Farming still under scrutiny, despite wider reduction in emissions during pandemic

Major disruption to food supply chains and trade has significantly contributed to a decrease in emissions in Ireland over the last few months.

However, agriculture is still under scrutiny as current environmental positivity is expected to be “short-lived”.

New research released by the Irish Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has shown that overall CO2 emissions are expected to be at a much lower level this year, due to the restrictions put in place during the Covid-19 crisis.

Disruption to food sector

The study showed that Covid-19 had a unique impact on every sector’s contribution to carbon inputs and emissions, while the decrease in productivity also affected the economy.

Irish GDP is expected to decrease by around 13% this year due to economic disruptions in most sectors during the pandemic, with agriculture and food/drinks businesses experiencing major disruption.

These disruptions have significantly affected household disposable incomes, where vulnerable households and those in rural areas will feel the hardest financial impact.

Due to the lack of production and trade, energy prices have also decreased in Ireland, which will help in reducing both the cost of production and the import bill which, in turn, will positively affect the trade balance.

However, these low energy prices will increase energy demand and emissions will unfortunately increase again once restrictions are lifted. This may lead to a failure to meet Ireland’s EU emissions targets for 2030, according to co-author of the report Dr. Kelly de Bruin.

She added that, although the economic impacts of the pandemic will be severe – particularly on energy prices, a large reduction in emissions similar to that during the financial crisis of 2008 is not expected.

She said:

Ireland still needs to put in considerable effort to reach its EU emission goals.

“The results of the study underline the importance of having a well-designed government response policy package, which considers the environmental challenges presented by the Covid-19 crisis.”

Agriculture has reportedly contributed to over 30% of Ireland’s overall greenhouse gas emission levels in recent years. With the new government aiming for an average of a 7% per annum reduction in overall emissions from 2021 to 2030, a number of proposed ‘aims’ have been put in place by the government to reduce the impact of farming on the environment.

These include working towards a reduction in the use of inorganic nitrogen fertiliser and offering economic benefits for moving towards more organic farming.