Greenhouse gas emissions targets labelled ‘challenging’ by farm organisations

Farm organisations have labelled the news that Ireland must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030 as “challenging” following the announcement of new targets by the European Commission this week.

IFA President Joe Healy has described the emission reduction targets to be delivered by 2030 as challenging but more balanced than previous targets set by the European Commission.

“The reduction obligation announced for Ireland’s non-emissions trading sector, which includes agriculture, transport and housing, will be extremely challenging, given the low mitigation potential of sectors such as agriculture.

“However, farmers’ focus will remain on the sustainable intensification of food production in Ireland, which has the lowest carbon footprint in milk production and the fifth lowest in beef production in Europe.

“All sectors must play their part, and agriculture can support the transport sector and housing sector to deliver more, through the greater use of indigenous bio-energy fuels in the transport sector and renewable fuels such as miscanthus for heating family homes,” the IFA President said.

Healy said that that the targets reflect the reality that we cannot address the climate challenge in isolation.

“Wider policy objectives and societal and political implications must also be considered. This point is accepted in national, European and international climate policy but this is no reason for complacency.

“Ireland has a responsibility to act, and within this context, agriculture has an important role to play – while respecting the need to safeguard food production,” he said.

Climate targets must not undermine climate efficient Irish agriculture – ICMSA

Also commenting on the reduction targets was ICMSA President, John Comer, who acknowledged the considerable challenge posed for Ireland’s non-emissions trading sector following the announcement of the reduction targets.

Comer stated that it is extremely important to recognise the fact that Ireland is a world leader in terms of carbon efficient agriculture and has the lowest carbon footprint for milk production and the fifth lowest for beef production in Europe.

“In the context of global population growth, and increasing demand for food, there is a significant opportunity to further develop and expand our dairy and beef sectors and that Ireland’s grass based system provides us with a natural competitive advantage and differentiates us from many international competitors.”

Irish farmers will meet this challenge of sustainable intensification but must do so in the knowledge that it will provide an economic return.

Comer said that agriculture has a responsibility and a very important role to play in achieving these targets but cautioned that it would be extremely counterproductive to suggest any reduction in production in Ireland, only to import food from less sustainable systems abroad.

Irish farmers continue to become more carbon efficient and we simply cannot accept any unnecessary restrictions being placed on agriculture, he said.

Meat processors support the sustainable development of the agri-food industry in Ireland

Meanwhile, Meat Industry Ireland, the body representing the meat processors, has emphasised the highly progressive steps being taken in Ireland to further improve the efficiency and sustainability of food production here, following the announcement of the reductions targets.

A spokesperson for MII said that Ireland has unique natural advantages for farming in an environmentally friendly way and the meat sector has responsibly faced up to the challenges of addressing agricultural emissions while preserving the natural environment.

“A range of programmes are in place aimed at improving carbon efficiency, reducing and mitigating emissions, while protecting water quality and biodiversity.

These new targets, challenging though they may be, will be faced with even greater vigour in upholding Ireland’s position as a world leader in sustainable agri-food production and the only country to have in place a national sustainability strategy right through the agri-food supply chain.

MII has said it strongly supports the argument that environmental protection, economic competitiveness and food security should not be disentangled; instead they should be seen as complementary policies each fulfilling important goals, being mutually dependent rather than being mutually exclusive.

While MII appreciates and fully understands that a high proportion of greenhouse gas emissions are accounted for by agriculture, it must be stressed that this is due to agriculture making up an extremely important component of the national economy and also to the absence of a traditional heavy emitting industrial sector in our economy.

The agri-food sector alone accounts for over 220,000 jobs across rural Ireland, including family farms, and for approximately €11bn in export earnings annually.

MII says that to curb the production of meat products in a country where we produce extensively and off grass, more efficiently and sustainably than elsewhere would be a mistake and would simply lead to additional production in other less efficient and higher carbon emitting countries.

“It would be counterproductive to reduce production in Ireland, only to import food from less sustainable systems abroad.

“The risk of such carbon leakage must be highlighted in terms of international commitments and trade negotiations. This would do nothing to further the climate change targets set in Paris last year,” a spokesperson for MII said.