The target for electricity generation is 75pc; for transport, the figure is 50pc. Emissions from commercial and public buildings must fall by 45pc. For homes, the target is 40pc. Industry has a 35pc goal.
There is a need now to abandon the recent bitter squabbles. The watchword must become “implementation” because this planet is burning and future generations risk soon paying a high price. This is not question.
Hopes of a purely scientific solution to climate change remain just that – hopes. The danger is that the State’s climate targets will end up being much the same: vague ambitions with little substance. Ireland may have become, in 2019, only the second country to declare a climate emergency, but it has yet to take commensurate action.
Effective climate change plans will change everybody’s lives in a fundamental way and the public deserves more information delivered swiftly.
The journey to net zero by 2050 was never going to be a simple one. In one respect, Mr Heydon is right to talk up the positive aspects of climate action. The benefits are manifold, and not just in agriculture and not just on a global scale.
Better public transport, more cycle lanes, cleaner air, less waste, greater biodiversity, new jobs in green energy: none of these should be hard sells.
But there will be sacrifices too and nobody should pretend otherwise. Least of all the Government that sets these targets.
These plans need proper public buy-in. For that, clear information, presented in understandable everyday language, is vital.