Stephen Cadogan: Agriculture only No 3 in 2015 emissions increase

Some farmers found it ironic to recently hear An Taisce, which works to preserve and protect Ireland’s natural and built heritage, criticising the Environmental Protection Agency for exempting agriculture from the same scrutiny demanded of every other sector in Ireland.
Stephen Cadogan: Agriculture only No 3 in 2015 emissions increase

An Taisce also took a swipe at the “Ireland Inc branded subsidised and emissions- intensive beef production”, and “exporting baby milk powder to sell to Chinese mothers as sustainable food production”.

An Taisce welcomed the EPA’s call for “transformational change” to deal with climate change and other risks to our health and natural environment, but slammed the Agency for saying Ireland’s largest emitting sector, agriculture, should “approach carbon neutrality” at “some vague future date”, as long as “it does not compromise capacity for sustainable food production”.

This all goes well over farmers’ heads, preoccupied as they are currently with survival.

In the dairy industry which An Taisce worries about, milk production to August was up 2.3%, but fell behind year earlier production in September, and nearly one in three farmers have committed to cut production by more than 72m litres, in return for an EU payment, because milk production has not been profitable for much of the past two years.

As for the country’s 100,000 or so farmers with beef cattle, some are going out of business, or becoming employees of the beef processors, because of low profitability.

The processing sector is already the biggest beef farmer in Ireland, and farmers send their best wishes to An Taisce for their dealings with the processors.

In any case, An Taisce may have targeted the wrong sector. After all, it has now emerged that the transport sector and the energy industries were ahead of agriculture, for increased greenhouse gas emissions for 2015 in Ireland.

New EPA figures show our emissions increased significantly in 2015, putting us on course to exceed the annual limit set by the EU for this year and 2017. In 2015, we pushed 2.12 million tonnes of extra carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere, compared to 2014.

The principal offenders were the energy industries, with 606,000 extra tonnes, the transport sector, with 480,000 extra tonnes, and agriculture with 301,000 extra tonnes.

In percentage terms, emissions overall increased 3.7%, but agriculture’s 1.5% increase was exceeded by transport’s 4.2%, energy’s 5.4%, residential’s 5.1%, manufacturing combustion’s 5.2%. industrial processes’s 10.2%, and the waste industry’s 13%.

It was the year milk quotas ended, the biggest happening in Irish agriculture for decades, but its impact on the environment was less than that of transport, which increased emissions for a third year in a row.

The biggest offender was the energy industries sector, due largely to increased coal use for electricity generation.

Maybe An Taisce goes hard on agriculture because it blames it as “the single greatest driver of biodiversity loss in Ireland”.

So it mentions pollution from “heavily subsidised” agricultural diesel endangering human health — even though tractors are insignificant pollution sources compared to our two million private cars.

An Taisce worries too much about agriculture, because it is hemmed in more than most sectors by EU restrictions. Being subsidised by the EU, as An Taisce points out, it is rigidly controlled by the EU.

Right now, Irish farmers are looking over their shoulders at the Netherlands, with the fastest growing dairy sector in Europe, but now halted in its tracks by the EU, and facing the loss of up to quarter of its milk production, because its intensification has breached EU pollution laws.

The EU is also putting Danish farmers through the wringer, threatening to close down intensive farms there.

As a result, the Department of Agriculture here has clamped down on farmers who say bad weather prevented their slurry spreading before the October 15 deadline. Permission for emergency spreading can now only be got on a farm-by-farm basis.

An Taisce can rest easy, they are not the only watchdogs, and farmers here are unlikely to get away with any activity that might damage the environment.

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