IFA has warned that proposals to reduce methane emissions from agriculture will cut farm output and will cost jobs.
However, the Green Party has said the proposals are too easy on agriculture.
Debate on climate measures has heightened, as Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton published the first draft of new laws for Ireland to meet climate commitments, including net-zero emissions by 2050.
It includes decarbonisation targets for each sector, such as banning the sale of fossil fuel-powered cars by 2030.
Mr Bruton confirmed that it is priority legislation for the Government in the new Dáil term which starts next Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a Fine Gael TD and two of the party’s senators called for Ireland to follow the New Zealand model on agriculture emissions.
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy TD said: “New Zealand, like the EU, are aiming for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“However, methane has been excluded, and assigned a separate target for reduction by between 24 and 47% by 2050.
“This is a sensible approach, which recognises that agriculture and food production is different and must be treated as such, as we look to meet our climate challenge. It is also in line with the recently published advice of the Climate Change Advisory Council.”
Two of her fellow members on the Oireachtas climate action committee, Fine Gael Senators Tim Lombard and Michelle Mulherin, also said Ireland should follow the example set by New Zealand.
However, the Climate Change Advisory Council’s advice to the Government to treat methane differently from other greenhouse gases is opposed by Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.
The Dublin Bay South TD said: “We cannot do what the Climate Change Advisory Council seems to be suggesting, which is to discount methane.”
The Climate Change Advisory Council, in a recent published letter to Mr Bruton, said: “The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C finds that global emissions of methane must reduce by between 24 and 47% on 2010 levels by 2050 in order to limit climate change to 1.5°C.
“A significant portion of the reduction in methane emissions can be achieved through the elimination of fugitive emissions associated with fossil fuel extraction and distribution.
“Further reductions need to be achieved through improvements in food production systems and the management of waste.
“As methane is a short-lived gas, the remaining emissions of methane, consistent with and foreseen in the 1.5°C scenarios, do not need to be balanced by negative emissions.”
New scientific findings since the 2015 Paris climate agreement indicate that methane greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture may be hugely overstated.
Dr Michelle Cain of the Oxford Martin Programme on Climate Pollutants says ruminant livestock such as cattle do not cause global warming, if their population is stable or is falling.
IFA environment chairman Thomas Cooney also entered the debate this week, saying methane reduction proposals by Fine Gael will damage Ireland’s rural economy unless a well-funded climate action strategy is introduced for farmers.
He said: “Methane is a short-lived gas, which lasts about 12 years in the atmosphere. Yet it is being benchmarked and wrongly compared to carbon dioxide, which can last up to 200 years in the atmosphere.”
He said neither the science nor technology exists to allow farmers reduce methane without cutting production.
“It’s time we move beyond targets to a clear climate delivery strategy, which improves farm-level profitability, increases economic activity in rural areas, and reduces environmental impact.”
Fine Gael’s Senator Tim Lombard said: “Irish farmers have shown that they are willing and able to adopt green farming practices, and we should be encouraging this approach, rather than creating fear among farmers.”
Fine Gael’s Senator Michelle Mulherin said: “If we treat agriculture in the same way as transport or energy, and simply cut back on production, then we risk off-shoring our food production to countries who do not have such ambitious emissions targets.”
For the first time, an Irish government has assigned a target for each sector in the Climate Action Plan, with agriculture asked to reduce emissions by 10-15%, by 2030.