Tackling emissions: Agriculture ‘part of the solution’

Irish agriculture is working to reduce carbon emissions and going forward can flatline emissions output – while still aiming for Food Wise 2025 targets, according to secretary general for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Brendan Gleeson.

The new secretary general was speaking on the matter before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate yesterday (Wednesday, November 7).

Actions

Gleeson outlined what actions the department has been taking to reduce emissions from the sector, highlighting its three-pronged approach focusing on abatement, sequestration and the displacement of fossil fuels.

Responding to questions from committee chairwoman Hildegarde Naughton, the head of the department said that agriculture can make a contribution to the national target reduction of 30% by 2030.

We can certainly reduce the emissions intensity and flatline emissions output – even against the background of an increasing profile of production.

However, the secretary general reminded committee members that food production will always lead to emissions.

In his opening dialogue, Gleeson set out Irish agriculture’s current contributions to carbon emissions and what it can realistically do about it.

“Agriculture contributes 32.3% of Ireland’s overall emissions; this is not surprising given the profile of Ireland’s economy and the importance of agriculture.

Even in a successfully decarbonised Ireland, agricultural emissions – as a percentage of the total – will still be significant.

“It must also be recorded that in Ireland our food production systems provide for some of the lowest carbon footprint profiles across the European Union on a per unit basis, as reported by the EU joint research centre.

‘Part of the solution’

“While agriculture is contributing to the emissions, it is also part of the solution. There are three strands to the department’s approach to this,” he said.

“The first is abatement; that’s reducing emissions of methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide from the agricultural sector insofar as this is possible.

“The second is sequestration – that’s taking carbon out of the atmosphere through forestry and other land-use mechanisms. And the third is displacement and substitution of fossil fuels and energy-intensive materials with renewable-energy resources.”

The secretary general said that the latest research from Teagasc has identified “significant additional abatement potential” from the agriculture sector.

“Agriculture can also contribute to meeting renewable energy targets so these are potentially major contributions.

“This mitigation effort comes at a cost; if we are to achieve the ambition for the sector it is important that we continue to incentivise positive climate action through our afforestation programme and through a well-funded and appropriately configured Common Agricultural Policy.”

Contributions

Gleeson added that important contributions must come from all stakeholders, including farm bodies and advisory agencies, as well as farmers.

The secretary general stressed the importance of sectors working together to reduce emissions. He referenced a sustainability dialogue held by the department over the summer and the positive views and sense of collaboration taken from that along with the potential synergies of efforts from industry stakeholders that could be used.

“We will continue to build this consensus around the need for agriculture to make a positive contribution to the climate change debate.”