Chairperson of Friends of the Earth Ireland, Dr Cara Augustenborg, is a climate change lecturer in UCD. She was part of the Irish NGO delegation at COP21.
Following COP21, she expressed concern about Ireland’s approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris climate agreement.
“In Ireland, reducing our emissions from transport, electricity, and buildings are the quickest ways to improve so we should be addressing those immediately, but the Government’s commentary has been dominated by COP21’s implications for agriculture,” she said.
“[Agriculture Minister] Simon Coveney said ‘no rethink of the State food plan is required’.
“However the Paris agreement and the Low Carbon Development Act require a rethink of everything, especially Coveney’s ambition to add 300,000 more methane-producing cows to our national herd.”
Dr Augustenborg adds: “The Paris agreement refers to food production in Article 2. Our leaders have latched onto these words as a justification to increase beef and dairy production in keeping with their Food Wise 2025 ambitions.
“However, they’re ignoring all the words that go before ‘food production’ in the agreement.
"It says we must increase our ‘ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions in a manner that does not threaten food production.’
"Article 2 is about resilience to climate change in our food system, not increasing food production to suit national economic interests.”
COP21 also refers to a need to address food security.
Dr Augustenborg said Environment Minister Alan Kelly argued this reference meant Ireland should increase food production to feed a rising global population.
“But food security involves providing adequate supply and access to nutritious food. In Ireland, we produce beef, which the World Health Organisation has reported we need to reduce our intake of for health reasons,” she said.
“We also produce dairy, which is increasingly being turned into infant formula for the Chinese market. Minister Coveney has said Irish food exports are about developing ‘premium products for premium markets’.
"We make great products, but we need to be honest that we make them for the middle and upper classes, not to feed those who live in hunger.”
Dr Augustenborg also said recent flooding of farmland has shown the importance of climate resilience.
Farmers need greater diversification to protect them from climate shocks and from the economic volatility of the dairy sector and low profit margins of the beef sector.
There is great potential in forestry and agroforestry and renewable energy production.
“Any plans we’ve made in Food Wise 2025 are outdated and must be reviewed in light of the new direction the world is moving,” she said.