Agriculture must become carbon neutral to fulfil its climate change obligations, according to the Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan, and can’t expect any exceptions.

Launching the National Policy Position on climate change, he said a way forward must be found, not only at a national level but within the EU and at a wider international level under the UN Climate Convention, that addresses the climate impact of the agriculture and land use sector as a whole – livestock and land – without compromising existing and potential future capacity for sustainable food production.”In seeking a more complete and better way forward for the sector, I want to be absolutely clear that every sector must play its part in the national transition agenda. There can be no exceptions, there are no exceptions and there will be no exceptions.”

He said that climate policy on the agriculture and land use sector cannot be addressed in isolation of other major policy priorities, such as the global challenge of sustainable food production for a population of 9 billion people by 2050. “We must find the optimal balance between emissions and removals within the agriculture and land use sector, equally taking into account the policy balance across priorities such as the need to maximise sustainable food production.”

However, the IFA has said that carbon neutral agriculture is unachievable. IFA President Eddie Downey said the policy aspiration of carbon neutrality for the agriculture sector as unattainable based on current production knowledge.

“The issue of sectoral targets, as proposed in previous draft legislation, caused unnecessary distractions and ignored the reality that agriculture serves many objectives such as the production of food, feed, raw material and energy. It also raises environmental quality and contributes to climate mitigation and adaptation. Legislation cannot simply seek to cut emissions from Ireland’s emission efficient farming sector without impacting on the many other roles of agriculture. Our emission reduction targets are clear and set out in EU legislation.”

Commenting on a proposal of carbon neutrality for the agriculture sector, Eddie Downey said: “This proposal is unachievable with current knowledge and production systems and represents a serious barrier to the sustainable expansion of the sector as set out in the growth plan Food Harvest 2020. It is essential that the full carbon sequestering potential of grassland and forestry is recognised and attributed to agriculture”.

He went on to say that demand for sustainably-produced food is increasing globally and climate policy must not hinder emission efficient food produced in Ireland. “Progress has been made in Europe in recent months, recognising the multifunctional roles of agriculture when addressing climate change.”