Widely accepted greenhouse gas must be tackled urgently

A high percentage of agricultural research looks at environmental matters.

Fortunately, most of the agricultural research findings to date indicate that there is little or no conflict between good farming and good care of the environment.

Some of the Teagasc research with fertilisers and grass enabled many farmers to save a lot of money on fertilisers without any loss of production, and better protection of the environment.

Agricultural research has also proved the benefits of good grassland and animal management for the environment, compared with poor management.

However, grain-fed animals produce far less methane than grass fed animals.

While some are sceptical about global warming and the reasons for it, the official view around most of the world is that it is a serious threat.

It is now widely accepted that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will have to be tackled urgently, in order to keep the rise in global temperature below the critical two degrees Centigrade.

Global warming can be examined under many headlines, including EU and Irish targets for GHGs, and changing agricultural practices to reduce GHGs.

EU Targets

The European Council set an objective of reducing the 1990 levels of GHGs 40% by 2030. They have offered to go further if other major economies agree to undertake their fair share of global emissions reduction effort.

EU member state governments might have to purchase carbon credits from other countries, or pay very heavy penalties for exceeding their GHG allowances.

Our Environmental Protection Agency estimates that, without proper action now, the GHG could increase by 5 to 10% by 2020, with 45% coming from agriculture.

It is likely that the best case scenario for Irish agriculture is to reduce GHG by 20% by 2030. Governments, especially Ireland, have a chance to make a strong national case based on science, national priorities and comparative advantage.

To achieve an 80% reduction in GHG, the Commission hs proposed that agricultural emissions could be reduced by between 42 and 49%.

It will be impossible for Ireland to achieve 80% reduction in GHG by 2050, because agriculture alone currently produces more than that total national allowance for 2050.

The big question is, can Irish agriculture deliver the required reductions while at the same time increasing output to meet the growing demand for food.

Teagasc has prepared a report which is fairly optimistic, but we must start now, and have a whole industry approach.

Teagasc researchers say that the Irish case must be based on the need for more food production globally, and emissions per unit of food production should be the criteria used in negotiations.

On this basis, Ireland is very competitive. Moorepark researchers also highlight the greater carbon efficiency of grazing high quality grass.

Some years ago, Teagasc organised a conference on climate change in Dublin.

The key message then was that the global threat of GHG emissions could be seen as an opportunity for Irish farming.

While agricultural output remained steady, emissions were reduced by 8%. At the same time, emissions from transport increased by 175%.

Teagasc says that there is a good case for rewarding Ireland for its efficient grass based system of farming.

They say that if carbon sequestration is factored in, Ireland has a significant competitive advantage.

Carbon sequestration takes place when GHG emissions are reduced by the removal of a proportion of carbon dioxide via the photosynthesis in good pastures, and forests are also very good carbon “sinks”.

Forests are increasing in Ireland; elsewhere, in South America for example, forests are cut down to increase food production.

Teagasc says that it is essential that carbon sinks be included in any new negotiations.


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