Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from Irish agriculture are projected to increase by 9% relative to levels recorded in 2005 by 2030, unless significant efforts are taken that would mitigate these emissions.

A new Teagasc report – Analysis of Abatement Potential of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Irish Agriculture 2021-2030 – assesses the likely level of future GHG emissions if no action is taken to address the issue.

The report highlights the potential for GHG abatement based on current scientific knowledge to limit the emissions from the sector, according to Teagasc.

Growth in Irish agricultural output over recent years, and in particular the expansion of the dairy sector, has seen emissions begin to increase over that period.

The report projects that agricultural GHG emissions could increase by 9% relative to 2005 by 2030 in the absence of mitigation.

This doesn’t bode well for Ireland’s commitment at EU level to reduce overall GHG emissions by 20% by 2020 and 30% by 2030, relative to the 2005 level.

A total of 28 different abatement measures – that could be employed to reduce emissions – were identified by the report.

These measures would either reduce emissions of methane and nitrous oxide from agriculture or increase the level of carbon sequestration through additional forestry and bio-energy production, Teagasc explained.

Farm practices that improve efficiencies at farm level, thereby reducing methane and nitrous oxide emissions, are also emphasised in the report.

Other actions are identified that sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere such as afforestation.

The principal mitigation measures include:
  • Further improvements in dairy and beef genetics;
  • Improved nitrogen use efficiency;
  • Altering the fertiliser type applied;
  • Increased afforestation;
  • Improved sequestration in agricultural soils;
  • Enhanced production of biomass and biogas.

As it stands, agriculture comprises about 33% of Irish GHG emissions; these emissions comprise of methane and nitrous oxide.

Meanwhile, grasslands and forests soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – offsetting some of these emissions.

‘Significant challenges’

With agricultural production likely to increase further, the sector faces significant challenges in meeting its emissions obligations, according to the director of Teagasc, Prof. Gerry Boyle.

Commenting on the report, he said: “Teagasc has now provided a menu of cost-effective mitigation options for reducing agricultural emissions that will go a long way towards overcoming these challenges.

Our report highlights, in particular, the need for enhanced knowledge transfer – as the rate at which mitigation measures are adopted by Irish farmers is of critical importance if the maximum amount of mitigation is to be achieved.

“Furthermore, this study provides a useful framework for the complex discussions surrounding agricultural GHG mitigation that we can expect over the next few years,” he said.