The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) will focus on reducing nitrous oxide emissions in agriculture – mainly from the use of chemical nitrogen fertiliser – to ensure that it achieves its carbon-budget targets in the first five-year term.

Meanwhile, the focus on addressing the sector’s methane emissions will likely happen in the second five-year term, it confirmed.

The DAFM was represented at today’s (January 18) Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action (JOCECA) as it continued its series of stakeholder meetings on Ireland’s carbon budgets.

Published in October 2021 by the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC), Ireland’s carbon budgets outline our path to achieving a 51% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. For the agricultural sector, the CCAC has recommended a 22-30% emissions-reduction target.

Addressing the JOCECA, chief inspector at the DAFM, Bill Callanan, said that in line with the focus on reducing nitrous oxide emissions, a national fertiliser register of compliance will also be developed.

Reducing fertiliser usage and changing fertiliser type will contribute to this reduction in nitrous oxide, which would need to be close to 2 megatonnes (Mt) in the first budgetary period in order to contribute to the overall 51% GHG reduction, he added.

Training and advisory services to underpin this transition will also be available, he said.

The CCAC’s proposed carbon budgets are summarised as follows:

295Mt (megatonnes) CO2e – an average reduction of 4.8% per year for the first budget period;
200Mt CO2e – an average reduction of 8.3% per year for the second budget period;
151Mt CO2e – an average reduction of 3.5% per year for the third provisional budget.

Commenting on the necessary reductions in methane, the chief inspector said achieving these are more challenging as the technological advances are currently not available in the marketplace.

“Progress on methane is expected to accelerate within the second five-year carbon budget as methane-reducing feed additives become commercially available,” he said.

He added that the DAFM is continuing to significantly fund and participate in international research in order to address the methane challenge from
pasture-based livestock-production systems.

He said that the challenge to reduce methane levels in Ireland is very clear, as 95% of total methane emissions arise within the agriculture sector “where abatement potential is limited”.

But he also said it must be acknowledged that in the short-term, the global focus is on cutting fossil methane, something the EU Commission will legislate for in 2022.

Fossil fuel subsidies
In Ireland, fossil fuel subsidies – direct and indirect – came to a total of €2.4 billion in 2019, something which was highlighted by a experts at the JOCECA carbon-budget meeting as being incompatible with a carbon-budget plan that is discouraging, and fostering incentives to, reduce fossil fuel consumption. There were calls at the JOCECA for these subsidies to be addressed and scrapped earlier than a proposed date of 2024.

Fielding questions from the JOCECA members, the DAFM senior inspector addressed a sustainability and national herd-related question posed by People Before Profit TD, Deputy Bríd Smith.

She said that despite claims to the contrary by the DAFM, the national herd has, in fact, “increased over five years between 2015-2020 by about 20%”.

Callanan acknowledged that there was an increase in the herd number after the lifting of quotas in 2015, but that in 2017-2018, the number stabilised in terms of the total number of animals in he country.

He said that there has been undeniable growth in dairy, but that has been a reduction in other areas of the livestock sector.

Deputy Smith requested the exact figures from the chief inspector and said that what he was saying did not tally with information reported by the Environmental Protaction Agency.