This past week, a big part of mainstream media commentary was obsessed with promoting the idea that the Irish agricultural sector must be subjected to more punitive/stringent carbon reduction targets to reduce agri emissions.
It characterised the defensive response of the agri sector as representing special pleading.
I will return to these issues later, but I believe there were two other issues in the public domain that are indicative of the ongoing public funk over agriculture’s role in the Irish economy.
Recently, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) published first quarter figures to show Irish gross domestic product (GDP) increasing by more than 10%, outperforming all of the EU and western economies.
However, perhaps worryingly, a more informed analysis showed that the domestic Irish economy actually shrunk by just over 1%.
This illustrated, yet again, the unreliability of the GDP measure as a true indicator of real Irish economy performance.
Meanwhile, also over the past week or so, there was political comment from both President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins and agriculture minister, Charlie McConalogue at the Bloom festival highlighting the urgent need to change pricing policies of recent years.
These policies meant vegetable and fruit producers in Ireland have seen their margins wiped out, with their products consistently and chronically sold as loss leaders/below cost.
The broad conclusion I would draw from the above is that, yet again, the overall economic discourse in Ireland needs to be conducted on a much more sober and informed basis than one based on a fictional notion of economic performance which the current GDP figure clearly represents.
While the harsh reality of vegetable farmers’ plight is proof positive that the Green Party’s/environmental lobby’s core belief that Irish agriculture must move away from livestock/dairy production into horticulture is, in reality, a recipe for economic disaster and ruination.
Ireland’s GDP figure includes multinational profits and ‘pass-through’ money to the tune of €160 billion according to Eurostat.
Meanwhile, Ireland’s GDP figure will not include approximately €4 billion paid to dairy farmers in 2022 for their milk, or the €3.5 billion paid out for beef cattle.
My point in highlighting the above is that they are indicative of both the continuing dismissiveness by ‘D4’ commentators of agriculture as a real economic powerhouse in the Irish economy and the unreality of the ideological cry that positions all of Ireland’s climate action requirements in a virtue-signalling vegan/vegetarian context.
This reality disconnect is further encapsulated in the public narrative currently around carbon budgets.
Look at the reaction to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report entitled ‘Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Projections 2021-2040, which was overwrought and full of negativity and finger-wagging as to how Irish citizens are failing to meet commitments on climate change.
I can accept that we all need an agency such as the EPA to independently monitor real-time activities and practices that relate to carbon emissions.
But, there seems to be no recognition of measurable scientifically-based programmes in agriculture being finalised or already in place.
References continue to be made about methane emissions that don’t acknowledge the difference between biogenic and other sources of methane emissions, such as from gas mining or the differentiated science and emerging accounting issues that this implies.
There is no recognition of the increasing demand for energy across the Irish economy which, notwithstanding the substantial investment in renewables, will have to be met with increased investment in gas generation, albeit as a second-best option.
Never mind the very real challenge of securing any and all energy supplies in the current uncertain global environment.
Why is it that whenever there is a public debate about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Ireland, all sense of context seems to disappear into an orgy of virtue signalling, blame, grand gesturing and finger pointing?
In the midst of the explosion of pseudo outrage at the perceived underachievement of the agri sector in meeting its targets, there is never any mention/recognition in an Irish context of Article 2 of the UN Paris Accord.
This accord aims at increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low GHG emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production.
You have to wonder was there nobody from Ireland at the UN Paris conference.
In addition to the relevance of Article 2 above, there is also the scientific fact that suppressing Irish agri output will lead to an increase in global emissions from food production as outlined by several agencies and organisations.
Indeed, even the EU Commission, which has had a 20-year policy of constraining EU food output, seems to be waking up the realities of the volatile insecure world we live in and the positive impact that agriculture delivers in the modern EU economy.