Ireland was on track last night to get a deal that will cut the cost of action against climate change, although environmentalists warned it threatens global food security.
Cattle and sheep contribute more greenhouse gasses to the country than the transport sector and under the current rules will lead to massive fines for the country by 2017.
However, the EU is now setting new targets for 2030 in preparation for a new global agreement that the UN hopes will be reached at its meeting in Paris next November.
Ireland’s target emission cuts have been very high because the EU system was based on a country’s GDP — leaving Ireland, Denmark, and Luxembourg to make the highest cuts.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny described the current system as “truly catastrophic” and said it should never have been accepted.
“It was based on per capita income at a time when our country was in a very different position financially from now,” he said when he arrived in Brussels for the two-day summit.
Following months of negotiations by Ireland, the European Commission had been persuaded to take account not just of the livestock, but of the value of forestry and possibly grazing land as absorbers of the carbon gases.
Mr Kenny told his fellow EU prime ministers that Ireland’s agriculture sector was unique and argued that Ireland’s livestock had a much lower carbon footprint than other countries.
Irish agriculture is the biggest producer of methane gas in the world after New Zealand. The methane is produced by cattle and sheep as they digest their food and is emitted mainly by belching.
If Ireland had to stop producing dairy and beef, the gap would be filled by others that were not so particular about their carbon footprint, and the high quality of their food, he insisted.
“We believe that when quotas go in the dairy sector we can produce so much more with so much potential for food, and as we are pioneers in carbon foot printing at the moment,” he said.
He was being firmly supported by the Irish Farmers Association and president Eddie Downey said it was an issue worth fighting for.
“The sector supports 300,000 jobs right across the country, is the largest exporter of beef in Europe, produces 15% of the world’s infant formula and has overall food exports of over €10bn. This is being achieved sustainably,” he said.
However, Stop Climate Chaos, a coalition of 28 development, environmental, youth, and faith-based Irish bodies, said they were dismayed by the Government’s approach, saying it actually threatens food security rather than helping it.
Ciara Kirrane called on the heads of government to recognise that climate change is the overwhelming threat to food security, not climate mitigation policies, and to commit to sustainable food production and consumption.
The meeting was also coming to an agreement on how the targets for emissions would be calculated for each country, continuing to base it on relative GDP per capita, but adjusting it for those with above the EU average — which would include Ireland.
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