With a total of 239 amendments tabled, the new climate bill has undergone its first round of committee stage scrutiny.

A number of these amendments relate to biogenic methane, with some deputies calling for it to be accounted for differently, due to its “unique characteristics”.

Deputy Denis Naughten, who brought forward such an amendment with regional independent colleagues Cathal Berry, Michael Lowry, Sean Canney, Peter Fitzpatrick, Noel Grealish, Verona Murphy and Matt Shanahan, said that what they are looking for in this bill “is a reflection of what the Climate Change Advisory Council has recommended”.

“Biogenic methane, methane coming from agriculture, should be dealt with separately in terms of targets than other methane and carbon emissions,” deputy Naughten told committee members this week.

Part of an overall cycle

“The argument is being put forward by the council that it should be dealt with separately because carbon and methane coming from agriculture is part of an overall cycle.

“The issue here is in the increase in the amount of methane coming from the agriculture sector, rather than methane itself.

“I know that globally there is a big push to move a lot of agriculture land into other types of protein crops, where there aren’t the same scale of emissions, particularly in relation to methane.

“But if you look at many parts of Ireland where you have marginal land, which is completely unsuitable for tillage, then producing human protein from cattle is the only way that land can be productively used.

“There are a number of animals that are required on land to be able to maintain it from an environmental and biodiversity perspective.”

Agriculture emissions the ‘soft option’ in meeting climate targets

The deputy said his “big concern” is that agriculture emissions “are the soft option”.

“When we start to meet these thresholds of 2025 and 2030, and when we haven’t retrofitted half a million homes by 2030, when we don’t have a million electric vehicles on our roads in order to meet these targets, the squeeze will be put on the most vulnerable sector in agriculture – and that is our indigenous suckler beef sector,” the deputy continued.

“Where it is producing very carbon-efficient beef on marginal land, producing human protein on land that is not suitable for any other form of protein production, and which is carrying out a very vital role in terms of biodiversity.

“There is no point in the agricultural sector carrying its burden in relation to the 2030 targets and targets beyond that date if it’s all going to be nullified come the eve of 2025 or the eve of 2030, when we have another scheme introduced effectively to reduce overall numbers of suckler cows in this country.”

Effect on exports

The deputy said he believes that biogenic methane targets should be “on a European level; because the policy is developed in terms of CAP”.

“The reality is the vast majority of food that we produce is consumed outside of Ireland, so that should be reflected in the emissions profile of the countries where that is consumed – and not where it’s produced,” he continued.

“I believe that is going to cause a huge problem further down the road in terms of the way the current system is structured.

“We have a perverse situation where the targets, as they’re currently designed, will actually force the wind-down of beef exports from Ireland, where we are the most carbon-efficient beef exporter within the EU.”

Climate Change Advisory Council recommendation

Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan said he would not support this amendment tabled by deputy Naughten and colleagues.

The deputy said he was disappointed by this, claiming that it would have ensured that the agricultural sector “does not face a disproportionate share of the climate reduction targets over the coming years”.

“Similar approaches have been taken by the EU, the UK and New Zealand – a country with a similar climate challenges to that faced by Ireland,” the deputy said, speaking after the committee meeting.

“While Minister Ryan and his predecessor Richard Bruton both acknowledged there is a need to take a different approach to methane coming from agriculture and that coming from fossil fuels, the climate bill will not reflect this in law, which I believe will place an unacceptable burden on family farms and on those managing marginal farmland.

“I expressed a real concern that, as currently drafted, the climate bill incentivises other government departments to use agriculture as a scapegoat for the failure to meet their individual climate targets.

“I believe the failure to clearly reflect this recommendation of the Climate Change Advisory Council in the legislation will undermine the overall objective behind the climate bill and lead to an unnecessary backlash from the farming community.

“Despite scaremongering by some so-called environmentalists, this amendment does not mean that agriculture and farming should have a free pass.

“Managing our land use better can take even more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reducing its harmful effects on the climate and the oceans far quicker than shutting down farming.”