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Life to radically alter in climate crisis fight

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Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue and Environment Minister Eamon Ryan. Photo: Conor Ó Mearáin

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue and Environment Minister Eamon Ryan. Photo: Conor Ó Mearáin

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue and Environment Minister Eamon Ryan. Photo: Conor Ó Mearáin

The agreement reached at government level to finally apply limits on Ireland’s high levels of carbon pollution is welcome insofar as it goes, but there is no room for complacency or scope for backsliding — the opposite, in fact. The targets set out will probably have to be revised upwards this decade if the country is to meet its obligations by 2030.

Ireland has eight years to achieve a required 51pc reduction in emissions, but analysis of the deal arrived at last week projects a cut of around 43pc on 2018 levels. This represents a significant shortfall that must be bridged if the country is to fully play its part in determining for the better the future of humanity for the next millennium.

It need not have been so. Policymakers in Ireland, Europe and internationally should have acted far sooner. The threat posed by climate change has been evident for at least 25 years. The scale of the task now would not be so challenging had measures been implemented before this late hour. So be it. Better late than never.

What is also clear is that life as we have known it is about to radically change. Change can provoke anxiety but need not be so daunting a prospect. The agriculture sector here, and farming communities and families in particular, are concerned as to what the agreement reached last week will mean for their livelihoods and way of life. The concern is understandable.

The dairy industry was encouraged to invest considerable resources at a time when awareness of agricultural emissions was already manifest. This was a clear failure of policy. The transition now will be painful for many, more so than would have been required had policymakers acted sooner. Financial assistance and grant aid will be required — but there are opportunities for farmers, and the wider country too, in this deal.

There is no choice. Threats to climate and biodiversity will reach — or have reached — a tipping point that must eventually undermine current economic models anyway.

Scientists and environmentalists believe the agriculture sector here got away lightly in the agreement reached last week. Statistical evidence supports that assertion. Agriculture is the country’s highest carbon emitter.

However, the industry also plays an important role in the economic and social development of the country. Allied to that, the industry has always been at the cutting edge of advancements. There is every reason to believe agriculture will adapt, evolve and continue to thrive into the future as technologies advance.

But be in no doubt: technological change and the urgent imperative to transition to a low-carbon economy will require a new economic model underpinned by innovation, a mobilised workforce with the necessary skills and a high productivity enterprise sector.

Ireland can do only so much. It will not be possible to reach net-zero by 2050 without international co-operation between all — particularly rich countries that have benefited over the past 200 years, but have been slow and unreliable in reducing emissions.

The pace and scale of the change required now is unprecedented; however, we can learn from the great surges made in human development in the past, such as the new technologies and industries that catalysed the Industrial Revolution.

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