‘Too late to change’ 2030 emission targets despite methane revelation

The Government’s 2030 targets for cutting agricultural emissions will not be revised to reflect the true global warming potential of methane.

That’s according to Dr. Frank O’Mara from Teagasc, who spoke at a climate change event in Dublin on Tuesday, January 21.

Speaking at the ‘Climate Action in Agriculture: A Balanced Approach’ conference – which was organised by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) – Dr. O’Mara said that Ireland was “in a commitment period”, despite the disputed accuracy of how methane affects the climate.

Dr. O’Mara was joined in a panel discussion by Dr. John Fitzgerald – the chairperson of the Government’s Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) – and Prof. Frank Mitloehner, a German US-based specialist on air quality, who gave a presentation on how the climate change effect of methane is not properly calculated.

Dr. Mitloehner explained that methane in the atmosphere goes through a ‘recycling process’, whereby it is converted into carbon dioxide, which is absorbed by grasslands and other plants, digested by ruminant livestock, and converted back into methane before re-entering the atmosphere. This process then repeats.

On foot of this presentation, there was agreement from Dr. O’Mara and Dr. Fitzgerald that the climate change effect of methane, up to now, has likely been inaccurately calculated.

However, Dr. O’Mara suggested that it was now too late to alter agriculture’s 2030 emission reduction targets in relation to methane, or to begin recalculating its effect.

Such a reappraisal of the methane effect would have to wait until after 2030, the Teagasc representative argued.

“The point is, we are in a commitment period now, or entering into one for the next decade, where that doesn’t count,” Dr. O’Mara remarked.

“We’ve signed up to the agreements that came out of the Paris Agreement. The Government has given us a target for agriculture to meet. We’ve got to meet those targets. The ground rules are set for 2020 to 2030,” he added.

It was acknowledged by the CCAC chair Dr. Fitzgerald that the way methane is treated and measured in climate change science is “probably not appropriate”.

How we treat methane, probably, from a scientific point of view, is not appropriate, and if we use that metric, and we want to be carbon neutral by 2050, then we would have to get rid of all our cows.

“For that reason, it would be right to have a change in the way Europe and the world measures [methane],” Dr. Fitzgerald added.