The “real cost” of going after agriculture in an effort to quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be huge, Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus has warned.

In response to ongoing government formation talks between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party – as well as the Greens’ 7% reduction target, the Midlands-North West MEP said:

“We are in a situation where we need to quite quickly reduce our emissions. Any future government will have to reduce emissions and meet internationally agreed targets. The question is how.

“The 7% target is on produced emissions rather than consumed emissions. As we have a service-based economy with little heavy industry, our exports of beef and dairy loom large in our produced emissions,” McManus noted.

Highlighting that Ireland represents one of the most sustainable places to produce beef, the MEP said:

If European markets shift to less environmental sources for their beef and dairy because Irish farmers were forced to reduce their output, that would be no great achievement for the environment and would economically damage rural Ireland.

“So why would any government pursue such a course of action? The answer is because reducing emission from agriculture requires far less public investment than a similar reduction in transport or energy production.

“Make no mistake: The real cost of going after agriculture would be huge, but it would not show up on the Government’s balance sheet,” McManus contended.

“Rural Ireland has already been the victims of ‘green-washing style’ policies in the past. Small to medium sized family farms are the backbone of rural communities.

Any new environmental policy could easily wipe out these farmers overnight, whilst the more intensive factory farming models and large-scale industrial feed-lots would continue to expand which would be counter-productive in terms of reducing carbon emissions.

Arguing that, when natural woodland planted to store carbon were needed, the country received for-profit sikha spruce plantations “that do not meet their environmental aim and are destroying communities in Leitrim and elsewhere”, the MEP added:

“When we needed large offshore wind farms we got deregulated planning rules for onshore. No national plan, just wind turbines scattered regardless of suitability or the concerns of local residents.

“Greening of existing public transport infrastructure hasn’t happened. Nor has the public transport network been extended to rural communities in any meaningful way.

Out of the 27 EU member states, plus Britain, Ireland had made the second lowest progress towards hitting our 2020 renewable energy targets.

The MEP claimed that the “traditional” parties “cannot be trusted to implement the kind of public investment needed to meet environmental targets in a fair and sustainable way”.

“This is why farmers are right to fear environmental policies if they are delivered by the traditional parties of the right,” McManus concluded.