Comment: Gas Networks’ Graze Gas initiative will cut emissions

Well done to Gas Networks Ireland (GNI) for its plan to deliver renewable gas, much of it likely to come from farms, into the national gas network, via central grid injection facilities, the first of which will be located at Mitchelstown, Co Cork.

This project has won funding from the government’s Climate Action Fund, and is due to start next year.

GNI runs the natural gas network in Ireland, supplying 700,000 homes and businesses.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed

They say the Graze Gas project will eventually deliver 8% of Ireland’s residential gas demand, and reduce Irish emissions by 197,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum.

It starts in Mitchelstown because of the area’s huge potential for farm-based anaerobic digestion plants that will be fed by materials such as food waste, slurry, and other farm wastes.

Using farm animal waste to generate biogas will reduce the emissions from Ireland’s rapidly expanding dairy and beef industries.

By getting involved in anaerobic digestion, farmers can do their bit to fight climate change. That will be a welcome change from death by a thousand cuts, as various sources point their fingers at farmers as major villains behind climate change.

Only this week, the InterAcademy Partnership of science academies (the Royal Irish Academy is the only Irish member) said agriculture, forestry and land-use change (excluding food transport) contribute 20-25% of global emissions, and livestock cause the same carbon emissions as all the world’s vehicles, trains, ships and planes combined.

Farmers could be forgiven for thinking scientists want them to disappear, even before Climate Action Minister Richard Bruton ever announces his Government Plan of actions to make Ireland a leader in responding to climate change.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has said the mitigation potential for agriculture is limited.

In the EU’s 2050 – A Clean Planet for All strategy, it is envisaged the non-CO2 emissions, of which agriculture is the EU’s largest source, will be challenging to reduce, and as overall greenhouse gas emissions continue to decrease, agriculture is likely to account for a relatively large share of the remaining emissions.

However, it says emissions from agriculture can be reduced through certain practices and technologies which also influence carbon storage in soil, and agriculture has an important role to play in producing sustainable biomass for the bio-economy and energy sectors.

That is a much more constructive approach that the InterAcademy Partnership suggestions that everyone eat more plant-based “flexitarian” diets, including laboratory-grown meats.

If limiting climate change depends on the world’s population of 7.5 billion following that advice, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s call to limit global warming to 1.5°C is likely to be missed by a big margin.

The EU knows from its experiences with the Common Agricultural Policy that farmers will respond positively to whatever climate change incentives are in the CAP after 2020. The example of Germany proves that, with biomass from the land contributing about one fifth of Germany’s renewable energy, and a considerable amount also from wind turbines and solar panels on farmland.

They help Germany produce enough renewable energy in six months to power the country’s households for an entire year, following the country’s 33% increase in renewable energy generation in three years.

Ireland is a renewable energy slowcoach, but wind supplies nearly 30% of our electricity; the GNI initiative gets biogas under way next year; and nearly 5,000 megawatts of solar farms are in early stages of development.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change says renewable energy is a high-potential mitigation opportunity.

For farmers, it is a welcome opportunity for action on climate change, while they leave the scientists and politicians to talk it over.

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