I thank the committee for the opportunity to address members and to highlight the ongoing work on climate action in the agrifood sector. The Department welcomes the special report on land published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, on 8 August last. This report confirms that our strategies to reduce emissions from our agrifood sector are on the correct path.
This is the second in a series of special reports to be produced by the IPCC in the sixth assessment cycle, following last year's release of the special report on global warming of 1.5°C, which adds detailed information on land-related issues, and a third report entitled, The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, which was published on 25 September 2019. This report highlights that the global food system contributes to between 21% and 37% of human generated greenhouse gas emissions, while the land biosphere acts as a sink for 30% of human generated CO2 emissions through vegetation and soil. The problem is that this land sink is vulnerable to climate change impacts, as well as other environmental and human pressures.
Furthermore, the report stressed that food production systems are increasingly vulnerable to climate change. Risks related to food security are greatest in pathways with lower incomes, increased food demand and increased food prices resulting from competition for land, which generates more limited trade and other adaptation challenges. The special report on climate change and land enforces the call for urgent adoption of mitigation and adaptation actions globally, including sustainable land-related strategies. The report demonstrates the impacts, vulnerabilities and risks of further global warming to our societies and natural systems. It also highlights that balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and animal-sourced food which is produced in resilient, sustainable and low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation and mitigation, while generating significant co-benefits for human health. The message that food production is causing major global environmental risks is clear. Sustainable food production should use no additional land, safeguard biodiversity, protect water quality, reduce fertiliser pollutants, produce zero carbon dioxide emissions and cause no further increases in methane and nitrous oxide emissions.
Climate change is impacting food security all over the world, as food systems are already coming under different pressures and it also has adverse effects on associated populations. We have seen this in Ireland as recent weather extremes highlighted our own food system’s vulnerabilities. The IPCC's conclusion poses a major challenge for the sector but it is simultaneously an opportunity for the Irish agrifood sector, as our production system is recognised by international independent analysis as having one of the lowest carbon footprints in the European Union. The Food and Agricultural Organization, FAO, has recognised the efficiency of our temperate grassland-based production systems. Evidence of this is further reflected in the EU Joint Research Centre report of 2010, which illustrates that while intensive dairy systems create less methane and nitrous oxide emissions than extensive ones, this is countered by higher emissions from land use and land use change. This report found that Ireland is the most carbon efficient producer per unit of dairy production in the EU, and is the fifth most carbon efficient producer of beef per kilogram. We are therefore in a good starting place due to our highly efficient farmers, coupled with a well developed research and advisory capacity and global recognition of our Origin Green objectives. However, it is clear that we need to do more to address these significant challenges. That requirement is not only regulatory but is also demanded by the market. The consumer of tomorrow is clearly asking for verifiable sustainability credentials.
The all-of-Government climate action plan was published this June and set out over 180 actions to meet Ireland’s EU targets for 2030, namely, a 30% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions based on 2005 levels. This plan has set an agricultural sector target to reduce emissions from 20.2 Mt in 2017 to between 17.5 Mt and 19 Mt by 2030, which is a reduction of between 10% and 15%. Furthermore, this plan requires the sector to enhance CO2 removals from the landscape by at least 26.8 Mt CO2 equivalent, while also contributing to the development of sustainable decarbonised energy systems. The combination of both these commitments sets our ambitions in line with the carbon footprint of the sector. This will require full implementation of the actions set out in the Teagasc report, also known as the marginal abatement cost curve, MACC, coupled with increased afforestation and the appropriate management of a significant area of farmed peatland. These actions are ambitious and challenging for the sector and require early and extensive adoption of mitigation measures, particularly focusing on nitrogen use efficiency and animal breeding technologies. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will shortly launch a roadmap consultation process on how the sector will transition and achieve its CO2 equivalent reduction targets over the next decade.
The IPPC report outlines that an overall focus on sustainability, coupled with early action, offers the best chance of tackling climate change. This underlines the importance of the climate action plan and Ireland’s next agrifood strategy to 2030. As we speak, the Department is conducting a public engagement with more than 400 attendees on developing its next strategy to 2030. Economically viable and sustainable production is at the heart of this process. This strategy will be instrumental in providing a framework for the sustainable growth of the sector. As with all strategic plans, it must evolve and respond to rapidly changing circumstances. In addition, the Department has commenced the process of developing its strategic plan for the next Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and climate delivery will be a key component of this. However, the CAP and strengthened regulation will not be enough. Industry will need to step up and collaborate to drive innovation and adoption of best practice to ensure the agriculture sector plays its part. We have already commenced this journey with the nitrates derogation review of 2019, which recommended tighter measures aimed at further strengthening the protection of water and attaining optimum soil fertility that are consistent with efficient agricultural production, effective water and air quality and delivery of our climate ambitions. The greater focus on improving nitrogen use efficiencies on intensive farms will provide additional environmental protection.
While acknowledging that the agriculture sector produces emissions, the sector should also be seen as part of the solution to our transition to a low carbon, climate resilient economy and society. Considerable opportunities exist within the agriculture, forestry and other land use sectors to address climate change while providing many co-benefits to society. Unlike other sectors, no one-off technological fixes can be applied. Mitigation requires the sustained application of improved management practices by farmers over time. Some land use mitigation responses, such as the conservation of peatlands, wetlands and forestry, have relatively immediate impacts. Others, such as afforestation and restoration of high carbon soils, will take longer to deliver.
As part of a special allocation of €3 million in the recent budget to fund additional pilot projects aimed specifically at climate measures in agriculture, a call for a new pilot European innovation partnership project on reduced management of farmed peatlands will be announced in due course. This is designed to increase carbon sequestration and contribute to meeting our commitments as part of the Government's climate action plan. It will also enhance the protection of biodiversity and water quality and provide a template for action in advance of Ireland's next Common Agricultural Policy.
The latest research from Teagasc identified significant additional abatement potential for the sector. Agriculture can potentially make major contributions to meeting renewable energy targets, although this mitigation effort comes at a cost. If we are to achieve these ambitions for the sector, it is important to continue to incentivise positive action through our afforestation programme and a well funded and appropriately configured Common Agricultural Policy. We have already been doing much with the current Common Agricultural Policy by supporting farmers to deliver environmental dividends through agri-environment schemes. We are operating several schemes to ensure the sustainable use of land, the maintenance of natural resources and the limiting of climate change. We have provided a number of statistics on that which I do not need to repeat.
Ireland welcomes the proposal that 40% of the CAP budget post 2020 will contribute to climate action. This approach aligns well with the advice of the Citizens’ Assembly, which recommended that farmers be rewarded for good environmental practices. These provisions will enable us to continue on our path towards carbon neutrality by promoting sustainable intensification of food production and maintaining a vibrant rural economy. This will require collaborative action. There are also challenges regarding food waste, as the EU requires us to reduce food waste
by 50% per capita.
It is important to remember that Irish agricultural production is recognised by international independent analysis as having one of the lowest carbon footprints. The efficiency of Ireland’s temperate grassland-based production systems is also recognised. We will continue to work at building consensus around the need for the agriculture sector to make a positive contribution to climate action. This is about getting better, not just bigger, and focusing on productivity and efficiencies rather than numbers.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine fully agrees with the finding of the special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, that land is under growing human pressure. Land has a lot to contribute to ensuring the agreement is met but it cannot do everything.