On November 30, 147 heads of state and government will descend on Paris for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) to take action on climate change.

Central to an agreement will be efforts to limit global temperature increases to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This will be achieved through pledges by the Parties. Next year, individual targets for EU Member States will be agreed within the overall EU target.

To reach this target, climate experts estimate that global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions need to be reduced by 40-70% by 2050 and that carbon neutrality (zero emissions) needs to be reached by the end of the century at the latest.

The EU’s contribution to the new agreement will be a binding, economy-wide, domestic greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of at least 40% by 2030.

The target for the EU-wide non-emissions trading sector (NETS), which includes agriculture, will be 30% by 2030, the Department of Agriculture stated.

Why its outcome will be important for farmers

This time around agricultural emissions are set to form part of the debate. This is a major problem for Ireland and in particular for Irish agriculture.

Agriculture Emissions are seen by some as important because they are dominated not by CO₂ but by methane, NO₂, etc, which are so-called “short lived” gases.

Some experts have said that we can get a much faster response – in terms of re-stabilising climate – from reducing agricultural emissions than from CO₂ reductions.

As impacts of climate change become more severe, the pressure to find “fast” interventions will grow, so agricultural emissions will be particularly scrutinised.

Agriculture in Ireland accounts for 32.6% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Agriculture makes up 14% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and the fourth highest sector that contributes to emissions.

An Taisce recently said that the science is clear that “universalising” the “western” dietary mix is not remotely compatible either with global nutrition, global heath, or rapid climate change mitigation.

Should this view win support among the majority of decision makers it may not spell good news for Ireland’s beef and dairy industries which have placed significant hopes in boosting exports to developing countries.

The current view of the Irish Government is that the EU’s policy in relation to climate change and agriculture must do three things:

  1. Promote sustainable intensification of food production to reduce the carbon intensity of food production and to contribute to both food security and greenhouse gas mitigation objectives.
  2. Encourage sustainable land management, afforestation and other forest sector mitigation activities, including forest product uses, that contribute to climate change mitigation and sustainably manage soil carbon stocks.
  3. Seek to move as far along the road to carbon neutrality as it possible in cost-effective terms, while not compromising our capacity for sustainable food production.

Ireland’s emission reduction target under the new global target will be part of the overall EU target, according to the Department.