Climate Change Response Bill 2010: Discussion with Irish Farmers' Association and Teagasc

I welcome our guests from the IFA and Teagasc to discuss the Climate Change Response Bill 2010. We have Mr. John Bryan, IFA president, Mr. Jer Bergin, chairman, IFA climate change project team, Mr. Pat Smith, general secretary, and Mr. Thomas Ryan, executive secretary, climate change project team. We also have Professor Gerry Boyle, director of Teagasc, and Dr. Rogier Schulte, head of environment, soils and land use research.

Before we begin I remind everyone of the position on privilege. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If witnesses are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a person or persons or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I will call on our guests from the IFA first, then the representatives from Teagasc and then we will open the discussion to questions from members of the committee.

Mr. John Bryan

I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to address the committee on this important legislation. I will provide an overview of the current position, the reasons for our opposition to the Bill and proposals. The chart before the committee shows the current situation, sectoral emissions and changes since 1990. It is clear that the only major rise was in transport and that our total rise was 14%. However, agriculture is the only area that had a significant reduction of 9%, which shows that agriculture has already made reductions.

I will outline the reasons for these reductions and how they have been achieved. Since 1990, the average age of cattle slaughtered in Ireland has reduced substantially. In 1990, some 44% of cattle at slaughter age were over 30 months and this figure reduced to 15% by 2006. There has been a significant reduction in the usage of fertiliser and a 35% reduction in nitrogen in the past ten years. This is equivalent to 500,000 tonnes per annum of CO2 equivalent.

Since 1990 there have been significant technological advances in dairying. Effectively, there has been a 12.5% reduction in the level of methane produced per kilogram of milk solids. This shows agriculture is already making the transition to a low-carbon economy. It is universally accepted that our low-carbon model based on grassland is one of the lowest carbon-producing in the world. With regard to future reduction potential, the agriculture sector can deliver a reduction of no more than 4% in emissions reduction, based on cost-effective emissions reduction options and the technologies available. Since agriculture has already made substantial reductions, that is the amount which we can aim for.

The IFA has serious reasons for opposing the Bill. One major reason is that we believe this is significant legislation that will have implications of itself for the next 30 or 40 years. We believe the legislation is being rushed. The closing date for submission by stakeholders is Friday, 28 January 2011. Second Stage in the Seanad commenced on Wednesday 13 January. There was inadequate regulatory impact analysis. The regulatory impact analysis is un-referenced and consists of general comments and there is no quantitative analysis of the economic impact of the proposed legislation on jobs, economic growth or exports. It is totally unacceptable to rush the Bill because of the long-term implications.

The measures proposed in the Bill are of significant concern because they surpass the EU and international emissions reduction obligations by almost 50%. This could seriously damage the competitiveness of Irish agriculture. The EU target for emissions reduction by 2020 is 20%. Ireland's Climate Change Response Bill proposes a figure of 28% compared to 2005 and, further, a target of 40% by 2030 and a target of 80% by 2050. The EU figure of a 20% reduction by 2020 was based on our GDP figures for 2005, at which time, as we are all aware, the Irish economy had a much higher level of economic activity. The target is the highest legally-binding international target, with the EU average at 10%. The EU 20% target by 2020 is out of reach.

According to the ESRI, a rapid decline in methane emissions from the agriculture sector can only be achieved through a reduction in the national herd. The measures proposed in the Bill are of significant concern because they will jeopardise the targeted €4 billion increase in exports over the next ten years identified in the Government's Food Harvest 2020 strategy for the agri-food sector. The Food Harvest 2020 strategy was agreed by the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and it was signed off by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, as well.

The measures proposed in the Bill will decimate the national herd. Teagasc research shows that a 30% reduction in carbon output would reduce the cattle population by approximately 40%. It is estimated that each 1% cut in emissions from the beef herd would cost €30 million at a time when Government strategy is based on increasing the national herd, growing our dairy output, creating employment and extra jobs. The chart before the committee shows clearly the effect of a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on the national herd. It is very clear that as greenhouse gases are reduced, the herd is decimated.

Measures proposed in the Bill are of significant concern because they will increase international greenhouse gas emissions and sustainable milk and beef production in Ireland will be replaced by less carbon-efficient food production from the deforested Amazonian lands in South America.

It is accepted internationally that food security will be an increasing problem. Demand for food will increase by 70%. This is the estimate of the United Nations World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization. The world population is to increase by 2.3 billion. There is already water scarcity in other parts of the world. Nine European countries, representing 46% of the population, are considered to be water stressed.

The chart before the committee is clear; it shows carbon leakage. Every kilogram of beef produced in South America rather than Ireland leads to carbon leakage and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions produced in the world. The measures proposed in the Bill are of significant concern because they are based on flawed and incomplete science. The accounting methods used take no account of the carbon sinks in grassland, forestry and renewable crops. There is no international agreement which ensures the response to climate change addresses the issues of escalating food demand, dwindling water reserves and carbon leakage.

There are four key principles which must be included as amendments to the Bill to safeguard 270,000 jobs in the agrifood sector, the national beef herd and the €4 billion in future growth of indigenous industry identified in the Government's Food Harvest 2020 report. First, the greenhouse gas emissions reduction target set out in the Bill must not exceed Ireland's international obligations. Second, the Bill must give agriculture direct credit for current and future carbon offsets generated by forestry, bioenergy, permanent grassland and other land uses up to 2020. Third, the Bill must not restrict the growth and export targets of our indigenous agriculture and food sector as set out in the Food Harvest 2020 report. Fourth, the Bill must recognise Ireland's role in the expansion of food production in an environmentally sustainable manner to meet increasing global demand for food and to guard against the negative global consequences of carbon leakage in other regions.

Ireland has one of the most sustainable farming systems in the world. Climate change legislation must support the growth of sustainable jobs and exports in the agrifood sector. It is very clear that agriculture has a huge contribution to make to this economy at a time when every job matters and we have to increase exports. That is laid down very clearly in the Food Harvest 2020 report. The Bill will put a stop to that and will be a serious setback for Irish agriculture and the economy.

I welcome the delegation. I am glad to see the IFA is engaging in climate change discussions. It is not the first time it has appeared before this committee. It is welcome that the agriculture, food and farming sectors in Ireland are thinking seriously about the debate on climate change and our responsibility to pursue a sustainable approach towards emissions.

I agree with most of the IFA proposals. No climate change strategy that Ireland pursues should restrict us from expanding our agriculture industry in a responsible way. I do not think the two are exclusive. There is no reason we cannot pursue a strategy that reduces carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland in the ETS and domestic sectors and at the same time have an ambitious expansion of the food and agriculture sector in Ireland. New Zealand has dramatically increased its herd size and, at worst, kept a lid on greenhouse gas emissions by developing new farm practices that reduce the carbon footprint per kilo of meat or litre of milk.

To be fair to the IFA, it is considering that type of approach, as are Teagasc and others. The idea that Ireland's climate change strategy and the Bill will force us to reduce the herd size by 30%, 40% or 60% is a non-starter. The people proposing the Bill are not suggesting that is the solution. There may be a minority of people who are but I am not and neither are most of my colleagues on the committee who have asked for and proposed climate change legislation.

We have produced a climate change Bill, about which Deputy McManus will speak. I am happy to say we are advocates for a climate change Bill. However, I am not an advocate of pursuing a climate change agenda that destroys other industries in Ireland in its wake. We will not stand for that. It is important that, from the point of view of the IFA, we try to work with what is possible in terms of targets which are being set and can be met while at the same time recognising that agriculture and food have become an even more important part of the economy in the past two years. It is part of the growth economy as opposed to the many sectors which are shrinking.

It is important we try to move away from saying that we must oppose a climate change Bill because it will reduce our herd by 30%, 40% or 50%. We must move towards a discussion which is based on the view that there is a limit to the contribution agriculture can make towards a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and any changes that are made need to be gradual and within a realistic timeframe.

Such changes include changing farm practices, one pass systems and practical farming which can ensure the industry in Ireland can continue to make money, expand and grow. We need to do that anyway because of the reasons outlined by Mr. Bryan, such as world population, demand and the infrastructure in place for a food export industry in Ireland. Such an industry could include baby food or dairy products.

There is huge potential for growth and employment creation in the food sector. There are huge opportunities for Irish farmers in existing and new crops, as there is in the energy sector. I appeal to the IFA not to dismiss efforts to pass a climate change Bill as being some kind of green agenda which is ideologically driven and will make life impossible for agriculture. That is not the agenda I am pursuing.

Agriculture, like all other sectors, needs to play its part in a responsible way in reducing emissions. The dairy herd in Ireland will increase dramatically once quota restrictions are removed. Ireland produces milk more efficiently than any other country in the EU and, arguably, the world. From a carbon point of view, we produce milk and beef more efficiently.

It makes sense for the parts of the world that are carbon efficient as well as financially efficient at producing food to do so. Otherwise, the carbon effort is moved somewhere else. There is still a role for setting targets in a climate change Bill that ensure a Government is forced to recognise that emissions, climate change and the issues around that must be part of Government strategies on transport, agriculture, health care or whatever.

That is the benefit of having a climate change Bill which sets targets. However, I am not happy with the current targets in the Bill. There is some confusion about what targets we are setting by 2020 and whether it is 20%, 26% or 28%. There is also confusion about whether we are setting targets for the traded as well as non-traded sectors, which requires an explanation because even people who are promoting the Bill have not managed to explain that yet.

Targets are being set for 2030 which go way beyond any international commitments we have made. We need an explanation as to why we are setting targets beyond the commitments we made at EU level. Discussions need to be held to determine what is realistic, the timeframe we are setting and the targets we are setting for the traded sector compared with the non-traded sector. We have little or no control over the ETS after 2012. It does not have any impact on agriculture. I appeal to the IFA to work in a constructive way and to look for the opportunities climate change offers farmers in terms of forestry, energy crops and renewable power generation that can add an extra income stream for farmers. Also, the association should continue to make the case that under no circumstances will we see a dramatic reduction in herd size to transfer greenhouse gas output to some other part of the world.

I sympathise with much of what the IFA says but the overall tone is a little off the mark in dismissing a climate change Bill by saying it will destroy agriculture without getting to the root of what the Bill means. There is no stronger party in terms of support for agriculture than Fine Gael but we accept there is a role and a need for climate change legislation that focuses on the responsibility to control and reduce greenhouse gas emissions when and where feasible.

I welcome the delegation. The witnesses are important stakeholders in the climate change legislation debate. I regret that this vital legislation is being published at the 11th hour; it affects everyone.

In 2009 this committee produced a report that argued the case for climate change legislation, based on the understanding that such legislation would provide certainty for the business, farming and environmental sectors and that it was important it be introduced. The Government promised legislation but it did not appear ahead of Cancun and I found myself having to draw up a Bill and seeking the support of the committee. It is not the job of a committee to produce legislation, that is the Government's job.

We are now, however, in a difficult position, as is the IFA. The Government only has weeks left to run and this Bill was published following a very short consultation period. That creates difficulties for everyone but the problems have been compounded by the way the targets have been set in the legislation, with 2.5% per annum. It makes no sense to me and I feel I am aware of what is necessary. The 20% figure for the non-ETS sector, for which the Government has responsibility, is included but, as well as that, the figures for the ETS sector, for which the Government has no responsibility, because it has been transferred to the EU, are included. This has a bearing on the agriculture sector because some of the big companies are involved. There would be a reliance on the ETS sector providing more than it is required to. The EU requires 21% while the ETS sector requires 32%, a mammoth increase that does not hold up.

At present, carbon sinks and forestation are precluded by the EU. I hope that changes but I do not see the reason for enshrining that now because of the uncertainty. The one thing this Bill must do is provide certainty.

The IFA comes out strongly, which I understand because it has a sector to protect, but it states that the targets already agreed internationally would be included in the Bill, meaning 20% by 2020. There is no argument about that but we are mystified why that target has been muddied by this additional material which is extraneous to the legislation.

I keep asking what we will do about agriculture. The IFA can say that we must not touch the national herd, and I have no problem with that, food is important and we are good at producing, but that does not solve the problem. We must find a way. Agriculture is not specified in the Bill so it is not as if we are saying the sector must reach some extraordinary target. The IFA talks about 4% but we have not reached that point. I agree with Deputy Coveney that we must find solutions to this. Even if the Government does not bring in climate change legislation, the next Government will. That is the framework we must all accept.

How do we deal with agriculture? One argument is that it should be done at EU level and that our case is very strong if we are going to prevent carbon leakage to third countries. That will do no one any good and will certainly not save the planet. Is an EU-wide arrangement a solution to this question or does the IFA have other solutions? Now is the time to reveal them because this legislation will come before the committee and we will have to table amendments. I have concerns about agriculture and I am conscious of the jobs attached to the agriculture sector. The Teagasc report showed a 10% reduction in the herd would have an incredible impact on services and jobs, much greater than on farmers themselves. That is a message that must be put across, it is a much more comprehensive view of the impact that should be disseminated.

Afforestation, while it is not accepted at EU level, should be pushed hard by Ireland so it is accepted. We have great ability, although we are way behind in the level of afforestation. We could do so much more and it would make a significant difference in the overall measurement of carbon emissions from agriculture. When talking about grass and other carbon sinks, however, I understand that it is not scientifically accepted. Has it not been assessed properly or are we making progress? We must marshal our arguments.

I am disappointed the Bill has set unnecessarily complicated targets. That is not helpful. The Bill does not make for sufficient management and governance. The Bill produced by this committee was about delivery, not what the targets are. The targets are set at EU level so the question is how we manage the project. The project deals with the non-ETS sector. I am concerned about how the proposals are to be executed but, obviously, at the end of the day we must have legislation. This is not great legislation, it is not even good legislation, but it is legislation that sets out certain requirements that we must support, so it is a matter of amending it. While I am interested to hear the delegation's response, I do not expect it to have the magic bullet but at least we can explore the solutions. There is no other area of activity in Ireland that sets such a big challenge as agriculture. To suggest that we are going to shoot the cows is neither here nor there - we are not. Let us try to engage with this issue and see where we will find the solutions.

As Government's spokesperson I hope I can provide some clarification, although I acknowledge there is confusion, which has not helped in evaluating the legislation before the committee. I speak not just as a Government Deputy but as a former Minister of State for whom food, farming and the viability of farmers is a key priority for my and my colleagues. The delegations may not believe me but I have letters here from farmers who support this legislation so we need to engage because there are people who see the wood for the trees. I hope we can speak about the delegation's proposals which I do not regard as irreconcilable with the legislation. I acknowledge it has not helped that the targets have been muddied. Perhaps that term is fair, although it may be harsh. Given that the EU figures date from 2005 and the Bill takes its figures from the EPA because they were the most comprehensive we had to work on in 2008, it starts off with the appearance of being more onerous.

The train left the station once we signed up to our 20% emissions reduction. Unlike the corporation tax which, we are told, is our own business and let us hope it stays that way, the 20% reduction is what we have signed up to and to-date have gone off on our merry way without taking stock of the implications. The Bill is a serious attempt to shine a light on the 20% reduction and say we cannot walk away from this target. We have to engage with it and we also have to consult all the stakeholders. In the context of what the IFA president said that the framework Bill was published in November 2009, the attempt to engage during that period has been very important. There have been many meetings but there is always room for more engagement and, I hope this will represent the most productive stage of the engagement.

The confusion appears from the fact that the 20% reduction, to which we signed up as a country, refers to 70% of the overall emissions, given that 30% are in the emissions trading sector. What the Bill attempts to do is to give a nudge in the direction of including carbon sinks in how we should measure our response to climate change, for which the EU has yet to sign up. In Ireland, with the interests of agriculture in mind, we need to be able to measure the carbon sink value of our response to climate change, otherwise we will not be able to respond without causing serious damage. We need that carbon sink element to the response. That in itself puts agriculture in a very strong position to be compensated for helping the country to address its climate change response. This is why the Bill's target appears to be more onerous. However, it is subject to the views of the expert advisory group of which the director of Teagasc will be an important member. Given that the Bill presumes we can get the carbon sink element into the EU agreement, it is attempting to say to the EU that this is climate change legislation which includes carbon sink evaluation, now let us all try to live within that definition of responding to climate change. The carbon sink element is vital. I hope we can engage to push the thinking behind the legislation, which includes carbon sink, forestry, grassland and other elements of carbon sequestration, into general acceptance in the EU that this is the way we must proceed.

That we appear as if we are going it alone, unfortunately, creates the impression that we are happy to leave the EU behind and be some kind of best boy in class. That is not what it is about. It does not give us any more onerous obligations than the targets to which we have already signed up. Looking ahead to 2050, as mentioned by the IFA president, that is going by the likely agreements that appear to be coming down the tracks whether from the International Panel on Climate Change or other key EU member states who are already talking in that direction. We want to be seen as a competitive and efficient country.

If I could offer a sub-title to the legislation it would be, a code of efficiency legislation. If we are to be competitive on an international basis, as Deputy Coveney mentioned about New Zealand, and Bord Bia working with the Carbon Trust in the UK, it makes a difference if we are seen to be reducing climate change, and the contribution made by agriculture to date has been acknowledged. Unfortunately between 2005 and 2008 our emissions increased. Therefore, it appears the target for which we have signed up is more onerous but it is not. It is no less onerous, it is simply trying to translate our target into a more detailed plan to take effect gradually, maintain our competitiveness and not cause any damage. That is the last thing this Bill is designed to do - it is designed to put us in a position to benefit from the low carbon economies that are being developed around the world. The proposal that the targets must not exceed Ireland's international obligations, must be set out clearly to ensure that is obvious.

I agree with the delegation that there is room for confusion. In an attempt to be simple, the Bill has ended up being confusing. We must give agriculture direct credit - I see that happening. I do not know if the Bill in itself can do that. Direct credit for carbon offsets by carbon sinks will be an element in the post-CAP system. I believe the Government, including the party of which I am a member, would support that. The Bill must not restrict the growth in export targets. We are signed up to Food Harvest 2020, which acknowledges the danger posed by climate change. The representatives will acknowledge that the writing is on the wall in that regard and that we must address it. As I said to the general secretary, farmers in my constituency are clear that the current heavier rainfall incidents are causing them not to be able to use certain fields that they used previously.

The proposals also state that the Bill must recognise Ireland's role in the expansion of food production. Mr. Bryan stated that clearly, and I agree wholeheartedly with that view. They state also that it will be based perhaps on labelling which will indicate carbon content in the future. That is being talked about in other countries and we must be in a position, through the work being done by Bord Bia, Teagasc, Carbon Trust and other organisations, to take advantage of such a labelling scheme if it were to come into use internationally. I agree with Mr. Bryan's point on that.

The proposals the representatives have put forward are completely reconcilable with the legislation. What we must do now is move on and amend the legislation in a way that will meet all our needs.

I regret that I must absent myself for part of the meeting due to another engagement. I invite the Vice Chairman, Deputy Michael Fitzpatrick, to chair the meeting until I return.

Deputy Michael Fitzpatrick took the chair.

To expedite matters I propose that we hear from the Teagasc representatives following which we will take questions from members. We will then get a response to them all. I am aware that a number of Deputies, and perhaps a number of delegates, have to leave around 5 p.m. I must leave at that time also.

How many more speakers have indicated that they want to speak to the IFA representatives?

Five. They will have to be brief. I ask Professor Boyle to address the meeting.

Professor Gerry Boyle

I thank the Vice Chairman and in particular the Chairman, Deputy McGinley, for inviting us to make this presentation to the committee. We very much welcome this opportunity. It is the second occasion on which we have presented before this committee. Much of what we will have to say is similar to the material we presented on a previous occasion. Much of my presentation today will reflect a submission we are preparing for the Climate Change Response Bill.

We will focus in our presentation on opportunities, obstacles and solutions that arise under the Climate Change Response Bill from our perspective. This chart has been presented already in a different form. I ask members to note that the agricultural sector is the only sector that has reduced emissions by approximately 9% since 1990.

The next chart is a simple illustration. It is something I presented previously to the committee but it illustrates in a nutshell that it is exceptionally difficult to reduce emissions in the agriculture sector. Approximately 50% of emissions are due to enteric fermentation, that is the methane, and on the basis of all known science it is at this stage exceptionally difficult, and it has proved to be exceptionally difficult, to make a significant reduction in methane production from this source. Many international consortia are working on that. We are very much involved with the New Zealand effort, for example, along with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but talking to colleagues working on this, it is very much long-term research. It is an important marker that in regard to more than 50% of emissions we cannot and will not, on the basis of current scientific knowledge, be able to make a significant reduction in the emissions from that source.

The positive side of the equation is that for the balance of emissions generated through the management of organic manures and emissions emitted through soils, the agriculture sector has been making significant reductions, and they go hand in hand with efficiencies. That is a positive story which will continue and be accelerated. It is important to note that the substantial obstacle to reducing emissions is the enteric fermentation, and we simply do not know enough yet scientifically about how we can reduce that source.

As far as the Climate Change Response Bill is concerned, there is a question over the interpretation of the targets and we have tried our best to understand them. We have made some projections and factored in the impact of Food Harvest 2020, which, as members will be aware, targets a substantial increase in dairy output of 50%. On a business as usual assumption, in other words, this is the EPA projection, prior to the realisation of any of the Food Harvest 2020 targets, emissions by 2020 should be reduced by about 5%. When one adds in the Food Harvest 2020 target increase in output and associated increase in emissions, our best projection at this stage is that by 2020 agricultural emissions will have reduced by 3%. In simple terms, therefore, the red dot on the graph is the 30% target. If the targets were to be carried through logically, we must find an additional 27% of a reduction. That, in a nutshell, is the challenge. To translate that into millions of tonnes of carbon, it is about 5 million tonnes of CO2. Some way or other we have to find 5 million tonnes of CO2.

Professor Boyle is just assuming that agriculture would have to take the same-----

Professor Gerry Boyle

That is the assumption.

Professor Gerry Boyle

There is nothing in-----

There is nothing in the Bill-----

There has never been an assumption that makes sense at any rate that suggests that agriculture would be able to make the same contribution as, say, transport or industry.

Professor Gerry Boyle

No, but we must work on what is in the legislation and it does not give us any alternative indication. This is a scenario analysis.

It is being worked out by the expert advisory committee, and that will spread the burden.

It is not in the legislation.

Professor Gerry Boyle

No, it is not in the legislation but to do a scenario analysis we have to make some assumptions.

It is an assumption.

Professor Gerry Boyle

It is an assumption, yes.

Professor Gerry Boyle

Obviously, if we were to work on a reduced assumption we would get a different effect but assuming agriculture is affected in the same way, we would have to find 27% of an additional reduction. That puts it in context.

Again, and this is an assumption, and we have presented these estimates to the committee previously, I accept it would probably be economic heresy to try to bring that target about by reducing our suckler cow numbers but a target without a policy instrument is not very helpful. If this were to be the target, and I accept, as the members have said, that this would be unrealistic, nonetheless for illustrative purposes members can see there would be a significant reduction in terms of total cattle numbers if all the adjustments were to fall on cattle. In particular, if it were to fall on suckler cows that would give a basic reduction of approximately 80% relative to the Food Harvest 2020 scenario. We can all agree that if the burden of adjustment were to fall on the beef herd, it would have a catastrophic implication for the economy. These are the numbers and they can be elaborated on by examining multipliers and so on but this is the basic point.

As to the options in terms of agriculture, that is a critical point. We are of the view that scientifically the evidence is overwhelming and emerging as such internationally that the target approach, as it is currently understood and applied to agriculture in particular, is inappropriate. It is not the level of the targets that is the issue for us but the nature of the targets. Our strong view is that we should look at carbon footprinting, in other words, the level of emissions per kilogram of output that is produced. That is the critical issue as far as we are concerned. It stands up to international scrutiny but I will return to that point.

In terms of options for agriculture, there is great potential in the period up to 2020 to reduce emissions associated with production. All our research has shown a positive equation between efficiency and reductions in emissions per unit of product produced. That applies virtually across the board. Whether it be in terms of animal breeding, grassland utilisation or whatever, there is virtually a corresponding benefit through reduced emissions following on from efficiency gains. That is a positive message and one that needs to be communicated to farmers. For example, we intend at future open days to present the normal outcome of research results in terms of the financial implications, profitability, the technical implications, having regard to the various efficiency metrics, and also the benefit in terms of reduced emissions following on the implementation of a technology. There is an important communication message there that we will be emphasising in the future. We reckon that the potential reduction through aggressively pursuing efficiency gains could be up to 1.4 million tonnes of CO2 per annum saved.

Carbon offsetting has been talked about already. My colleague, Mr. Schulte, may want to elaborate on aspects of carbon offsetting if the committee has questions on it. Clearly, there is the issue around forestry, which has been elaborated on previously. There is obviously a potential sequestration effect in the short term. It is important to understand that a later point over a 40-year period by, for example, 2040 the forests will be felled and they will contribute to the CO2 problem but as the forests are growing, we are benefiting. It is important to appreciate that at some point certainly in the longer term we would not want to be depending on the forestry sink entirely to offset the potential impact of agriculture. We consider it a conservative estimate that somewhere between 3.5 tonnes and 5 million tonnes of carbon could be available from sequestration to offset any potential reduction in the agricultural sector. That is conservative, as I will show the committee shortly, because it very much depends on planting levels which are driven by public policy.

On what planting levels would that be measured?

Professor Gerry Boyle

In terms of the total target the numbers are about 6,000 to 7,000 per annum.

That is per annum.

Professor Gerry Boyle

I have a chart which shows the impact.

When a forest is cut down it is replaced with the planting of more trees. Therefore, the programme is rolled on.

Professor Gerry Boyle

At some point we will have to have a clear felling and, as members will note, the graph will start to go down. That will not happen in the short term. We reckon that up to 2040, as shown on the graph, we will be in positive territory and then we will have to have a significant felling of recent afforestation and that will push the graph in the opposite direction.

However, grassland has been mentioned. Our view on grassland is that the science on it is at an early stage yet. We would be confident that the evidence will be positive in regard to grassland as a significant sequester of carbon but, bearing in mind the way in which the inventories are calculated and so on, what one has to show is that relative to a baseline, the carbon sequestration has been increased because obviously there has been grassland on the baseline as well. It is a significant issue for Ireland particularly because of the different agricultural practices across the European Union. Grassland is far more important for our agricultural sector than it is for that of our continental neighbours and because we know it is positive for carbon production, that might be an argument we could use in looking at how policy might be played out at European level.

The other area which is important and about which we are conservative is the potential in regard to bio-enery crops. I would not want to overstate this. It is driven largely by economics but we believe there is a potential of up to 1.3 million tonnes of carbon that could be saved or available if it was to be offset against agricultural emissions. If one totals those numbers, one would note that up to 2020 at least a significant pot of offsets is available should we be able to persuade our international or European colleagues that this should go towards the benefit of the agricultural sector.

I do not want to dwell on this point regarding this chart, which is complicated. The basic point we would make here is the critical argument in regard to the so-called international leakage problem, which has been well accepted. Essentially, this raises the issue of fundamental conflict potentially between climate change and food security under a crude national type targeting arrangement. On this chart is shown the production of carbon per kilogram of milk equivalent and kilogram of beef equivalent. These are numbers that Teagasc has prepared and published in a recent international peer review journal. We can see here that Ireland fares very positively on an international comparison. We produce by and large the least amount of carbon per unit of output. Another graph from the FAO illustrates the same point as far as temperate grasslands are concerned. They produce the least amount of carbon per unit of output. Our view is that this should be ideally the kind of target towards which we should be working because it is a target that enables us to square what appears to be a conflict between food security, on the one hand, and emission reductions, on the other.

There is a key point at the bottom of the graph set out in red. For example, if 50% of Irish beef were to be produced in South America because of a cap being imposed on Irish output, that would increase overall global emissions because of the level of intensity of emissions production per unit of output. Many international scientists working in this area are coming to the view that in the food area the only sensible kind of target is a carbon footprint target as opposed to an aggregate country level target. Obviously there must be international agreement on this but this is a critical issue, particularly for the Irish sector.

Basically our approach, which one might say is probably a fairly radical one, is focused not so much on the level of the target, as such, but the nature of the target itself. We certainly believe it makes much more scientific sense to focus on a carbon footprint target and that also enables us to tackle the very real issue of climate change. That would enable us to live within the constraints of the Food Harvest 2020 targets. As we have said and pointed out in our research, and this is something we need to communicate this to farmers in particular, increased production efficiency has a one for one relationship with carbon reduction per unit of output. In other words, there is a potential here for a win-win result. This is the positive story. As some of the Deputies have recognised, we can simultaneously achieve and contribute towards improved food security, which has become a very major issue in recent times. It has flared up because of increased green prices but we can square what might appear a contradiction between food security and a reduced carbon footprint. That is possible. This approach would of itself prevent carbon leakage. As is very evident in Food Harvest 2020, it would allow us a very positive marketing advantage internationally. We are working with Bord Bia, as Deputy Sargent said, to provide the evidence that will stand up to scrutiny as to the low intensity of carbon output per unit of product that we produce. We are aware this would require international agreement. There is certainly a consensus among scientists now that this is the way forward and New Zealand is strongly leading the field in this respect.

To return to the issue of afforestation and the potential up to 2020 for offsets of up to 5 million tonnes of carbon - I hope the diagram on this is not too complicated - all these different lines represent different annual planting levels and the carbon sequestration is on the vertical axis. The black line, which is the lower line, roughly corresponds to a sequestration of approximately 4 million tonnes of carbon per year. If one increases plantation, as is the Government's stated objective, the red line shows we will move up to approximately 5 million tonnes. However, it is important to note that this will not last. Long after many of us are gone, the graph begins turning in the opposite direction simply because of felling. Offsets will certainly help, therefore, but they are absolutely not a long-term resolution if there is to be a significant contribution from agriculture towards a reduction in emissions.

Another point which is important to emphasise is that while afforestation can contribute via sequestration through increased planting rates, that will also affect the base level. Presumably one must allow in one's inventory calculation for the level of planting that was taking place in the base period. It is overly simplistic to conclude that we would absolutely gain to the tune of the projected 5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent saved per annum. Although we have taken a reasonable estimate of planting, it is certainly on the optimistic side for that reason.

In terms of obstacles and potential solutions, certainly up to 2020 there is a great deal of merit in looking at aggregating the agricultural sector with the forestry and bio-energy areas. Both are land-using activities and there is great logic in merging them. That is the argument we would make, but I emphasise that it is not a long-term resolution. We would also incentivise farm forestry. Farmers who plant forests also rear animals, so there is an in-built incentive not only from an economic point of view, but also in terms of strategy to mitigate their carbon production.

The same applies in regard to the displacement of fossil fuels. There is scope there, as we pointed out in regard to bio-energy crops, but there are several economic issues that are currently inhibiting the potential in this sector, as I am sure the committee is aware. Again, the solution is to credit the agricultural sector with the benefits that are generated for carbon production coming through bio-energy.

To summarise, there is no question but that agriculture has the potential to contribute to the greenhouse gas solution. However, there is a number of what we would classify as institutional barriers which need to be overcome. As a scientific organisation, we are of the view that the current target is wholly inappropriate for agriculture. There is an emerging consensus among the scientific community in this regard. The problem requires political and intergovernmental agreement, and that is clearly a major obstacle in itself. In the short term - certainly up to 2020 and perhaps as far as 2030 - it would be of major assistance if the agricultural sector were merged with the land-use change and forestry sectors in terms of the potential that exists to offset carbon production. There is also great potential in regard to facilitating carbon off-sets for bio-fuels and bio-energy. We should also bear in mind the continuing underlying contribution agriculture will make in terms of improved efficiency and the consequential impacts for carbon production.

These are all positive outcomes. However, I stress again that half of the emissions for the foreseeable future are due to enteric fermentation and we do not as yet have any realistic technology that can address that problem. If these barriers are not overcome, if some of these measures are not put in place and if agriculture is to share the same reduction as other sectors, then the impact will logically have to fall on the cattle sector. This would have major economic consequences and certainly would negatively affect the Food Harvest 2020 targets. Moreover, there would potentially be the problem of carbon leakage.

I welcome the delegates from the IFA and from Teagasc. These presentations are timely because the debate has gathered momentum in the last week or so. Like other colleagues, I agree that we must have a climate change Bill and that it should have been brought forward sooner. We are obliged to meet certain targets for emissions reductions under the Kyoto Agreement, world trade talks and EU directives.

However, I have serious concerns in regard to some of the provisions in the Bill as drafted. I am pleased that my partner in government has already indicated that his party is open to compromise by way of amendments in the Seanad and Dáil. I come from farming stock and am still involved in farming and, as such, I have major concerns about the targets proposed in the legislation. Having said that, they are only targets - they are not set in stone and are not something by which we are bound. Ireland has always been a good participant in the European Union and it is desirable that we achieve the target, as set out under EU directive, to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020 and by 30% by 2030. Why are we seeking to exceed those targets? My understanding is that our contribution to worldwide emissions is 0.007%, a minuscule contribution on the world stage.

We like to be seen as leading the way in terms of nurturing a green image and promoting green food, which is welcome, but I do not agree with the setting of such severe targets. The delegates referred to the Food Harvest 2020 targets. There is a contradiction in this regard in that we have the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food arguing, with the full backing of the Government, that agriculture can play its part in lifting us out of the current recession in the next ten years. Targets have been set in that context with projected increases of 50% in dairy production and 20% in beef production. On the other hand, however, this Bill will impose restrictions on what can be done within agriculture and agribusiness, with consequences for associated employment.

My constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny is home to Glanbia, one of the largest exporters of agricultural produce in Ireland. I have been contacted by five or six members of the board of that company in the last week. They are ringing their local politician with concerns about the future of their business based on what is in this Bill. There is no point in us attempting to camouflage reality by claiming these proposals will not have a negative effect on agriculture, when one of the largest exporters in the country is asking me to do something about it. As a Government backbencher, I cannot stand idly by while something is done that will affect the agricultural business and business in general in a negative way. We are putting an onus on them that is cost-related and which will reduce their profits and their ability to produce what we require in the next ten years in order to drag us out of the current recession.

I hope there will be compromise and amendments. I am also a member of the Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, along with my colleague, Deputy Johnny Brady. We met this morning to discuss this issue and a statement was produced from that. There is scope for compromise. Agriculture played its part in lifting us out of the last recession in the 1980s and the same can happen again. Agriculture will play its part if allowed to do so. What I want to see is a marriage of what we are trying to do in terms of Food Harvest 2020 with what we are seeking to achieve in this legislation. I hope the necessary compromises can be achieved in the weeks before the general election.

Before calling on the remaining members who wish to speak, I ask Deputy Hogan to take the Chair. I apologise to members and delegates but I have to go to another meeting.

Deputy Phil Hogan took the Chair.

I am not a member of this committee and, as such, I thank members for accommodating me in this discussion. I welcome the delegations from the IFA and Teagasc and thank them for their interesting presentations. The Climate Change Response Bill as it is currently envisaged will undermine Ireland's food export prospects and set unnecessary targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, I have serious reservations regarding its implications for agriculture. The reduction targets in the Bill are unrealistic. Ireland should instead adhere to the lower reduction targets already agreed by the European Union.

Following a thorough analysis of the details of the legislation, it is my view that the Bill should be revisited in order to incorporate the conclusions of the two cross-party reports compiled by this committee. Deputy Aylward and a former member of this committee, Deputy Doyle, set out the details of that at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, of which I am Chairman. The Bill fails to strike the right balance between environmental protection and safeguarding the Irish agricultural industry, export growth and jobs. It is too serious an issue to be rushed through and must be reconsidered. There is a consensus among members of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that the Bill as it currently stands will not serve the best interests of the agricultural industry and could significantly hold back Ireland's economic recovery.

The stipulations in the Bill will hinder the targeted €4 billion increase in exports in the next four years and put the expected job increases in the sector at risk. We are all in agreement that greenhouse gas emissions must be curbed. Specifically, we all advocate that Ireland adhere to the European Union target of a 20% reduction by 2020. However, the price to be paid by the agricultural sector for additional and excessive targets, as laid down in the Bill, is far too high. The Food Harvest 2020 target is welcomed by all stakeholders in the sector and it is vital that this Bill should not hinder those targets.

The president of the IFA spoke about food security and population growth. I attended, as did the president, conferences in Europe last year at which this was a major issue for discussion. It is of serious concern throughout Europe. The consultation process that is taking place is to be completed by 28 January. How can a Bill be discussed in the Oireachtas prior to the completion of those consultations? It is a crazy situation.

We all know how important agriculture is to this country. Our prospects depend almost solely on it at this time. A meeting of my party's environment and agriculture committee will take place tonight to discuss this issue. There must be compromise in the best interest of agriculture and in the best interest of industry.

I will take advantage of my new found power as Acting Chairman to put some questions to the delegates. I was interested in Deputy Sargent's remark that there was some confusion in regard to targets in the legislation. Will Mr. Bryan and Professor Boyle comment on this and indicate their interpretation of the targets and their impact - they have already given us some flavour of that - and how we can resolve this confusion?

The nub of the matter is that we are inserting targets in a prescriptive fashion into legislation. My party is in favour of climate change legislation but we are not in favour of a situation where there is confusion arising from the legislation. It is clear from today's presentations that the provisions will have a major impact on the agricultural sector. It was always going to be difficult for agriculture and transport to meet our emissions reduction targets. As delegates and members have observed, there is a conflict in Government policy in respect of Food Harvest 2020 and the climate change strategy.

What role does Professor Boyle see issues such as animal nutrition and pasture management playing in reducing emissions? Deputies Coveney and McManus questioned the assumptions in regard to the 27% reduction that would be required. It is a very large reduction in such a short space of time. The implications and scenarios in regard to the beef herd in the context of a food shortage and in the context of employment would have a major impact, with a reduction from 500,000 tonnes to 170,000 tonnes in a couple of years. The delegates might expand on these matters. Perhaps they will now respond to the questions asked by me and Deputies Aylward, Brady and Sargent before we come back to Deputy Coonan and Senator Coffey.

Mr. John Bryan

I appreciate the opportunity to reply. What is coming across clearly from today's meeting is that all members accept that food production is vital in the context of a growing global population. If we all take that as a given, it is amazing that the Bill did not take account of it. Every member spoke about the confusion arising from these provisions. It is not acceptable to rush legislation through with an element of confusion just because the Dáil will dissolve in six or seven weeks. Nobody seems to be clear on what the targets are or whether they can be increased or decreased.

This is rushed legislation. Deputy Sargent said there has been consultation going back to 2009, but there is no evidence of that engagement in the Bill. We have spoken about our concerns regarding the effects of these provisions on the herd. Teagasc did work in recent years which signalled that, and now we have further clarification. However, no account was taken of it in the Bill. Legislation on such a vital issue should not be rushed through. Deputy Coveney said he is in favour of legislation, but the reality is that rushed legislation has the tendency to be bad legislation.

We could not agree more.

Mr. John Bryan

Professor Boyle has provided a great deal of information. While he was making his presentation, both Deputy Coveney and Deputy McManus asked him why we are presuming that agriculture will have the same targets as other sectors. We have no reason to presume anything else, which is one of the flaws of the Bill. It does not state that agriculture will be dealt with differently. The Food Harvest 2020 report has been accepted by the Government and all stakeholders, but nowhere in the legislation is it stated that this will not be undermined. The fact that the Bill is being rushed means it is failing to grasp the issue of food security. In Ireland we used to have 5 million sheep and this has been reduced to 2 million sheep. One cannot turn on and off food production like this. In dairy or beef, there is a four or five year lag between the day one chooses a calf until it comes into production. If we do something reckless like introducing targets which will have the effect, as Professor Boyle stated, of drastically reducing our herd, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization will wonder what on earth is happening and will be concerned that we will run out of food. We would not be able to turn this back overnight. This is why the legislation should be dealt with in a much different manner and slowed down bearing in mind our recommendations.

The consultation group has a very short period in which to meet. I cannot see how all the wisdom that will collectively come together there can be properly encapsulated in the Bill. This is why I have serious concern. Several people have asked why we are so excited. I am excited because I know if damage is done we will lose some of the suckler or dairy herds. Professor Boyle did his analysis on the suckler herd. If Deputy Coveney examined the situation in his area he would see the plans for dairy expansion are to create jobs in Mitchelstown and other areas. If these targets are set we will go backwards. We need to slow this down, not for the sake of slowing it down but to take proper advice. I come back to the fact that there is much knowledge. The original consultation should have begun in 2009. I cannot understand how the Bill has not taken more of the knowledge into account. I am sure that several questions have been raised-----

Mr. John Bryan

Yes, I generalised and that is what I wanted to do.

Professor Gerry Boyle

I hope I have dealt with some of the issues raised, particularly with regard to grassland. With regard to targets and their consistency or otherwise with current EU practice, it is difficult - and I mean this genuinely - to reconcile the targets in the document. It contains three targets each with a different basis. From consulting colleagues in organisations such as the Environmental Protection Agency I understand the targets are broadly in line with the EU, certainly up to 2020. It is a difficult assessment to make if one has only the Bill before one. This is my dilemma, but I am prepared to accept the communication from the EPA on this front.

There is a more fundamental point which I was trying to make. Most people would be aware that while a 30% target has not been adopted formally it is very much in the offing in the very near term. It is difficult to assess whether the targets are excessive relative to EU levels if one has only the information in the Bill because it includes annual percentage increases and I get quite muddled trying to reconcile them to the other targets. Even if we were to concede that the targets were excessive relative to EU levels, taking account of food harvest forecasts to 2020 the most the sector can deliver by way of reduction is a 3% cut relative to the baseline. Even if the target was 20% rather than 30% there would still be a substantial gap and this is at the core-----

The IFA speaks about a 4% reduction and Professor Boyle mentioned 3%.

Professor Gerry Boyle

We have done work that the IFA has not done on food harvest.

That puts the IFA in its place.

Professor Gerry Boyle

This is a very important point with regard to solutions. There is one very evident solution if I might be bold enough to suggest it. It arose from some of the queries of Deputies McManus and Coveney. One might draw the conclusion that agriculture needs to have a much lower target than any of the other sectors for all of these reasons. With regard to the beef herd, I agree with the chairman of the IFA that when one is doing this type of analysis one must start from a presumption and in this case the presumption was that agriculture would be treated in the same way. Hence, we started with a 30% figure. We are happy to evaluate for the committee any level of reduction required. If the reduction is in excess of 3% something else in the system has to give, either by way of mitigation or offsets. This is the point we would make.

I ask Deputy Aylward to wait.

I am just seeking clarification.

Mr. Jer Bergin

I will try to help clear up a couple of issues from my perspective as chairman of the IFA climate change project team. We analyse existing science to formulate our policy. The figures the president quoted earlier came from Teagasc, McKinsey and the EPA. They are not our figures, they are from objective science.

I was struck by Deputy McManus's question on what we will do with agriculture. I will begin by speaking about the targets, but I will not clear up the confusion. Rather, I will explain why some of it exists. Deputy Sargent stated that in his view the targets envisaged in the Bill are not beyond EU obligations. Last week, we met the Green Party Senators and they were clearly of the view that the Bill was based on a 26% target and quoted information from the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, and that the national targets set in the Bill were net of the carbon sinks. This makes it a far more serious target and far beyond EU obligations. The EU target of 20% by 2020 is gross of carbon sinks. It may be that scientific progress will be made on this which can be used in agriculture.

On Deputy McManus's question of what to do with agriculture, we must look at agriculture completely differently. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation is beginning to state that the totality of agriculture from farm to fork will have to be looked at separately in terms of the growing world population and its need for food and our responsibilities in this area. There were some indications that this was beginning to be examined in the draft at Copenhagen. This process must continue.

The IFA climate change project team is clearly of the view that the way to go in terms of targets is examining the carbon emissions per unit of production such as milk solids or beef. This is objective as the emissions can be measured. It would be to Ireland's economic and environmental advantage as we would win and we can improve. It is something that farmers can understand and work towards. The legislation needs to return to this.

Deputy Sargent referred to our obligations which we must fulfil. There is one other obligation I ask Deputies and Senators to take on board and this is the obligation to feed the world. This is greater than the obligations about which we are speaking. Ireland is in a unique position to fulfil much of this demand. We can replace South American beef and New Zealand dairy produce far more efficiently. It would be to our economic and environmental benefit that we do so but the legislation would prevent it. Much of the objective scientific evidence presented by Teagasc supports this. To be honest, the Bill needs to go back to the drawing board.

I welcome the delegations from the Irish Farmers' Association and Teagasc. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has spoken about these issues at length and the Chairman read its statement. The all-party committee would be alarmed at the proposals in the Bill and I share that view. Earlier during the meeting I thought the Bill had been introduced by the IFA given the questions that were asked and the comments being made about it. It annoys me when people refer to the farming and agriculture community, of which I am very much part, as having no regard for the environment. This impression is always being created but nobody cares more for the environment or protects it more than the agricultural community and those who live in agricultural communities whether or not they are farmers.

We have spoken about the targets in the Bill. They may be only targets but it always happens that when a Bill is passed targets become a reality and therein lies the danger. The recession means people realise the role agriculture plays. People are crying out for hope and they see hope in the agriculture community because we can produce and export to the world; 98% of what the farming community produces is exported. This is our great hope at a time when people state the world's population is increasing and when people in south-east Asia and other less well-off countries are able to afford it.

We must be extremely careful with regard to the Bill but I am concerned. Yesterday, I heard a colleague from the Labour Party state that the Bill does not go far enough. Does this mean instead of doing away with one third of the herd we should do away with it all? This is the challenge we face. I do not want to make this a political issue but that point was made. It is not only the Green Party that is trying to close down farming.

Professor Boyle clearly stated that if barriers are not overcome there will be a 30% reduction with significant negative consequences. We cannot afford this at a time when we should be increasing production.

Does the Deputy have any questions?

Yes, I have a question. We have spoken about food security which is important. This country can produce organic food given our climate and location. We do not know what comes out of Brazil or South America. With regard to carbon, do we care about what the oil companies are doing or about how the Amazon forests are being raped and plundered? Do we care about the big factories in south-east Asia or in the former communist area of Europe and the damage they do to the environment? If we were to implement the maximum targets here what difference would it make in the overall context? Perhaps Professor Boyle is the best person to answer this.

I seek clarification from Professor Boyle on making a reduction of 3% by 2020 and making up the difference of 17%. With regards to offsetting, Professor Boyle stated that 3% or 4% is equal to 5 million tonnes of emissions so this would mean a total of 35 million tonnes. How much can this be reduced through carbon sinks and forestry sinks?

It is important to set the record straight. This legislation is being proposed by the Cabinet. It is not fair to isolate any party in government. This is a Cabinet-sponsored Bill and this should be put on the record in case anybody has forgotten. It is important to have informed debate. The Labour Party has made it clear that we want to see the EU targets included in the Bill, as we proposed in our legislation. The argument we have revolves around not only the targets but also the execution. The Bill does not go far enough in providing accountability. The advisory group will advise the Minister but there is no requirement on the report it produces being made publicly available without having to go through the Minister and this is unacceptable. There are issues and our job is to ensure the Bill is improved. I hope we have informed debate rather than debate based on ignorance.

On EU policy, given the way the argument is being presented I do not think we can get away from 20%. The delegates have experience on how the EU Commission operates. I presume policy still evolves and I would have thought carbon footprinting could be a subset in terms of how we do this. Is this happening? To me it is an unknown unknown. I can see the arguments about afforestation which is a known unknown. Carbon footprinting could be incorporated into EU policy and would deliver results. We already do this in afforestation which has not been completed and we do not know the outcome. It is not as if everything is cast in stone now and cannot evolve.

I had great concerns about the bio-fuels legislation and that we were not doing enough to encourage domestic production. We examined the experience in France, a country which seemed to manage to play by the rules - I do not know how it was done - in such a way that it does not have any imported bio-fuels. A new Government will be in place which will have to deliver on the legislation, whether now or later. We will have to be creative in terms of how this is done. Perhaps we should be smarter Europeans rather than better Europeans. We have the capacity to grow more jobs, be more productive and meet our climate change commitments.

I ask committee members to ask brief questions.

I had to leave the meeting for a vote in the Seanad. I welcome the delegations from the IFA and Teagasc. As one of the first Oireachtas Members to deal with the Bill which has been introduced in the Seanad I will outline my concerns. Much good work has been done by this committee in the various reports and on the draft Bill on an all-party basis and this needs to be acknowledged. The delegates have engaged with us in the past on this. It is regrettable that the Bill was introduced prior to properly and thoroughly debating the issues we are now discussing. We are more or less debating in a vacuum. I welcome the presentation made by Teagasc today because it gives us factual information which we should have available to us. The Government decided to introduce the Bill on the floor of the Seanad without an opportunity to engage with the stakeholders in a thorough and proper way. The submission period is not yet over and this needs to be noted. The manner in which the Bill was introduced has the potential to be divisive rather than to bring everyone along, and to a degree it undermines all of the good work done by this committee. Deputy Coveney outlined this. For any legislation to work it is essential that we have buy-in from the stakeholders who will be greatly impacted by it. Has the Government asked people such as Professor Boyle or organisations such as the IFA for their expert opinion or advice?

The Bill suggests an expert advisory committee will be established. However, I cannot understand why that expert advisory committee could not have been established prior to the publication of the Bill to get the facts and properly debate the issues and bring them before the Houses of the Oireachtas to be thrashed out in the committee forum. This is how the legislation should have been dealt with. The IFA is quite right to defend its turf and members; it is what I would expect from them. However, we hear conflicting messages from organisations such as Friends of the Earth and NGOs stating that the figures are wrong and there is much confusion about baseline figures and targets. The thrust and principle we are all trying to agree is suffering because of this. There is a better way of doing this. This is why Fine Gael introduced a reasoned amendment in the Seanad to defer further debate until such engagement happens. I appeal for all-party support for this amendment. We would end up with better buy-in and engagement and legislation with which we can all work. We all agree-----

Will the Senator ask a question?

I want to make this point because it is important. This committee did much work and the way the Bill was introduced has short-circuited much of that work and it has the potential to be divisive. Has an essential economic assessment been done on the impact this legislation might have on the Food Harvest 2020 report? Has a detailed assessment been done on this? I know it was referred to in the presentations. We need to proceed on the Bill with great caution. I have serious concerns about it and I know many people in my party also have concerns. We will do our best, as Fine Gael always does, to protect the best interests of agriculture and business here. At a time of recession we cannot afford to set targets and measures that are not realistic. We must have a properly thought out strategy and mechanism to achieve our targets.

I will resist the temptation to respond to some of the more ignorant comments made about my party, which is working with many farmers throughout the country to maintain viability. It was not this party that allowed farming to decline to the point to which it has declined over the years but I will not go into the reasons for that. It is a fact of life that we are trying to rescue a situation which is a legacy left to those now in government.

The Bill contains within it measures to deal with adaptation or which point to the need for adaptation. I hope the responses from the IFA and Teagasc will look more at this because to date the damage climate change has done to farming has not been acknowledged. Farmers in my area have pointed out to me, as I have stated previously but on which I will not go into detail now, that they are suffering the consequences of climate change. We need this legislation which contains adaptation measures, and a vehicle for examining such measures so that we will not cause damage to farming by our neglect of climate change. This also needs to be part of the balanced debate.

I met the delegates on their way to the meeting with Green Party Senators. It is a pity I did not attend that meeting because I cannot imagine why the Senators would state what they did given that they did not draw up the legislation. I have spoken at length with people with scientific backgrounds who were involved in drawing up the Bill and they clearly stated to me that the 20% reduction involves 70% of our emissions. We can discuss this but this is my information, and I do not want it to go on the record that the Senators were givingex cathedra scientific analysis. We can discuss this again. I see a wink so perhaps there is another debate to be had.

Who is winking at whom?

Will Professor Boyle provide a further explanation with regards to forestry? I understand the idea of having a year on year planting scheme is that there will not be a sudden clear felling event causing a major upset in overall sequestration and forest industry development. The nature of forestry now involves a much greater mix of species with coniferous as well as broadleaf species and contains quite a varied timeframe of production, felling, coppicing and the other measures. I am not sure from where the idea of a major catastrophic fall in sequestration levels comes.

There is a great deal of frustration in the Houses and the committee that we are dealing with a Bill which should have begun with the Minister coming to the committee to discuss draft legislation. This will affect the next 50 years and however many Governments will be in place during that time. It is very important that we have full buy-in from all political parties, which is certainly what the committee tried to have when Deputy McManus produced her draft legislation. Everyone had an input as did stakeholders. Instead, draft legislation was introduced to the Seanad prior to the end of the consultation process with industry and stakeholders. There is a timeframe by which the legislation must be passed, which is being determined by the Finance Bill because the Government has made a commitment to pass this legislation prior to the general election being called. The Bill should be about all-party non-partisan politics. It is unusual that we have such legislation but this type of Bill must be on that basis otherwise the next Government will repeal it. The thing is nonsense. I say to Deputy Sargent, and I mean it in a constructive way, that this legislation cannot be seen or painted as trophy legislation for one political party prior to a general election.

It is not, and it is not rushed either.

For what it is worth, the first time we saw this legislation was during the past ten days and now we are being told it has to be finished-----

The legislation was before that.

We had a long debate on Deputy McManus's Bill prior to Christmas when we appealed to the Minister concerned to bring forward draft legislation and to sit down with us to try to thrash out issues prior to it going to the Seanad or Dáil so that we would not have the type of politics being played out now through the Climate Change Response Bill in terms of its threat to agriculture and its impact on other sectors such as the food industry and exporters. Unfortunately, it will mean the Bill will not receive the type of discussion and scrutiny it should receive in a balanced way not under time pressure. I suspect a guillotine will be applied to this legislation - which commits the country to targets until 2050 - at various stages to get it through on time. I am comfortable criticising it because I hope given what I have said at various meetings of this committee that people understand I come from a perspective of recognising there needs to be a comprehensive response from our Government and the State on climate change.

Does the Deputy have a question?

Yes. I am very interested in the notion of a carbon footprint for a litre of milk or a kilogram of meat. However, I am not quite sure how we can synchronise this into legislation which also sets targets based on commitments we have already made at EU level. The EU target is 20% and by the way I am not sure it will change to 30% any time soon. That is far from certain and it is less likely than it is likely at this stage but that is for a different debate. I am happy to commit to 20% by 2020. Now that we have made this commitment how do we introduce the concept of treating food differently when it is such a major contributor to Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions? Should we seek a measurement that rewards countries which have a smaller carbon footprint per litre of milk? Do we do this at European level only or at global level? If it is at global level Ireland has far more advantages than at European level. Some thought needs to put into this concept because it makes much sense. I would appreciate a comment from Professor Boyle on this because he introduced the concept quite forcefully today.

I will take concluding remarks from the IFA and Teagasc.

Mr. Pat Smith

I have spoken to many organisations on how to deal with food differently. Something we need to recognise is that the brains of the world have been dealing with this for years and we have had conferences in Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban. It will probably take a number of years but here we are in Ireland running ahead of the curve to deal with this complex-----

Italy already has legislation on this.

Mr. Pat Smith

-----and incomplete science. In recent weeks, I met the leaders of IBEC, the Irish Co-Operative Organisation Society, the Irish Exporters Association and a number of business leaders. Each of them agrees with the IFA position that this will seriously damage the economic potential of the agribusiness sector in particular and other sectors. Deputies McManus and Coveney asked who would deal with this issue particularly in the context of agriculture. While it will take some time, when the situation settles there is no question but that agriculture will be dealt with separately because if an animal is not produced here it will be produced in another country. Water is a much more critical and measurable issue than carbon at this point because it is much more significant in the context of world population growth which we know will continue. The FAO at international level and the EU will need to revisit these issues before we go further. I appreciate Deputy Sargent's recognition that the four points we made are reasonable and balanced. In that context I ask that he would work to get them encapsulated quickly into appropriate amendments to the legislation so that we can review them to see if our real concerns are addressed. The Deputy also spoke about farmers writing to him. We appeared before 150 farmers today who represent 87,000 members at our AGM. None of them put up their hands to say this will be good for them.

I will take a few comments from the IFA president to get the IFA perspective before calling Professor Boyle.

Mr. John Bryan

There are concrete examples in Europe of the carbon footprint - several major retailers are now measuring it. Many of the UK supermarkets have replaced South American beef with Irish beef and are labelling the carbon footprint on that. I do not like mentioning chains, but McDonalds has replaced much of its South American beef with Irish beef because it regards the lower carbon footprint as a point of difference for sale. So there are opportunities and, as somebody on the other side said, who would close down an opportunity for exports? We need to look to the option of carbon footprint measurement.

Mr. Jer Bergin

Deputy Coveney asked where we should go on the carbon footprint issue. It is firm IFA policy that the carbon footprint issue should be part of the measurement process of carbon and it should become part of European policy and trade deals. It should be another issue in terms of Mercosur and WTO. We are supposed to have strong environmental policies in Europe and that should apply equally to imported food products. That is how we can get a fair measurement and that is where I believe it should go.

Deputy McManus asked a similar question and referred to bio-fuels. That policy has gone backwards in recent years. In the IFA's experience, the early movers - the people who went into miscanthus and bio-fuels, including the crushing of oilseed rape - are in serious trouble, including bankruptcies in come cases, because of changes in Government policy. They approach us to point out there is no REFIT in the biomass area, there is continual waiting and the figures are too low. Future policy will need to change completely or it will close down and there will be no benefit in our emissions from that sector. It is an extremely important policy to have right and it is not right at the moment.

Professor Gerry Boyle

I will conclude by referring to some of the questions raised where we did not get the opportunity to answer. I might ask my colleague to address some points the Chairman raised.

Deputy Aylward asked about the required reduction if agriculture was to be required to be cut by 20%, for example, by 2020. We have demonstrated that potential exists by allowing agriculture to be credited for sequestration, which would offset the potential emissions by agriculture - so the answer is "Yes". However, that requires a change in how the inventories are compiled as we know.

Deputy Coonan asked what would happen if Ireland was to achieve a maximum reduction of, for example, 30%. My understanding is that if we were to achieve that we would contribute a third of 1 percentage point of global emission. We are obviously small so we would not have a significant impact. The bigger impact would probably be in the shift in production and the leakage.

I was very interested in the contributions of Deputies McManus and Coveney in regard to integrating the carbon footprint concept with a very different approach we have already adopted. If I understand Deputy McManus correctly - this may well be a way forward - I would have thought we would want significant flexibility in the legislation. Up to 2020 we are probably tied into the current regime, but that does not mean that beyond that in the interim we could not work towards changing the nature of the target. While we might be forced to adopt what we have at present for now and probably the next few years, there is logic in saying that as we are evolving our understanding of how carbon footprinting might work, we should start to put in place a different type of targeting for the longer term. In the allocation of any quantum, even if the EU were to decide that there was a requirement to reduce overall emissions by a certain percent, how that is allocated across countries could be determined in the future on the basis of carbon intensity. Ireland is vastly different in terms of our agricultural production, which has never been recognised at any stage, simply because we did not have the knowledge. In the medium term we might be able to evolve towards a different structure for targets.

Senator Coffey asked about Teagasc input into Government deliberations. Obviously our parent Department is the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which has been working with us on a continual basis on these issues for several years and is well aware of all the arguments we are putting here. There are no easy or ready solutions and the solutions we have tried to put forward would be generally understood, certainly within the Department.

I will ask my colleague to respond to Deputy Sargent's question on forestry on which there is a very simple explanation. On the issue of adaptation, I have asked my colleagues what the scientific basis is for an adaptation requirement for Ireland. Our assessment, which we share with our colleagues in New Zealand, is that we do not face a major adaptation challenge. I take the point that perhaps in specific micro-climactic conditions that might not be the case. It is very hard at this stage to distinguish between mitigation strategies and adaptation strategies. My colleague will address the question raised by the Chairman on nutrient management and nutrient efficiency in pasture management. It is very hard to draw a distinction between whether that is a mitigation strategy or an adaptation strategy; they are very much interwoven.

I have addressed Deputy Coveney's point as best I can on how we can integrate a carbon footprinting concept into the current targeting system, which can only be done over time. As my colleague will amplify, there is consensus among the scientific community that this approach would really make sense in the case of agriculture. It is not unprecedented; I understand that the aviation and maritime sectors are treated differently in the computation of carbon inventories because they are global businesses. Agriculture is a global business and we are significant players on that global stage.

I will ask Dr. Schulte to take up the points I was not able to address.

Dr. Rogier Schulte

In response to the question about animal nutrition in pasture management, our research and international research shows as Professor Boyle demonstrated with the FAO graph, pasture-based beef and dairy production has a smaller carbon footprint than non-pasture-based confined animal production. This puts us in a good starting position with our grass-based livestock industry.

We are conducting a large programme of research to further reduce our footprint from dairy and beef. We are investigating the effect of extending the grazing season. We have placed an emphasis on breeding through the breeding index in relation to fertility, the utilisation of organic manures and the incorporation and use of clover in grasslands. I was asked a specific question on animal welfare. We are confident that each of the measures to which I referred would, if anything, be beneficial to animal welfare because they are based on grazing scenarios rather than confined animals.

I will diverge slightly to make a specific point on the discussion on absolute emissions, as stimulated by the IPCC calculations, and carbon intensity. If one follows the absolute emissions for a specific country and then compares confined animal systems with grazing systems, the first impression is that the former appear to have a lower emission. The reason is that under the IPCC calculations one does not have to take into account the carbon emissions associated with the feed in the fodder production that takes place in other countries. Our analysis shows that if one follows the IPCC calculations and ignores these carbon emissions, emissions from confined systems and high concentrate input systems would be approximately 9% lower than emissions from grazing systems. However, if one does a carbon intensity calculation - what we call "life cycle analysis" - and takes into account the whole food chain, grass-based systems are approximately 9% to 10% more efficient than the confined systems. This indicates again that unless we move towards intensity, we may adopt the wrong mitigation measures and come up with the wrong answers.

On forestry and the slump that is visible in the graph, I will ask my colleagues in the forestry department to explicitly refer to and explain the slump when we make our submission. At this point, I speculate, based on my limited knowledge, that it reflects the variations in planting rates since 1990, particularly because the graph only starts counting carbon sequestration from forests planted since 1990. There will have been little clear felling before 2032 to 2035, which means sequestration will increase until then. As forests mature and their area expands, deforestation kicks in and this would lead to a slump. We will elaborate on this issue.

Could replanting take place within 12 months?

Dr. Rogier Schulte


One then has rolling afforestation.

I thank representatives of the Irish Farmers' Association and Teagasc for attending what has been an informative meeting. I also thank members for their contributions.

The joint committee adjourned at 5.55 p.m. sine die.