Ursula von der Leyen: Irish farmers can 'lead the way' on climate transition

Ursula von der Leyen: Irish farmers can 'lead the way' on climate transition

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the Taoiseach Micheál Martin at Technological University Dublin, Grangegorman, last month. “There are ways in which Ireland can cut emissions in its livestock sector, and not just by reducing the number of animals." File photo: Julien Behal

Ireland can “lead the way” in reducing agricultural emissions and climate-friendly farming, according to the European Commission president - as a major new report found “clear evidence” that the country is getting “warmer and wetter” due to climate change.

The EU’s most powerful figure, Ursula von der Leyen, also said that green transport and energy shifts must be affordable for all citizens, and insisted the goal of the green transition was “precisely to cut bills for vulnerable households and small businesses” in countries like Ireland.

Her comments come as a joint report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Met Éireann and the Marine Institute found that 15 of the top 20 warmest years on record in Ireland have occurred since 1990, while the decade 2006 to 2015 was the wettest on record.

The concentration of greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide - continued to increase since 2012 with long-term implications for Ireland's climate, the report said, while methane concentrations - a main emissions driver from Irish agriculture - have increased approximately 170% compared to pre-industrial levels.

Ms von der Leyen told the Irish Examiner: “There are ways in which Ireland can cut emissions in its livestock sector, and not just by reducing the number of animals.

“It is also important to create opportunities for income diversification for farmers. Across Europe, a shift to a sustainable food system can bring environmental, health and social benefits. It can ultimately make our farms more competitive globally.

“New eco-schemes will reward farmers for climate and environmentally-friendly practices and for animal welfare improvements, for example. I am confident that Ireland – and its farmers – can lead the way on this.” 

The Commission president pledged that €13bn over the coming years will provide significant investment for the greening and decarbonisation of the Irish economy.

“For example, it will support the Midlands (the region most affected by Ireland’s transition from peat) as well as the large-scale energy renovation of buildings throughout the country, and the electrification of the commuter railway network in Cork,” she said.

For Irish people worried about fuel poverty - described as spending at least 10% of a household income on keeping a home warm - Ms von der Leyen vowed that the EU’s €72bn Social Climate Fund will support people on low incomes.

“The goal is precisely to cut bills for vulnerable households and small businesses. The fund will support citizens in Ireland to finance zero-emission heating or cooling systems, to install solar panels on their houses or to buy a cleaner car. 

Transport and energy must be affordable for all.

On the EU doing the heavy lifting when it comes to reducing emissions, she said she was confident in the wake of extreme climate change that major polluters would also come to the table.

“I believe that the rest of the world is also waking up to the facts: the cost of not acting against global warming is rising dramatically everywhere. We have recently seen heavy rain and flooding in China, but also deadly temperatures in Canada and melting permafrost in Siberia, to name a few examples. 

"China is also vulnerable to climate change and knows it needs to tackle it. The fight against climate change is now a truly global effort.” 

Ireland has seen the impact of climate change in sea level rise, increased ocean acidity, and higher ocean temperatures, according to the joint EPA, Met Éireann, and Marine Ireland report.

Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are the highest observed since measurements began, while background carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations reached in 2020 are approximately a 50% increase compared to pre-industrial levels.

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