Ireland needs to “maintain commitment” to a just transition as it takes steps towards carbon neutrality, the OECD has emphasised.

Today (Monday, May 10), the OECD published the Environmental Performance Review of Ireland, an independent assessment of the country’s progress towards its environmental policy objectives.

Speaking at the launch, Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan said that a just transition for agriculture will be key to tackling the climate crisis.

Agriculture accounts for 35% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), one of the highest shares in the OECD. Most agriculture GHGs are from livestock.

A just transition for agriculture

“The key to solving this is seeing the farmers of this country being central to the solution,” the minister said.

“The key policy metric that I’m looking to implement is that as our emissions fall, our agricultural incomes rise. That has to be the mechanism in which we deliver this just transition and change in how we manage our land.

“The OECD has been championing the likes of the [Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures], where we set international accounting standards, so that the full auditing of the environmental effect of businesses is taken into account – that we measure in businesses not just what the emissions are from their own processes, but also what the consumption of their product causes; also, the emissions of their suppliers.

“And in that context, the Irish food industry has been very successful – we’re a major exporter; very large revenues come into the country on the back of being an Origin Green exporting country.

“I believe one of the key developments we need to see is a greater share of income going to the primary producers from this international trade and transactions.

“This is the difficulty we balance but we need to do it; we need to give greater income to those who are going to be the frontline in protecting nature and that has to come from the processing and retail sector so that we, in meeting our auditing requirements, are fully accounting for all our emissions.”

Climate policies need to be swiftly implemented

The minister added that it’s land-based solutions that are going to be important in solving the climate crisis, particularly in a country like Ireland.

“We’ve to encourage a whole load of young people now to go into agricultural and forestry college and have the skills they’re going to need in the next 30 years to protect nature – and that’s why I think this focus on just transition agriculture is going to be key in everything government does,” he added.

According to the OECD, Ireland’s progress in delinking the economy from environmental pressures “has been uneven in the last decade”.

“Greenhouse gas emissions, waste generation and nutrient pollution rose with strong economic growth between the mid-2010s and the inception of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the review notes.

“Climate, circular economy and biodiversity policies have gained renewed impetus, with various ambitious policy initiatives and large public investment plans.

“These need to be swiftly implemented to alleviate the growing pressures from intensification of agricultural practices, demographic development, urban sprawl and road traffic.”

Key recommendations

Some of the key recommendations for Ireland outlined in the review include:

  • Set a target for biogenic methane emissions consistent with the climate-neutrality goal and to work with the EU to establish an emissions trading or similar system for agricultural GHG emissions;
  • Swiftly implement measures to address diffuse water pollution from nutrient losses and shift farmer income support towards agri-environment payments based on environmental outcomes;
  • Remove the VAT exemptions on fertilisers and animal feeds, as well as the tax concession on fuel used for farm operations and recycle the revenue to support general agricultural services or individual farmers (on the basis of farm size and type);
  • Accelerate the restoration and management of raised and blanket bog habitats;
  • Move faster towards a nationwide ban on bituminous fuels and consider including other smoky fuels like peat and wet wood;
  • Accelerate the phase-out of fossil fuel boilers and the switch to renewable alternatives for residential heating;
  • Reduce the administrative burden on authorities and small enterprises through general binding rules for more categories of facilities with low environmental impact;
  • Maintain the commitment to progressively increase the carbon tax rate and continue to provide compensation measures targeted at the most vulnerable people;
  • Gradually increase the diesel tax rate so it at least reaches the petrol tax rate and phase out the price cap for diesel used by road hauliers.