The agri-food sector has been identified as one of the most-impacted sectors in terms of employment from the low-carbon transition, according to the National Economic and Social Council (NESC).

The NESC, a government body which advises the Taoiseach on strategic policy issues, was represented recently at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action (JOCECA) as it led a series of stakeholder meetings on Ireland’s carbon budgets.

Addressing the JOCECA, senior policy analyst at the NESC, Niamh Garvey focussed on areas where the council has recently engaged in research and has published reports on the just transition approach.

“These are relevant for the committee’s request to explore where there is a need for special measures to help those less well placed to make the transition and the types of policy tools needed to deliver the ambition,” she said.

NESC defines just transition as one which seeks to ensure transition is fair, equitable and inclusive in terms of processes and outcomes. Just transition refers to both the broader policy framework of climate action and supports, and the process of ensuring that individuals and communities have a voice and a role in informing and shaping these supports.

She highlighted two key issues: the risks and opportunities to employment from transition.

She said that vulnerable sectors and vulnerable job roles are also coupled with new job and enterprise opportunities.

“Further work is required to scope out the outcomes and processes appropriate for impacted individuals and communities in key sectors such as agriculture and food (agri-food), transport and parts of industry,” she said.

The senior policy analyst explained that, based on an NESC report, Addressing Employment Vulnerability as Part of a Just Transition in Ireland, and its finding that agri-food is one of the most impacted in terms of employment, the NESC has been asked by the government to undertake research on climate and agriculture in 2022.

A new project will explore how climate targets, and the transition that they imply for Irish agriculture, can be achieved in a manner that considers social equity and inclusion, environmental resilience and economic well-being, she said.

The research will focus on:

  • Understanding how climate action and transition is understood within the sector, with a focus on both opportunities as well as concerns, including from an economic, environmental and social perspective;
  • Examining the options, alternatives and costs in supporting ambitious climate action, mapping existing innovative approaches and situating action within a broader rural development perspective. For example, climate action resources, such as retrofit or renewable energy supports, can be a catalyst for rural communities;
  • Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of possible policy levers to support climate action and transition, including for example advisory services, market requirements and economic instruments.

Carbon budgets require reductions in emissions which will, inevitably, mean that certain activities and sectors will be impacted more than others, she told the committee.

“The focus of work in just transition is how to ensure that those individuals, communities or areas more disproportionately impacted by such policy decisions can be identified earlier and better supported so that nobody is left behind,” she said.

The NESC’s work points to the value of early, inclusive engagement with those potentially impacted by decarbonisation, she explained.

“The council’s latest projects, which I have just described, will seek to engage widely to further understand what a just transition approach can bring to agriculture.”

Based on these carbon-budget stakeholder meetings, the JOCECA will report back to both houses of the Oireachtas on February 7.