I am very pleased to be before the House to present the annual transition statement for the agriculture sector. The long-term challenge for the sector, as outlined in the climate action plan, is to meet the national policy objective of an approach to carbon neutrality which does not compromise our capacity for sustainable food production. That plan goes on to set out sectoral greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets for the first time. The target for agriculture is to reduce its emissions by between 10% and 15% by 2030. Uniquely, agriculture and land use can also remove CO2 emissions from the atmosphere. Our plan also requires agriculture to ensure that land use and land use change remove at least 26.8 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent from the atmosphere and contribute to the development of sustainable decarbonised energy systems.
In the longer term, at EU level the drive is towards zero net emissions by 2050. However, in getting to this position it is acknowledged that it is not possible to eliminate all emissions, such as those that arise from food production. The aim is for a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system.
The recently published farm to fork and biodiversity strategies as part of the European Green Deal are at the heart of this transition and propose ambitious actions to halt biodiversity loss and transform our food system. At this stage, these strategies articulate a vision for the agrifood sector. There are no legislative proposals to give effect to this vision, but these will follow and will be preceded by impact assessments that will allow us to properly evaluate the detail.
However, it is not only policy that is driving change. Society too is demanding a step-up in national climate and environmental commitment. As policymakers, we will have to work with stakeholders to seek the opportunity in this vision for sustainable food production. We will need to align our policy for the development of the agrifood sector with public and market sentiment and our national and international obligations to the environment, while protecting farm incomes.
The agriculture and land use sector is playing its part in the national climate effort by reducing emissions where possible, sequestering carbon and managing our carbon pools, and
contributing to the development of sustainable decarbonised energy systems. I will provide some specific examples of the actions that my Department has been engaging in. It is progressing a national climate and air roadmap for the agriculture sector to 2030 and beyond and has engaged in significant public consultation in this regard. This has involved a series of stakeholder engagements, including a one-day workshop which brought together a wide range of stakeholders to share information and discuss how to deliver on the sector’s climate commitments. The agriculture and food sector is one of the first sectors to take such a step. To my mind, this demonstrates the level of commitment across the sector to tackling climate change.
The roadmap will translate the overall sectoral ambition into more detailed actions and targets for delivery over the coming years. It is informed by the Teagasc marginal abatement cost curve, MACC, which identifies and costs various actions that will deliver emissions reductions and removals.
My Department continues to invest in mitigation measures. For example, almost 24,000 farmers are participating in the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, which has seen more than 1 million animals genotyped to date. Approximately 49,000 farmers are active in the green, low-carbon agricultural scheme, GLAS.
On the forestry front, Ireland has its highest level of forest cover in more than 350 years, at 11% of total land area. Under the current National Forestry Programme 2014-2020, afforestation rates have been, on average, 5,343 ha per annum and the latest wood-flow analysis indicates that in 2018, 40% of the roundwood timber used in the Republic of Ireland was used for energy generation, with consequential savings of 880,000 tonnes in emissions.
On the energy efficiency side, our farmers are availing of investment options such as biomass boilers and air-source heat pumps under the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, II pig and poultry, and the young farmers' capital investment scheme. My Department also announced a €10 million fund in April last year to support the installation of solar photovoltaic, PV, across all farms and the use of LED lighting.
We continue to engage in collaborate initiatives such as the agricultural sustainability support and advisory programme, ASSAP, with Government and industry representatives working together with farmers to improve water quality, as well as working closely with Bord Bia and Teagasc to effect positive change at farm level through research, advisory services and carbon audits.
My Department has also published a Code of Good Practice for Reducing Ammonia Emissions from Agriculture following a public consultation. This code will go hand in hand with our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
While I have thus far focussed on mitigation, there are two important elements to climate action, with adaptation planning being the other part of the story. We know our climate is changing and this is evident again this year with the driest spring in Dublin since records began in 1837. The agriculture and land sector is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and, therefore, needs to be prepared and resilient so that it can face whatever challenges the weather might throw our way. The first statutory agriculture, forest and seafood climate change sectoral adaptation plan was published last year. The plan sets out the projected changes in climate and focuses on those identified as most likely to impact the sector. Raising awareness and embedding climate adaptation across all our policies is central to how successful we are at adaptation planning, with buy-in and behavioural change being key. With that objective in mind, my Department adopted a case study approach in the plan, setting out a range of examples of how the sector has been impacted by changes in our weather and identifying steps towards building resilience. Our climate is changing and sustainable adaptation is going to be necessary. By taking steps to reduce the exposure of agriculture to present climate variability we can inform future climate adaptation requirements and increase resilience. I think at this stage we are all agreed on the need to act, and I hope the brief outline I have provided assures the House of both my commitment and that of those working in the sector to addressing the climate challenge.