State urged to consider agri GHG pricing and ’emissions trading’

The Government is being urged to consider the “most appropriate and effective mechanisms” that could be used for a form of “greenhouse gas [GHG] pricing” in agriculture down the road, a new draft committee report recommends.

Although the white paper report, compiled by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action, outlines that a carbon tax on agriculture is not expected “in the medium term”, the Government is being urged to consider the feasibility of operating a form of “emissions trading” into the future.

The potential role of taxation in reducing agri GHG emissions is examined, along with a number of other measures, in a draft report which is due to feed into the Government’s National Climate Action Plan.

The document – seen by AgriLand – proposes seven “priority recommendations” to be implemented by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in conjunction with other Government departments in order to reduce GHG emissions from Irish agriculture.

On the potential role of taxation, the committee takes the view that “at this time” an additional tax is “not the appropriate mechanism” to achieve climate-friendly agricultural practices.

The report highlights that: “Carbon taxes to date are applied globally at the point of consumption rather than at the point of production.

Significant concerns around competitiveness of the sector would arise were a production tax to be applied unilaterally at this juncture.

There is no comprehensive means to measure GHG emissions from any farm and such a capability is not foreseen even in the medium term, raising substantive concerns around fairness and enforceability.

“Farming is by and large a low-margin business and any additional taxes would raise serious concerns around enabling the just transition for the sector,” it states.

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While the committee says that it acknowledges that a possible carbon tax is an “evolving subject”, it was not considered by the committee in any detail.

Therefore, it is recommended that the Government Standing Committee (finance/budget committee) should consider the issue and all aspects of taxation instruments available.

The committee should seek to form a view on the most appropriate and effective mechanisms which could be used for a form of GHG pricing, including examination of the feasibility of operating a form of emissions trading for some or all of these emissions.

“The committee should consider the rapidly evolving international policy landscape in this regard,” it states.

Food marketing review

Other key priorities outlined in the report include: prioritising Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) funding for carbon sequestration incentives and schemes; the establishment of a multi-stakeholder forum on Agricultural Diversification and Climate Change; the expansion of Teagasc consultancy on low-carbon farming; and the development of a national strategy for sustainable anaerobic digestion.

Other recommendations include: a review of the potential for increased afforestation; and the establishment of a national programme for rewetting and restoring peatlands.

Plus, a review of state-sponsored food marketing strategies – such as those run by Bord Bia – to ensure they are compatible with public health advice and sustainable food choices is also suggested.

The committee explains that climate change is already having “adverse impacts” on Irish agriculture by altering the use of land and changing the timing of natural events.

It is pointed out that nine of the 10 warmest years in Ireland have occurred since 1990 – resulting in negative impacts on soil, water biodiversity, vegetation and wildlife.

Emissions from soils due to agriculture, forestry, peatland drainage and extraction are described as a “major element” of Irish emissions.

However, the committee states that the restoration of soils to carbon sequestering status can both “prevent” these emissions and “more slowly start” to reabsorb carbon.