Agriculture is “not being unfairly targeted” in the ongoing challenge to reduce Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions, the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, has stated.
Speaking to AgriLand at the Macra na Feirme National Conference 2018 in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, Commissioner Hogan cautioned that farmers must “listen carefully” to the debate on meeting the country’s carbon emission targets.
In 2009, John Gormley – the then minister for the environment, heritage and local government and former leader of the Green Party – signed Ireland up to the EU’s Effort Sharing Decision targets aimed at reducing emissions across member states by 2020.
Under the objectives, Ireland agreed to deliver a 20% reduction in non-ETS greenhouse gas emissions, on 2005 levels, by 2020.
Earlier this year, Ireland also committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions level by 30% on 2005 levels by 2030.
In addition, under the EU Renewable Energy Directive (2009) Ireland is also committed to produce at least 16% of all energy consumed in the Republic from renewable sources by 2020.
Speaking just days after Bord na Mona’s unexpected announcement that it plans to cease peat harvesting in 2025 – five years ahead of its initial deadline of 2030 – Commissioner Hogan cautioned that farmers must remain tuned into discussions on the global issue.
“We have to implement the programmes to meet our targets on climate action. We have to take this very seriously because otherwise we are going to be fined millions of euro which we shouldn’t be fined if we take action,” he said.
In a worst-case scenario, it is anticipated that such EU fines could reach up to €600 million.
We are proposing in the new reforms that a farm nutrient management plan should be mandatory for all farms to be able to do certain things around soil, water air and climate action.
“If we do these things and we get some money for the purpose of helping farmers to meet obligations, with the help of our farm advisory services, we are certainly going to reduce the possibility of future fines – and we are also going to be more competitive in the global market place for our products,” he said.
Commissioner Hogan highlighted the achievements of the dairy sector in terms of its approach to sustainability.
“The input of the co-operative sector on the dairy side of things, who have been doing a lot of good work on sustainability at the moment in terms of meeting farmers and going out into their farm yards and discussing with them their future plans, that work is very important,” he said.
Yet, despite efforts made, it is widely expected that Ireland will bust its CO2 emissions target in 2020.
Emissions from agriculture account for 33.3% of the country’s emissions.
The expansion of stocking rates, particularly for the dairy herd, has been linked to the rise.
According to a recent Teagasc report greenhouse gas emissions from Irish agriculture are projected to increase by 9% relative to levels recorded in 2005 by 2030.
“Minister Gormley brought it in and he would have certain different views than I would have in terms of sustainability.
“I think he was right to be ambitious; but I think in terms of putting programme behind making it happen that’s what I’m trying to do which is what he didn’t do,” said the commissioner.
Commissioner Hogan stated that at European level the contribution of agriculture to climate emissions has reduced by 20% since 1990.
However, he stressed that at member state level “we have some difficulty – including in Ireland”.
“Minister Richard Bruton, who is the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, and the advisory committee that he has on climate action has to re-double its efforts in order to ensure that we implement programmes that will help farmers, help the transport sector, and help the energy sector in order to meet our targets.
“We don’t have a chance of meeting our renewable energy targets at the moment either, and we don’t hear much talk about that, which can make a contribution towards our overall climate targets as a country,” he said.
“Farmers and people involved in energy and transport have to work together with the state agencies and Government as a matter of urgency in order to implement measures to meet our targets.
We cannot ignore this agenda and we have largely ignored it for too long.
When asked if he thinks agriculture is being unfairly targeted in the battle against carbon emissions, Commissioner Hogan said:
“I think all sectors have to make their contribution, but what I am saying to farmers is listen carefully to the debate, and listen to the solutions, and with the help of the direct payments that we give to farmers and a good farm advisory service, we can build a plan for each farm that will mitigate the worry.
“There are very good programmes that can be implemented that will help farmers’ ultimate profitability and also help the country’s prospects of actually selling those farmers products through their co-ops and agri businesses around the world.
“We have to get market share; sustainability is at the core of increasing market share in the future and we must embrace this,” he said.
Commissioner Hogan said farmers should take stock of what has happened to the peat industry.
We saw in the Netherlands when they breached their phosphorus limit and 160,000 cows had to be culled.
“We have to plan things well in agriculture to make sure that won’t happen because at the end of the day it will be farmers that will suffer,” he said.