Farmers have expressed fears that panic reaction to the latest climate change report will place an unfair burden on agriculture to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The IFA said agriculture in Ireland was among the most emission-efficient in the world and it was essential that this was recognised in any international agreements that might place new demands on the sector.
Farming accounts for nearly a third of Ireland’s greenhouse gas and carbon emissions. Agricultural output is due to increase significantly over the coming years.
Eddie Downey, the president of the IFA, said current carbon emission policies did not take into account the fact that grassland, which Ireland has in abundance, also absorbed carbon from the atmosphere and retained it in the soil.
“The United Nations must move to a method of emission accounting for agriculture which is based on emissions per kilo of production rather than the existing model which ignores the carbon sequestering role of the sector,” said Mr Downey.
His concerns were echoed by the group representing dairy farmers, the ICMSA, which said it feared the report would become a stick to beat the sector.
ICMSA president John Comer called on the Government to ensure any EU-wide strategy on climate change looked at member states separately and recognised that food production in Ireland was among the least environmentally damaging. “Ireland must not permit itself to be bounced into an across-the-board, crude-emissions reduction system,” he said.
John Sweeney, a climatologist and lecturer at NUI Maynooth, warned that might not be possible because of the need to treat climate change as a global problem that required a global response.
“Every nation state does behave like an individual and tends to want to look after its self-interests and ignores the collective community good of the planet, and the Irish Government has been no different in that respect from others trying to seek special exemptions for things like agricultural emissions and so on,” said Prof Sweeney.
“But I think the message of this report is that we all have a burden to share, we all have to do our best in tackling this major problem, and that the time for vested interests influencing leadership is over.”
Environment minister Phil Hogan acknowledged existing EU carbon reduction targets were “challenging” but said this did not necessarily mean production would be affected.
“Economic development and low-carbon transition are not mutually exclusive and can be progressed in parallel, provided we advance on an informed and sensible course,” he said. The Climate Action and Low-carbon Development Bill, which will place a range of obligations on the Government and its departments, will be published within weeks, he added.
Labour MEP Emer Costello said it should be published as a matter of urgency, a sentiment with which Green Party leader Eamon Ryan agreed. “Ireland is threatened by an inevitable rise in sea levels and flooding unless we act now,” he said.
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