Achieving ambitious emission reduction targets as set down under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill would “require a substantial reduction in the amount of agricultural activity in Ireland, Teagasc has said.

In his opening statement at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine earlier today (Wednesday, April 14), which was meeting to discuss the new bill and its implications for agriculture, Teagasc director Prof. Gerry Boyle outlined the challenges that the sector faces.

Highlighting work conducted in relation to the Department of Agriculture’s Ag Climatise roadmap, and its actions which are mainly based on Teagasc’s Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC), Prof. Boyle explained:

“The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill sets a target for Ireland of net zero GHG emissions by 2050, with an interim target of a 51% reduction, relative to 2018, to be achieved by 2030.

“Sectoral climate budgets are to be proposed on a five-year basis by the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) starting in 2021,” the Teagasc director added.

Noting that agriculture accounts for approximately one third of Irish greenhouse gas (GHG) emission levels, Prof. Boyle said: “They are driven mainly by the size of the national cattle herd and nitrogen fertiliser use and have moved over a narrow range in the last 30 years.

“While agricultural GHG emissions were trending downward over the 2000s, that trend has reversed over the last decade, as an increase in the GHG emissions associated with dairy cows has not been fully matched by a reduction in GHG emissions from other cattle.

“Current scientific understanding indicates that reducing Irish agricultural GHG emissions through technical means is challenging, particularly so for biogenic methane produced by pasture-based ruminants.”

Prof. Boyle highlighted this is now a “major area of scientific research” in Teagasc and elsewhere, which should yield positive results in the coming years.

“However, in the short term, major reductions in agricultural GHG emissions, equivalent to the 51% required nationally by 2030 when the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill is passed by the Oireachtas would require a substantial reduction in the amount of agricultural activity in Ireland.

“There is no prospect in the current decade of scientific solutions alone being capable of delivering agricultural GHG emission reductions of this magnitude,” the Teagasc director stressed, noting that these would equate to 7% per annum for the 10 years to 2030.

Prof. Boyle also noted the “distinct characteristics of biogenic methane” which are to be taken into account by the government, as well as the carbon sequestration potential of forestry – which he said “will contribute most of the 26.8 million tonnes of offsetting allowed in the 2021-2030 period”.

However, he warned that planting targets are not being met in recent years, which is a concern.