The US and Chinese presidents agreed last week, bilaterally, to reduce their emissions.
This is important, because they account between them, for 45% of greenhouse-gas emissions, and they had not, hitherto, been leading contributors to climate-change policy.
China, as an ‘undeveloped’ economy, had not been obliged to meet any targets under Kyoto, and the US was a sceptical participant (the Kyoto agreement was never ratified by the US Congress).
China has now agreed that its emissions would peak by 2030, while the US said its 2025 emissions would be reduced 26-28% compared to 2005 levels. The prospects of a worldwide agreement, next year, at a UN conference on targets, have therefore improved.
In advance of that, the EU has set itself new targets. In late October, heads of government met to negotiate a Climate and Energy Framework to 2030. It was agreed that the EU would:
* reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 40% by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels)
* renewable energy should account for at least 27% of consumption by 2030 (it is currently 14%).
In advance of that agreement, Irish negotiators pointed out the dissonance between current climate-change targets and other policies — in particular for food security within the EU, and for feeding a growing world population.
Climate change is forecast to have negative impacts on agricultural production, particularly in tropical areas, which are often densely populated.
There could be a growing need to supply dairy products from temperate zones.
The carbon footprint of cows on permanent grassland is substantially less than the footprint of those in intensive systems.
Yet, no account was taken of this, and Ireland could be penalised for expanding its dairy herd, while intensive systems with far greater carbon emissions were not penalised.
At the EU heads of government meeting, this argument was accepted; also, credit is to be given, in future, for carbon sequestered in forestry.
While there appears to be considerable data to support the view that, in Ireland, carbon is also sequestered in permanent grassland, this argument has yet to be won.
The scientific data and argumentation that won the day, and which secured these changes, was supplied to the Commission, and to Irish officials, by a Teagasc committee on climate change headed by Dr Karl Richards. (And most of the draft wording used in the final communication appears to have emanated from Teagasc).
This is a prime example of public-good research, where research guides policy-makers in their decisions.
Paragraph 2.14 of the agreement states: “The multiple objectives of the agriculture and land-use sector, with their lower mitigation potential, should be acknowledged, as well as the need to ensure coherence between the EU’s food-security and climate-change objectives,” and “...encouraging the sustainable intensification of food production, while optimising the sector’s contribution to greenhouse-gas mitigation and sequestration, including through afforestation”.
This diplomatic ‘win’ should ensure that expansion of the dairy sector, which will follow the end of milk quotas next year, will not be restricted by carbon-emission targets. It does not, however, get the sector off the hook. There will be a requirement to minimise greenhouse-gas emissions, and the Common Agricultural Policy is being constantly adjusted, so that agricultural and environmental objectives are not in conflict. This was emphasised in John Muldowney’s paper.
In attempting to minimise emissions, Teagasc have prepared two handbooks: the ‘Beef Carbon Navigator’ and the ‘Dairy Carbon Navigator’, for beef and dairy farmers
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