The Government has agreed “bold” and “ambitious” targets to limit emissions in key sectors of the economy, the Green Party leader has said.
Eamon Ryan said it was a “hugely significant and important day”.
An agreement was reached on Thursday on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in key sectors of the Irish economy after reaching a compromise rate of 25% for agriculture.
It set a 50% reduction for transport and a 75% reduction for the electricity sector.
Speaking at Government Buildings on Thursday evening, Mr Ryan said: “We have to be ambitious. We have to be bold. We have to take the action now. We cannot delay and that’s what this Government has committed to.”
While farmers will be expected to reduce carbon emissions by 25% over the eight years, it is expected that a significant suite of supports will be introduced from this year's budget onwards to incentivise them to make changes to how they use their land.
Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue said the agriculture target of 25% reflected a “very challenging, but ultimately achievable, ambition for the sector”.
He said: “This is an important day, but it’s not the end of the journey. It is not even the beginning of one.
“Farmers and this sector have been on a pathway to reduce emissions for many years, but we are now stepping up those ambitions.
“I will back farm families and this Government will too, over the course of the next decade, to reach for ambitious targets. We will support them every step of the way.”
The agreement comes after lengthy wrangling between Mr Ryan, who had been pushing strongly to set agriculture emissions at the upper limit of 30%, and his coalition partners.
Mr Ryan had faced significant pushback from Mr McConalogue, as well as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil backbenchers, who had argued in favour of a target closer to 22%.
Both Ministers had come closer to an agreement in recent days, with Mr McConalogue holding out on 24% and Mr Ryan arguing for 26%.
An agreement on reduction targets for all sectors was signed off by Cabinet ministers on Thursday afternoon.
The Government’s Climate Action Plan 2021 set out a 22-30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions target for the agriculture sector, as part of Ireland’s aim to reduce its total emissions by 51% by 2030.
A reduction in the range of 62-81% was outlined for electricity, with a 42-50% reduction in transport.
Some backbench TDs wanted the agricultural emissions ceiling to be set on the lower end of that range, with climate scientists and some opposition parties calling for a reduction on the higher end.
Ireland has legally committed to halving its carbon emissions by 2030 and to achieving net-zero by 2050.
Opposition politicians have labelled a 25% emissions reduction for Ireland’s agricultural sector “a failure” on climate action, while a farmers’ lobbying group said it was a “potentially devastating blow for Irish farming”.
Labour leader Ivana Bacik said it was “unfortunate” to see a target at the mid-range instead of on the higher end of the 22-30% range that was outlined in the Government’s Climate Action Plan.
“It’s unfortunate that Government has landed on just a 25% emissions target for the agriculture sector when all the science is clear – the sector must have reductions of closer to 30% to have some hope of offsetting the impact of climate change.”
People Before Profit/Solidarity TD Paul Murphy said that the 25% target set for agriculture was “yet another Green Party failure”.
“Agriculture accounts for 37% of Ireland’s emissions – a 25% reduction by 2030 is hopelessly inadequate,” he said.
Solidarity TD for Cork North Central Mick Barry said that “no one who takes the issue of climate change seriously could support this deal”.
Social Democrats climate spokesperson Jennifer Whitmore said the 25% reduction in carbon emissions for the agricultural sector represents "a shocking failure" by Government to listen to the science.
"This deal clearly demonstrates the Government are not prepared to, or capable of, making the tough decisions required to deal with climate change," she said.
“Instead, they have chosen to ignore the independent advice and this deal has fallen far short of the target needed for us to meet our climate targets.
“Unfortunately, it appears, Government ministers and TDs were more interested in protecting their seats rather than protecting the environment and the future of our rural communities.
“The onus is now on the Government to clearly spell out which sector is going to have to make up for this shortfall and their lack of ambition when it comes to agricultural reform and climate action.”
This was echoed by People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith, who said that the announcement amounts to an “enormous blow to the climate goals and environmental movement in this country”.
She said the deal “represented a victory by big agri-food business interests who have profited enormously from the current model and not farmers, the majority of whom are losing out under this failed model and will continue to lose out. It is this export-driven model which is driving emissions rises.”
She added: “This is not what the science tells us needs to happen, not what the extremes in weather are telling us needs to happen and not what the climate movement expects from the Greens in government."
In a statement, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Tim Cullinan says that the 25% reduction in emissions for the agriculture sector is “a potentially devastating blow” for Irish farming.
“This deal between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party is all about the survival of the Government rather than survival of rural Ireland.
“The Government has agreed to a target without any pathway to get there or any budget to assist farmers to reduce emissions. They have no idea of the economic and social impact of today’s decision on the farming sector or rural Ireland.
“Farmers across the country will be rightly worried about what this means for their future.
“The implementation plan to achieve the target will be vital.
“I want to make it clear that any attempt to undermine farmers livelihoods or the viability of sector, in order to achieve these targets, will be opposed vigorously by the IFA,” he said.
Speaking on, Fianna Fáil TD Paul McAuliffe acknowledged there were “many representatives in Fianna Fail who are arguing that there were unique conditions in farming, but every sector will have challenges.
“This is a radical and a significant shift in behaviour both at national and at sectoral level and today marks the start of that, and at least each now sector knows the challenge that they face, and we need to get on with that.”