“It makes neither economic nor environmental sense that a policy could lead to carbon leakage” according to Teagasc, however, Ireland still faces a “conundrum” as it must live within its individual country targets.

Speaking at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine this week, a number of members raised concerns over carbon leakage – “the idea that if we cut back on our production of food, particularly milk or meat, and the shortfall is filled by some other country which has higher emissions, there is no gain”, as Dr. Frank O’Mara of Teagasc explained.

“Indeed, there is actually a loss to the overall system,” he said.

“This is a very real issue because Irish milk and meat has a very low carbon footprint. Ireland has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world for milk and the footprint for our meat is also very low.

“Therefore, if our production is replaced by countries that have a higher carbon footprint per kilo of milk or meat, then the world loses out in terms of the level of emissions entering the atmosphere.

“That is the carbon leakage argument but at the same time, the agreements we have signed up to contain individual country targets. We must live within those individual country targets and that is the conundrum we face.

“In our approach to this issue, we are always trying to find ways to reach our environmental targets without negatively impacting on food production from Ireland.”

An opening for carbon leakage

Senator Paul Daly raised concerns that if we “collectively tick the boxes we have set for ourselves”, this may create “an opening for carbon leakage”.

“If we rewet all our bogs, reduce our herd, do whatever is asked of us and become carbon neutral by 2050 but the beef requirements of the world are being met by Brazil – which has knocked down a hundred times more rainforest than we have wet bogs in the same length of time – that would not make sense in the overall global picture.”

Deputy Matt Carthy described it a “crazy suggestion” to reduce the amount of production in a country such as Ireland “in order to import less sustainable product from places such as South America”, referring to the EU-Mercosur trade agreement, which he has previously said “would see up to 99,000t of beef flood the European market and directly lead to further destruction of rainforests”.

Not the policy at the moment

Professor Gerry Boyle, director of Teagasc, said it makes “neither economic nor environmental sense that a policy could lead to carbon leakage”.

“All of us would be better off in a global sense if countries can produce goods in the most efficient way,” he added.

“It benefits consumers at the same time if those countries that are engaged in an efficient way in the export market also produce lower emissions.

“There is a win-win there all around. However, as we are aware, that is not the policy, at least at the moment,” he concluded.