We need to improve agriculture both environmentally and commercially to meet proposed EU targets for a climate-neutral Europe by 2050, though Ireland’s climate plan is going “very much in the right direction”, according to a top European Commission official.

Mauro Petriccione, Director General for Climate Action at the European Commission was in Dublin in recent days, meeting with members of the Oireachtas on the issue of climate action and improving efforts to reduce emissions.

Speaking to journalists at a press briefing in Dublin today, Friday, May 17, Petriccione outlined the agricultural aspects in the fight to reduce carbon emissions on an EU scale.

The director general noted that, in relation to Greening under the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), not enough has been done.

He said that more needs to be done in particular in precision agriculture, with a big need to reduce fertiliser use. In addition there has to be better management of forests.

“We need to improve agriculture both environmentally and commercially,” Petriccione added, also stressing the need for further carbon sequestration.

The Irish Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action made reference to potential environmental and commercial opportunities in its recently-published report on the matter earlier this year.

“We hope by the end of the year at the latest – hopefully sooner – the European Council will endorse the mandate for carbon neutrality by 2050.”

Ahead of the European elections, the director general was asked whether the changing parliament will impact on the proposals.

“The current parliament has endorsed the strategy,” he said, noting that, while the new parliament will want to look at it again, no major splits are expected, with most sides having already endorsed the proposal.

On the issue of carbon taxes, Petriccione noted that such measures are an instrument that can work – but not always. “We don’t have consensus for an EU-wide tax; that’s why emissions trading is in place”.

Turning to the matter of CAP, the director general highlighted the greater flexibility given to member states noting that previously there had been the sense that there was too much rigidity in CAP and local policy needed more room to manoeuvre.

“The member states will submit CAP strategic plans which the European Commission will review and consider for approval,” the director noted.

He said that Ireland’s new Climate Plan is “going very much in the right direction.” With regard to Ireland’s strategic CAP plan, it is not possible to comment until it is formally submitted by the Department of Agriculture but there are opportunities for the EU to support it.

Regarding the momentum around the recent declaration of a “climate emergency” by the Irish government Petriccione said that such pressure was crucial, adding that while there is an EU consensus on climate change, politicians were wary about going too fast, but the sense of urgency is growing.

The public, he said, have said that action is actually not going fast enough. The real sense of urgency is now fundamental, he added.

The strategy

Following the invitation by the European Council in March 2018, the European Commission’s vision for a climate neutral future covers nearly all EU policies and is in line with the Paris Agreement objective to keep temperature increase to well below 2°, and pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5°.

For the EU to lead the world towards climate neutrality means achieving it by 2050.

The road to a climate neutral economy would require joint action in seven strategic areas: energy efficiency; deployment of renewables; clean, safe and connected mobility; competitive industry and circular economy; infrastructure and interconnections; bio-economy and natural carbon sinks; carbon capture and storage to address remaining emissions.