Irish farmers will have to prepare for a future with fewer small holdings and greater diversification away from beef and dairy as the country comes under growing pressure to tackle the causes of climate change, a minister has warned.
Minister for Development and Trade Sean Sherlock also said Ireland would have to expect criticism for seeking to protect domestic agricultural output while fronting campaigns to reduce carbon emissions globally.
“You can’t talk about the laudable things that we’re doing in one region of the globe without taking responsibility in relation to the effects of climate in our own country,” said the minister in charge of Irish Aid which works with the victims of climate change in developing countries.
“We could be accused of being absolutely contradictory where we laud the fact that there is an agreement in Paris where we’re saying we’re going to keep the global temperature rise to under two degrees. We now have to really think about what we’re going to do on our own island in relation to reducing the carbon footprint.”
Agriculture is the biggest contributor to Ireland’s emissions and government policy is to expand the beef and dairy sectors despite warnings that, even with more efficient farming methods, it will at best be possible to stop carbon emissions rising with herd numbers.
The EU, however, requires that Ireland reduce carbon emissions by 40% in the next 15 years with obvious implications for agriculture.
In an interview in today’s Irish Examiner, Mr Sherlock acknowledged Ireland was “facing into a difficulty” to meet the targets but he said it would be “too simplistic” to simply cut herds and agricultural production.
“If the demand is out there in an extremely competitive world then there is a school of thought that if Ireland gets out of those markets, they’re only going to be supplied by somebody else anyway.
“Ireland should not apologise for competing because we are a small island on the western periphery of Europe and we have to export to survive,” he said.
He said he did not foresee short-term reductions in herds, and was confident that investment in carbon mitigation technologies in farming and other sectors would help to meet targets.
However, he added: “If I was to track the long-term future of farming, I think you’re going to have a smaller number of larger holdings, and I think you will see a greater diversification.”
Mr Sherlock also warned that Ireland was unlikely to meet another international commitment — the UN target of increasing overseas development aid to 0.7% of national income by 2030 — without drawing on in-kind contributions from the private sector.
He said international firms, through sharing of patents, intellectual property and skills, should be required to play a major part, but he denied this was an attempt by the Government to evade its responsibilities.
“People might view what I’m saying with some degree of cynicism but Ireland is committing over €600m to development and humanitarian issues in 2016 alone so that gives us the right to start a discussion about how we are going to continue to fund this,” he said.
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