Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan has stressed that agriculture “has to play its part in real emissions reductions – not just removals and sequestration”.

The minister was speaking in the Seanad after he agreed to accept amendments to the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 allowing for carbon removals and storage to be included when budgets are set for the agriculture sector.

He said he recently met with representatives of an international food company who has just done research on trends in markets in China, India, America and elsewhere.

Environmental standards

“The message coming back was that on the dairy side in particular, customers are starting to ask questions and to be concerned about the origin and environmental impact of dairy products,” Minister Ryan said.

“That is happening. It is not just about climate; it is also about the biodiversity issues. The Irish farming community and industry need to know this and they know it.

“The industry must know it because decisions in the financial markets are increasingly being taken with this knowledge in mind. The ability to raise finance and go out into a market and sell if you are not compliant in environmental standards will become an increasing issue.”

While the minister said that “allowing for the removals does not remove the need to reduce emissions”, he added that “all of the attention is on agriculture – and the shaming and blaming has to stop”.

“That is the worst thing because it is not appropriate or right at all,” Minister Ryan continued.

“Agriculture will not be the most difficult sector to change. Maybe I am biased in that regard because I am the Minister for Transport and I am scratching my head every day thinking how in God’s name we will change transport.

“We do not have the removals capability in transport that there is in agriculture. We are wedded to the existing transport infrastructure and it will be difficult to change.

“That means agriculture also has to play its part in real emissions reductions, not just removals and sequestration. That has to be abundantly clear.”

‘A balance between emissions reductions and removals’

He said he will have to sit down Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue in the coming months “and strike a good balance between emissions reductions and removals”.

“It will have to be both. For the sake of Irish agriculture and farming, there have to be real and significant emissions reductions,” he said.

“Any sector that is seen to be part of the problem and not part of the solution is going to be in real trouble and we do not want to be in that place.

“There has to be a reduction in methane, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and ammonia pollution. All the various pollutants we have are a problem. This is not blaming in any way; it is just facing that reality because if we do not do so, we will be on the wrong end of the way global economies and markets are going.”

The minister said there cannot be big increases in production – “because our land cannot take that”.

Recognition for removals a ‘game-changer’

Committee stage debate of the bill in the Seanad with continue this afternoon (Monday) at 5:00p.m.

Over 200 amendments to the bill have been proposed with the minister rejecting the vast majority.

Senator Tim Lombard, who brought forward one of the amendments supported by the minister that will “give due recognition for the idea of carbon sequestration”, told Agriland that this is a “game-changer”.

“We can account for the removal of carbon into our soils, our bogs and our hedgerows when it comes to the carbon budgets for agriculture which in my opinion, is a really important step,” the senator said.

“The farming community felt the climate bill was very much against them in so many ways; they felt berated by it; and I think this is the game-changer that they needed.

“We know there’s major changes coming down the line, and what we really wanted here was fair play. And I think [this] was a major step in getting that fair play for the sector.”