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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 14 Feb 2019

Vol. 263 No. 13

Progress in Relation to Climate Change: Statements

I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to Senators again as a follow-up to my annual transition statement in December of last year. It is important to restate the long-term policy vision for the agricultural sector which is "an approach to carbon neutrality which does not compromise the capacity for sustainable food production", as referred to in the national mitigation plan. This is consistent with the principles of both the Paris Agreement and the European Council conclusions of October 2014, which recognise the role of agriculture and land use in tackling climate change and their contribution to achieving climate ambitions. With what is internationally recognised as one of the most carbon-efficient systems of food production in the European Union, there are inherent challenges in effecting climate emission reductions in the agriculture sector. While acknowledging that agriculture is contributing to emissions, the sector should also be seen as part of the solution to our transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient economy and society. As highlighted previously, we are taking a three pillar approach to emissions reductions in the sector. The first is through abatement measures and reducing emissions where we can, the second is through increased carbon sequestration, and the third is through displacement of fossil fuel and energy intensive materials with renewable sources.

The sector continues to engage with the climate change challenge and the level of this transition. We continue to invest in our mitigation measures, and we have, through the rural development programme, approximately 49,000 farmers active in GLAS and almost 25,000 farmers participating in the beef data and genomics programme, with more than 1 million animals genotyped to date. Building on the success of the beef data and genomics programme, last month I announced a new pilot scheme targeted at suckler farmers, the beef environmental efficiency pilot. This new scheme will aim to improve further the carbon efficiency of beef production. I have provided a budget of €20 million in 2019 for the roll-out of this programme. Given the importance of afforestation to achievement of sequestration ambitions, €106 million has been made available by my Department to support afforestation and other forest initiatives with significant improvements in grant and premium rates under the agroforestry and forestry for fibre options in 2019.

One of the mitigation measures we have identified and introduced in 2018 is a knowledge transfer group scheme for forestry. Other forest measures taken this year include increasing the rate of financial support across all categories, with larger increases for broadleaf planting. A change in supports for road building was also made. We have also seen the introduction of the woodland environmental fund which will help to expand Ireland's native woodland resource. The third strand of our climate policy approach focused on energy efficiency, energy provision from biomass and other agricultural products, and on the use of wood products to substitute for materials associated with high emissions such as steel, concrete and fossil fuels. As energy efficiency measures, our farmers are availing of investment options such as biomass boilers and air source heat pumps under the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS II, and the pig and poultry and young farmers capital investment schemes. Support schemes for the installation of renewable energy technologies are also available.

The year 2018 also saw the launch of a new collaborative initiative between the Government and industry, the agricultural sustainability support and advisory programme, ASSAP, which involves the appointment of 30 advisers to work with farmers, initially on water quality issues. The Department, Bord Bia, and Teagasc are working together to progress further how to effect positive change at farm level through research, advisory services and carbon audits. Since its inception, more than 200,000 carbon audits have been completed on Irish dairy and beef farms through the Origin Green programme.

A significant number of measures are in place but I am not complacent on this important issue and my Department continues to review and develop new measures that will realise the ambition for the sector. We are developing a roadmap to ensure that the future development of agricultural land use, including the forestry sector, will be built upon environmental sustainability and contribute fairly to Ireland's climate, air and energy targets. On future mitigation, the roadmap will be guided by the best available research and science, including the recently published research by Teagasc, "A Marginal Abatement Cost Curve for Irish Agriculture", relating to mitigation options for the period 2021 to 2030 with regard to both greenhouse gases and ammonia. A sustainable energy roadmap is also being prepared to guide future policymaking on both energy efficiency and energy generation. Energy efficiency measures can provide a win-win for the farmer and the environment, and the adoption of renewable technologies on-farm as well as on-site energy generation and supply of biomass materials can provide profitability gains which underpin the sustainable production system, all of which contributes to reducing Ireland’s emissions.

With regard to adaptation to climate change, my Department is preparing its first statutory adaptation plan for the three areas identified in the national adaptation framework.

Excuse me. Will we get a copy of the Minister's script?

Yes. My apologies.

I thank the Minister. That is most helpful.

With regard to adaptation to climate change, my Department is preparing its first statutory adaptation plan for the three areas identified in the national adaptation framework, for which my Department has responsibility, including seafood, agriculture and forestry. We published an adaptation planning document for the agriculture and forest sector last year and advanced work on the seafood element, which will set the groundwork for future adaptation planning.

The Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, budget is fundamentally important to Irish farmers. The protection of the environment is a core feature of Ireland's Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 and proposals for a new Common Agricultural Policy, to operate post 2020, require 40% of the overall budget to contribute to environmental or climate action. The importance of having a well-funded CAP is more pertinent than ever if we want to see this ambition become a reality.

Our farmers are custodians of the land. Supporting them for good environmental practices that enable them to respond to climate challenges and opportunities is not only an investment in our agriculture sector but in wider rural communities. While the mitigation potential for agriculture is limited, agriculture can and must play a key role in contributing to Ireland's climate change and energy targets in the years ahead. We have a thriving agrifood sector which is efficient and environmentally conscious and one that we can all be justly proud of. Collaboration, co-operation and collective responsibility are necessary to meet the challenges that are facing us, and we will continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure that the sector continues to play its part in meeting our climate obligations and challenges.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for his comprehensive statement. As Members are all aware, the agrifood sector supports 300,000 jobs in rural communities where they are most needed, and it is our largest indigenous industry, with food and drink exports reaching €12 billion in 2018. When we discuss progress on climate action, we have to be cognisant of these facts and always consider the sustainability of the industry in whatever measures are taken and need to be taken.

Irish and EU food security concerns must be put on an equal footing with climate change responsibilities and the central role of an exporting country such as Ireland, which has a carbon-efficient food production sector. By 2050, agriculture will need to produce almost 50% more food than it did in 2012, according to the UN, to meet global food demand. Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions profile is unique within Europe, being heavily weighted towards agriculture due to the lack of heavy industry within our overall economy.

The inclusion of land use, land use change and forestry within the scope of the new EU 2030 climate change framework is a welcome development and represents a sensible approach, broadening the tools available to Ireland to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through carbon sequestration. This will enable Ireland access the removal of 26.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions over the 2021 to 2030 period. While this inclusion is welcome, it can go much further. We need to get down to the nitty-gritty, if possible, of eventually reaching the point of being able to have individual farm carbon footprint indicators. This may not be scientifically possible and may be an onerous task. There are 440,000 km of hedgerow which are maintained and form part of farm holdings but for which there are no carbon credits. As the Minister said, the farmers are the custodians of rural Ireland and of the environment. If we were to take into consideration all the good work they do, for example, on those hedgerows, scrubs, poor areas of land, wetlands and small areas of forestation, along with our official forests, for want of a better term, there is a possibility and at least the potential to reach carbon neutrality on many farms if we get credit as farmers for the good work we do, heretofore unrecognised.

For 2017, total Irish greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors are estimated to be 0.9% lower than emissions in 2016. Agriculture, however, remains the largest contributor to overall emissions, at 33% of the total, with the transport and energy industries the next largest contributors, each at 20%. Agriculture emissions increased by just under 3% in 2017, which reflects the expansion of the dairy herd post-quotas and the national policy to expand the sector under Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025. While dairy cow numbers increased by 3% in the year to 2017, this was in the context of milk production increasing by 9% over the 12 month period. This is another indicator of the work being done. To coin an old phrase, there is a lot done but a hell of a lot more needs to be done.

Nitrogen fertiliser is the major issue. Its use increased by 8.8% in 2017. Soil fertility and the use of fertilisers such as nitrogen need to be looked at seriously and incorporated in any future schemes, be it the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, or whatever else, with a view to improving our greenhouse gas emissions.

Sometimes we can learn more about the future by looking at the past. It is a proven fact that between 1990 and 2017, agricultural emissions in Ireland decreased by 0.7% while production increased by 40%. I know that the figures and the extent of the increase in numbers have probably changed since that period, but this just goes to show that because of the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, and similar schemes, we were able to increase production while reducing emissions. We could learn lessons from the past, and it is no harm at times to look back to schemes that have worked when we devise schemes for the future. During the period when agricultural emissions decreased by 7%, transport sector emissions increased by 133% and energy sector emissions increased by 118%.

It is not that Irish agriculture's output is high-polluting. In fact, Ireland is one of the most highly intensive, lowest-carbon food producers in the world. The carbon footprint per kilogram of output of Irish farms is one of the lowest globally. According to the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, Irish dairying is the most efficient carbon dioxide per kilogram of milk in the EU, while Irish beef production is the fifth most efficient CO2 per kilogram of beef. It is essential that EU emissions targets are balanced with sustainable food output. Otherwise, there is the risk that they could become self-defeating, leading to a transfer of food production, also known as carbon leakage, to other countries which have lower overall costs but less carbon-efficient production methods. This argument has been made by the agriculture sector and the political sector at times but is not being accepted in many circles. However, it is factual. The climate action that is needed is needed globally. While we might solve all our problems in Ireland by reducing production and ticking all the boxes, we are only one small island in the global picture, the beef we are so efficiently producing would then be replaced by production in places such as Brazil with a carbon footprint four times ours, and it still would not change the rate of global climate change.

Many CAP and rural development schemes have requirements which incentivise and require environmentally beneficial farming practices and the reduction of our carbon footprint. These include greening measures; the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, which has 50,000 farmers participating; and the beef data and genomics programme, which is genotyping up to 1 million cattle to improve the carbon footprint in the suckler herd. Ireland's Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 is providing support for climate change adaptation and mitigation actions, with 85% of total measures in this area. Much more action is needed, however, together with the adoption of new technologies to reduce the carbon footprint further, and the provision of further incentives to meet targets in the next CAP to accelerate the delivery of greenhouse gas reduction in farming practices.

Irrespective of the headline of the topic of debate we will have when it comes to agriculture, it will eventually always come back to the sustainability of farming as a whole, the commodity prices and the farmer's income. As the Minister quite rightly said, farmers are the custodians of the environment. They are very conscious of the role they play and can play and the improvements they can make in this area. It is very hard, however, to get anyone to do anything when he or she does not have the hard cash to do it. When farmers are struggling because of their margins to put food on their family tables and to educate their children, the improvements they need to make to their efficiency will be way down their list of priorities, because by the time they get to those improvements, they will not have any money left. Therefore, while it would not be a fix-all solution, it would certainly set the train of thought, the attitude and the ambition of the farming community in the right direction if we could get them a fair price for their commodity and if they had some disposable income at the end of the day to invest in the technologies, the processes and the methods they need to adopt to improve the situation.

I thank the Minister for coming before the House to present to us on this interesting topic. The work of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action is certainly worthwhile, but there are grave concerns that sometimes the proportion of blame attributed in the work to agriculture and transport is perhaps unfair.

I refer the House to a piece of work published this week and written by Tassos Haniotis, director of strategy, simplification and policy analysis in the Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Commission. It is a very interesting piece and I would recommend it to anyone. Its title is "Beef, Climate Change and a Slice of Common Sense". In the article, reference is made to the fact that beef production and farming have a big role to play in greenhouse gas emissions, and that is accepted, but he argues we need to look at the big picture and put the basic facts into perspective. There is a reference in the article to the crisis we had a decade ago with biofuels, the fact that food shortages and food prices were a major concern and that the market was heating up.

The initial reaction to that crisis was to ban all biofuels as it was thought at the time that doing so would correct the imbalance. That turned out not to be the case.

Considering where we are at the moment with the food issue, markets for food and sustainability of farm businesses, we need to look back, as is suggested in the piece, to the beginning of time when man had requirement for food, shelter, clothing, movement and energy. We have used innovation and technology to deliver on all of these things. We have become better, more productive, more efficient farmers as time has passed. Now we are faced with what is known as sustainability. The reality is that there are no quick fixes for sustainability. Sustainability and changing direction will be about changing behaviour. It will be about slowing down and turning around. I would like to share a quotation from the piece. Mr. Haniotis states that a little done by many will be of greater benefit than a lot done by a few. We need to be careful to ensure everyone has responsibility in this discussion. If we talk about climate change and the environment specifically with regard to agriculture, we also need to be cognisant of the role of people who live in Dublin, London and other cities and urban areas around the world.

The Minister's opening comment is most important. It is vital to reinstate the long-term policy because climate change and the environment are long-term policy decisions. We need an approach to carbon neutrality which does not compromise the capacity for sustainable food production. That strapline is the mantra we must cling to. Primary production in agriculture is under immense pressure. The industry does not have the capacity to absorb much more financial pressure. We need to create a sustainable environment where young people will be encouraged to come home to work the land, farm and produce food. Too often it is too easy to separate the discussions we have on agriculture and food production from food consumption.

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. This is a very important topic not only for the agriculture community but for society itself. This debate is very welcome. As Senator Marshall just mentioned, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action is doing extraordinary work going through the various scenarios and where agriculture fits into them. I note that several members of the committee are here today. That work will be very important for the agriculture community, which is fearful of how this work could affect it. It is important in the next few weeks or months, when this report is published, that we take people with us on this journey of change and using technology. We must ensure that rural Ireland and our agriculture beef industries are sustainable.

Many topics have been discussed over the last six or eight weeks in respect of this issue. I will mention just a few. We need to consider how we will progress our energy needs and industry. Anaerobic digestion is one of the key drivers in respect of energy potential and slurry usage in agriculture. We need to consider developing a national plan for anaerobic digestion that would emphasise how the agriculture community can be part of the solution and not just part of the problem, as we have heard so many times. We can be the active driver to ensure that we are a part of producing gas that is economical for the consumer. That would have a positive knock-on effect for the environment and agriculture. A national strategy for anaerobic digestion is one of the key plans we need to drive to get delivery on the ground.

Following on from that, one of the reports I read over Christmas was on food waste, a major issue that we need to debate. We must discuss how to avoid throwing out vast amounts of food. One of the figures I came across over Christmas was that 41% of food does not make it all the way through the process. That is a significant issue for the agriculture community and urban Ireland. We should have campaigns to take people with us on the journey of reducing food waste and ensuring we make better use of food. That is another journey on which we need to take the community.

We need to ensure that the agriculture community has the finance to pay for these changes when they happen. The negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, will be crucial and the Minister referred to how they will fit in. We need a new CAP that is strong for the agriculture community and incentivises it to make changes in technology. The Minister might give us an update on timelines. When does he expect the negotiations to take place? Will it be before or after the European elections and will the outcome go before the European Parliament? The Minister can only give an opinion on this and cannot be definitive. We need to start talking about these key issues because the timelines will indicate to the agriculture community when it must move forward into this new space. The agriculture community is a major part of the solution and will work towards achieving that solution. We have seen great changes in the industry in the last ten years. Farmers worked actively on these issues and I am sure they will do so again but they need to have confidence in the marketplace. That is why the CAP is so important; it can give farmers the confidence to invest for the next period and bring young people into the process. We will then see major change in what will be a very important industry for rural Ireland and the economy.

Energy and food security are the two most important sovereignty issues facing Ireland over the coming decade. Agriculture and rural land are the pillar upon which both of these are built. As the world shifts globally from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy, successive Governments have been sitting on their hands and have failed to provide the leadership required to guide the agricultural sector towards a low emission, green energy economy.

Agriculture contributes 32% of Ireland’s total emissions, as the Minister knows. This Government has demonstrated in equal measure its failure to protect the interests of its citizens and to prepare for the changing conditions under which our farmers, food producers and land custodians must operate over the coming decades. This Government has failed to prioritise and strategise and to monetise interventions to develop and support both primary agriculture and off-farm diversification in a sustainable manner. It is evident from the recent testimony of farming organisations to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action that farmers recognise the challenges facing us as a society and acknowledge their portion of responsibility in bringing about change. What was equally evident, however, was that there is no consensus on how to move forward. There is no agreed framework for primary agriculture, food production, afforestation, peatland restoration, biomass production, land use, energy production or habitat conservation. Nor is there a strategy to ensure a just, fair and equitable transition to a green economy for farmers and farm families most at risk of job or income loss.

The Minister is presiding over a sector embarking on a journey into uncharted waters with no clear destination, navigation system or fuel and on board a leaky vessel.

The Department is functioning in a silo without an operational cross-departmental strategy. The agencies under departmental governance also operate in silos, with little or no meaningful cross-collaboration. The Government urgently needs to set in place an implementation strategy that will set out the trajectory of specific, measurable, realistic and attainable targets, with a clearly defined plan of action.

The agriculture sector needs the Government to provide leadership, define policy, enact legislation, undertake research and development and put in place a comprehensive range of appropriate financial incentives to create the conditions for the sector to make the transition to a sustainable green economy. Sinn Féin has many proposals, of which I am sure the Minister is aware, but I will remind him of them. Agriculture has huge potential to add to our renewable energy efforts and contribute substantially to a reduction in emissions. We can offer the farming community alternative revenue streams such as developing a biogas industry and biomass supply and allowing small-scale generators to supply to the electricity grid. Establishing biogas, or renewable gas, initiatives can deal with farm waste and produce renewable gas to displace fossil fuels. This gas can be used in electricity generation, as a transport fuel, particularly for the haulage industry, and for heating. In electricity generation this form of on-demand indigenous lower emissions power can be used to complement intermittent sources of energy such as wind and solar power. An SEAI report from 2016 saw the potential to create 3,000 jobs in this sector in the coming decade.

We need to develop biomass resources as we cannot advocate change without providing an alternative. Growing these crops will provide the farming community with an alternative. The current peat-fired plants are converting to biomass, but we are in the crazy situation where it will be imported. It can be grown here, thus reducing our carbon footprint. It would also mean a new industry for farmers, particularly in the midlands. Solar energy projects have huge potential. Sinn Féin tabled a Bill on rooftop solar power which has reached Committee Stage in the Dáil. It aims to develop a feed-in tariff. Considering large farm buildings, farmers have a lot to offer in that regard. A Dutch dairy co-op plans to install 400,000 rooftop solar photovoltaic panels on its members' farms. Once fully implemented, the scheme will supply enough electricity to supply 33,000 households. These are income options for farmers that would displace fossil fuels on this island and lower emissions.

Establishing a sugar beet industry must be progressed. It would also provide alternative income. The growth period of this broadleaf plant would add to carbon sequestration. On forestry, studies need to be conducted to see which are the best trees and crops we can use as carbon sinks. We need to grow broadleaf trees which also add to biodiversity. We need to look at other plants, including short rotation crops such as willow and miscanthus, to assess their carbon sink benefits. Hedgerows throughout rural Ireland are rich in biodiversity, but they also provide for carbon sequestration. They must be protected and seen for the climate benefits the offer.

The Government is failing to make meaningful progress on the issue of climate action in the agriculture sector. Farmers need to be brought into the conversation and provided with real alternatives for meaningful change to happen.

It was uplifting when the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act was passed by the Oireachtas. I thought it was a sound foundation on which to build, but, unfortunately, there has been no follow-through. The one thing that has operated extremely well is the expert advisory group which is being excellently chaired by Mr. John Fitzgerald. In many ways, it has held the Government to account. The Act was the high point, but there has since been failure after failure.

I certainly got a lift yesterday when I saw the 600 young children protesting outside Leinster House.

They stated what was happening here was not acceptable and that we had to change and make progress. It is their future we are putting in danger and that of other young people all over the planet.

It is no excuse to say this is a small country and what we do is just a drop in the ocean. We must show leadership and take responsibility for our own actions. We must reduce our carbon emissions, not because we have signed the Paris agreement but because it is the right thing to do. We have a responsibility to future generations, but we have been failing miserably. Prior to Christmas, a queue of Ministers, came to the House, one after the other, including the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, to make five-minute speeches. That is not good enough. It is welcome that the Minister has returned to the House and is taking the time to listen, but we need to do more than listen. The 600 children who were here yesterday were demanding action. In a couple of months' time there will probably be 6,000 here. They are not coming to overthrow a Government but to ask us to make adult decisions to protect the planet and tell us that we need to get on with it.

Members have spoken eloquently about hedgerows. I totally accept that farmers deserve credit and to be rewarded for it. They protect hedgerows which is an investment in the future, but they receive no acknowledgement for it. Do not forget that the Government took away legal protections for hedgerows in the Heritage Act. I see Senator Lombard's little smile, but I remember his comment that what else would people do in August with the machinery but go out and cut hedges. Is that a serious approach to the environment? It is disappointing. There was protection for hedgerows, but it was removed under the Heritage Act. Senator Norris argued eloquently for the protection of the biodiversity in hedgerows.

I am arguing for a just transition to a low-carbon economy. I am speaking about the people who must be protected in rural Ireland, namely, small farmers. When we speak about the Common Agricultural Policy, we must speak about how we protect small farmers and ensure they can maintain their relationship with the land and carry on protecting our heritage, as they have done for generations, while also make a good living. They should not have to live in poverty. They should be able to afford to send their children to college and have a holiday.

As a Dub, I listen to people talk about farmers, but they are usually talking about large farmers. I have often seen large farmers being protected over and over again in this and the other House. I have also heard arguments in favour of protecting their interests. A small farmer in County Cavan does not have much of a say in this House, while a small farmer in County Kerry does not find a great ear in Fine Gael. The view is that it is the party of large farmers. I spent ten years working in rural Ireland, from County Donegal to west Cork and County Kerry, and the conversation in the pub was that Fine Gael looked after big farmers and the guys in the big houses. That is what came across to me in the time I worked in rural Ireland. Small farmers did not think their voices were being heard. The large farmers did well out of what was at the time the EEC, while the small farmers just got by. They got the crumbs from the big table.

On farm efficiency, a study was carried out in 2013 that showed dairy farmers with the smallest carbon footprint were also the most profitable, suggesting environmentally efficient farms were also more profitable. We need to take these studies off the shelf and start to work with small farmers to ensure they will deliver. The Minister outlined this aspect in terms of what was happening, but it must be speeded up and smaller farmers supported in that regard.

Afforestation is very important. We need to assist and to educate people. We must also ensure that the right trees are planted. We have not got it right until now, and I believe we have to provide assistance rather than bullying people in rural Ireland on this issue. They have real fears about this.

Substantial gains can be made by changing the diets of cattle, which in turn would reduce the carbon footprint. In the main, however, we have to realign the way in which we are doing things, look at supporting rural communities in a proper, efficient and environmentally friendly way, and stop listening to the voices of wealthy farmers with big farms. We must look at the farmer who has a job, who works all day long and then works on the family farm in the evening. How do we support those farmers? There is a prevailing attitude that Dublin wants farmers to act in a certain way. Dublin wants to see a prosperous rural Ireland, with prosperous family farms operating and working. I will support and assist the Senator in any way I can, but I will be coming at this from the point of view of small farmers. We want it to be possible for families to stay in rural Ireland and earn a decent living.

We do not need to use doublespeak in this Chamber. During the debate on the Heritage Act 2018, certain people said that they wanted to protect the hedgerows, then passed the legislation that put a horse and four through the legislation that was in place to protect them. The Heritage Act 2018 said it was a pilot scheme, but I have never seen a pilot scheme that covered the Twenty-six Counties. To me a pilot scheme is carried out in a small area and exactly what is happening can be seen. The Heritage Act 2018 allowed hedgerows throughout the country to be destroyed, and it took away the supporting legislation. Thankfully, many farmers who emailed me with their strong concerns about that Act are not going out to destroy the hedgerows. The fact remains that the legislation protecting hedgerows was taken away. Fine Gael did a bad day's work, supported by Fianna Fáil, in this House on that occasion.

I was interested to see that the Government stuck the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, into the House to take this debate. The first three speakers were farmers. More power to them. My grandfather was a farmer. It seems quite clear that the Government's objective is to protect the farmers' interests, and there is no sense of urgency whatsoever. I found the Minister's speech to be a collection of unconvincing blather. He says he is not complacent. My God, there is not the slightest suggestion of any degree of urgency in this. We are told that everything is all right and there is nothing to look at here, or there is "no problem", to quote the former Minister for Finance, the late Deputy Brian Lenihan. It is quite extraordinary. It is as if the Minister, in a situation of war with bombs falling, missiles landing and poison gas everywhere, is putting his nose outside the House wondering whether to take an umbrella. This is a war, and it is an extraordinary-----

I understand that the Minister, Deputy Creed, is the first in a series of Ministers who are coming before the House to discuss progress on climate change.

He is not the first Minister to appear.

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

I would love to say it was not true.

The Minister, Deputy Creed, is the first of a number of Ministers to appear, and he is very welcome to the House.

Of course the Minister is welcome to the House, but he did not say one thing on this issue that was in the slightest bit convincing. It was all bland comment. We were told that there is nothing to get upset or worried about. Where are we in legislative terms? We had the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018, passed by 78 to 48, which then went to the joint committee, where it is now stuck, going nowhere, because the Government is refusing to refer it on. Last year was the fourth hottest year on record ever. Global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have declined, on average, by 60% between 1970 and 2014. The population of these life forms has more than halved in that period. According to the World Meteorological Association, greenhouse gas concentrations are once again at record levels, and if the current trend continues, we may see temperature increases of 3% to 5% by the end of the century. That is an astonishing, catastrophic situation. Ireland is still rated as the worst performing EU country. It is 48th in the list, and remains in the group of very low performing countries. The performance in the greenhouse gas emissions category is rated as very low. It is also occupying a spot among the low-ranking performers in the energy use category. The Minister made no reference to that. He merely gave bland reassurances.

Greenhouse gas emissions are rising rather than falling, according to the climate change advisory council in this country, which says that Ireland is completely off course in terms of achieving its 2020 and 2030 emissions targets. That is where we are. We are not in the bland world of the Minister. Some things are changing. The burning of coal is being phased out at Moneypoint, where they are using biomass instead. However, it is being co-fired with peat. It is another half measure. We are supposed to be reducing our emissions by one million tonnes per year, but we are actually increasing it by two million tonnes per year. We should stop and think about that for a moment. It is easy to rattle off these figures and not think about them. Think about what that means. We are to reduce emissions by one million tonnes but we are increasing them by two million. Our mass emissions, if I am correct, are 62 million tonnes a year. We are talking about gas in the atmosphere. It is not solid. It is 62 million tonnes of carbon going into the atmosphere from this country every year. It is a frightening thought.

I see no vision whatsoever in what the Minister has said. There is no sense of urgency or of an overall plan. The entire planet is in this together. We are extraordinarily lucky in this country. Think of the small islands in our oceans that are on the point of being submerged and the populations wiped out or being transferred elsewhere. It is dreadful to think of it. Looking at the EU's Paris Agreement compliance figures, Sweden is at the top, with 77% compliance. Ireland is 27th, at 21%. That is shameful.

I will end by quoting Professor John FitzGerald, who is chairman of the climate change advisory council. He said: "We cannot reach 2020 [targets] even if we stand on our heads." We cannot reach those targets. Where in this House today is the sense of urgency? My good friend and colleague, Senator Humphreys, mentioned the demonstration. I was going to mention that too. I was very impressed by the group. I did not know there were as many as 600 children, but they certainly raised a racket. They were right to raise a racket. This is their world. I am 75. This does not really affect me. I am not going to be around when the worst of these things are happening, although I have been a witness to climate change and have seen these tremendous storms and the changing temperatures we are experiencing. At my house in Cyprus my neighbour, a very nice man called Savas, has always made a point of looking after his vineyards, but has said that over recent years he cannot go out as it is too hot. It is over 40°C. It is too hot for a Cypriot farmer to go out to do what generations of his family have done.

I have not seen any sign of urgency. Similarly when the global leaders of economics, banking, industry and all the rest met at Davos, I do not recall there being a single word spoken about climate change. They really do not give a damn and it is about time they woke up.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I completely disagree with my colleague. The Minister's speech was well balanced and reassuring. It was a good appraisal of where we are going on this. His conclusion spoke of collaboration, co-operation and collective responsibility, words that sum up where we need to go and the importance of this issue. We have to balance how we execute our responsibilities on climate change with our responsibility to farmers. Our farmers are very environmentally friendly compared with those of other countries. The statistics speak for themselves. The carbon footprint of beef production in Ireland is many times lower than the equivalent in other countries such as China.

There are specific examples of where we have achieved best practice in collaboration, co-operation and collective responsibility of communities and farmers. One, in my area of north Clare, is the Burren LIFE Project which the Minister has visited more than once. The Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. Phil Hogan, has also visited the project, which has won several international awards. It farms for conservation and participants adhere to the principles of collective responsibility, co-operation and collaboration. They engage with farmers and the environment. The Burren is a unique landscape which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. People live on the Burren and run businesses in the area, as do farmers who look after the land and run businesses. Dr. Brendan Dunford promoted the idea of farmers working on the land in an environmentally friendly way to conserve it. The principle was that farmers were not merely earning a living from the land and supporting their families but also acted as ambassadors for the area with the people who visited from across the world. They were the guardians and protectors of the land. The methods and production systems adopted by Dr. Dunford and his team ensured the environment was protected and the necessary work would be done to secure, nurture and promote the natural habitat of the Burren. It is an example of how we can co-operate and collaborate and take collective responsibility for dealing with climate action.

My good friend Senator Lombard is driving the practice whereby the Seanad bring Ministers in to discuss compliance with our 2020 obligations in their areas. It is a good initiative for the Seanad which has been a guardian of what is done right in this country. We did this in the Seanad Public Consultation Committee which had many projects, including a farm safety module for which I was rapporteur. I welcome the Minister who is doing a superb job in extremely challenging and difficult circumstances.

On Brexit, more than 50% of our beef exports go to the United Kingdom, with a further 44% going to the rest of the European Union. Only 6% go to the rest of the world. This Minister faces enormous challenges. He is working in our national and economic interests and I wish him well.

I must apologise to the Minister as I will not be here for his closing remarks. I have a meeting on University Hospital Limerick with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris.

That is quite all right. The Minister will not be making any closing remarks.

I am delighted to see the Minister back in the House. It was a good decision by the Leader and others to ensure that we get a good conversation with each Department. We all felt that the sitting in December was not very satisfactory in terms of looking at climate action in each area. It is good, therefore, that we will have separate discussions with the various Ministers.

I will pick up on some key areas. I read the Minister's speech and recognise some key areas and roadmaps, but in each of the ministerial statements on climate action, we need a sense of what happened last year and what is happening this year. I would like the Minister to speak more to 2019 in his concluding remarks. We have seen young people taking action by protesting outside Leinster House. There is frustration that while new targets are being set and there is a roadmap from 2021 onwards, we will hit perhaps 1% of our overall 2020 emissions targets. Could we identify what actions could be taken in 2019 and 2020 to increase that figure to 5%? That would be an ambitious target and would require action from every Department but that is the level of urgency involved. We may not have the luxury of planning roadmaps for the future. While these are important, we have an intense 12 years ahead.

I recognise the role of afforestation in carbon sequestration. However we have a dual crisis. There is the climate crisis and our failure to hit national, European and global targets on carbon reduction and, linked to that, there is an ecological crisis in biodiversity. Recent articles have pointed to a possible 40% loss in insect life which would have catastrophic consequences for agriculture and horticulture in particular. During our lengthy debates on the Heritage Bill, on which the Minister will be familiar with our concerns, we heard that it takes 20 visits from pollinators to make an apple take the correct shape and fully develop to the point where it can be sold in shops. Pollinators play this very active role, including in the health of crops. That is why bees are transported across America to deliver almond harvests and other crops. Our pollinators play a vital role in sustaining life but also in agriculture.

A greater focus on horticulture may be needed in the medium term. I would like the Minister to address that issue and the potential of horticulture to become a larger part of the national market. In many cases it would provide higher value products than, say, using fields to grow fodder. Many places have seen a switch towards higher value horticultural produce.

It has local markets at a time when international markets are more unstable, and demand for it is increasing.

What are our plans to facilitate a transition to a greater focus on horticulture? Is that something we are considering or that we will support farmers to do? I acknowledge that it has been raised many times in the House but there may be a devastating impact on the agricultural sector in the aftermath of Brexit. We will have to draw on national and European resources to support that sector. Can we ensure that those moneys and what we ultimately draw down from Europe is not simply a matter of pressing pause on the industries as they are now but rather to support farmers in making a transition to crops and farming that is more sustainable in the long term?

The issue of afforestation is linked to that. I am sure the Minister will be aware that there have been many protests on the issue. Although we plant trees, we do not necessarily regenerate forests. If we move towards the point where trees, with their carbon sequestration, are simply a cash crop but do not build up the ecosystems, trees will not perform their double function to tackle our dual crisis. We must also use trees to address the need for better pollination and environments, and wildlife corridors for sustaining our ecology. Can we consider re-examining some of our forestry policy?

I welcome the woodland environmental fund, but how will we incentivise its use? Many who are passionate about nature and the environment are concerned about some of our forestry schemes, and that concern has been shared internationally. There is also concern as to how Ireland funds adaptation and mitigation measures in the global south. There are many local initiatives of rural communities around the world to build, support and sustain forests, for example, by building up manuka honey crops and examining how forests can be a rich environment with their own crops, but those kinds of projects are not often supported. Large, industrial-scale planting of cash-crop forests, on the other hand, will invariably receive the environmental and other funding. I would like the Minister to comment further on the issue.

I have spoken about the issue of transition. We need to consider our beef industry. It is a strong industry which I respect but we need to reconsider its scale and the balance in the industry to take account of horticulture. Given what we have heard about the imminent extinction of 40% of insects, I urge the Minister to engage with the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan. A review of the Heritage Act 2018, which is effectively a hedgerow-cutting Act, is due and we need to revisit that issue. As we deal with climate change, we will have to challenge a number of industries and one with which we might need to start is the hedge-cutting industry. It cannot be business as usual and we will have to make some difficult decisions, which will mean respecting people.

All these measures will feed into Ireland being able to make a much stronger case under the new CAP. The European Commission is not blind to decisions to allow hedgerows to be exempt in these areas. I hope that CAP will sustain rural communities in the future rather than simply the owners of large-scale farms. How can we integrate support for local communities?

Seaweed crops are probably not a matter for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and, therefore, I will leave it aside for now.

We will invite a number of Ministers over a period.

I thank all the Senators for their contributions. I am loath to pick out individual Senators and make points of refutation or acknowledgment because I have taken copious notes and we in the Department are actively considering the issue. If it were not for the enormity of Brexit, this issue would be front and centre of all our deliberations. As Senators will know, there is now a clear focus in every Department to form its own plan, and agriculture forms a large part of that. While I acknowledge the points made by Senators, the new focus is not due to legally binding and financially onerous obligations, and nor is it because the market says so, which, increasingly for a food-exporting island, also feeds into the consideration. As was clearly outlined by several Senators, it is matter of the planet's survival and future generations.

The main point I wish to communicate, not only to Senators but also to the listening public, is that Irish agriculture, in all its iterations inside and outside the farm, is up for that challenge. There is a context, however, within which that challenge must be met. Sometimes, if one were to believe all the negative commentary that is targeted at the agricultural sector, one would almost believe that food could be produced without producing greenhouse gases. If one wants to be fed, whether one is vegetarian, vegan or meat-eating, one must have a carbon footprint. Everybody has one. The Department's strategy is for our food production, whether in dairy, beef or any other commodity, to be as carbon efficient as possible and aspire to being global leaders in respect of carbon emissions per kilogram of output of whatever commodity. Our aim to be as efficient as possible is one leg of a three-legged stool.

Another issue is sequestration. I am sorry but we cannot speak out of both sides of our mouth about it. Sequestration is a fabulous-sounding word. How is it spelled? T-R-E-E-S. We need to grow more trees; it is as simple as that. We cannot talk, on the one hand, about sequestration and the need for it while, on the other hand, sending a negative message about forestry. We in the Department are the first to acknowledge that we have not always got it right. We have conducted a mid-term review of our forestry strategy, which we will examine in the context of the future Common Agricultural Policy to determine how the two can be integrated. We need to plant more trees and consider soil-----

To clarify, I am not against the planting of trees. I was referring to what will accompany the planted trees. It is important to be clear.

I appreciate that and I was not targeting the Senator's point. There is constant mixed messaging about sequestration, of which afforestation is a critical part, and we need farmers to plant more trees. I have made the point ad nauseam that we cannot expect any one area of the country to carry all the obligation.

I fully acknowledge Senator Paul Daly's point about soil management. Soil fertility is a significant aspect of the matter. There is an over-application of chemical fertiliser, an inadequate application of organic fertiliser and lime can necessitate the use of additional chemical fertiliser. Perhaps we need to transition to compulsory soil-testing at some stage and use the data to ascertain the appropriate level of chemical fertiliser to apply, and maximise soil fertility. It is critical to meet the global challenges that face us. We can be a part of the solution to the problem of how to feed a growing global population. We aspire to be world leaders in the carbon efficiency of our agricultural sector and it is not fair to state that we cannot be.

No sector of Irish society deals more often with the issues of climate change than farmers. They were outside in all kinds of weather in the past 12 months, from drought to 6 ft of snow, and they know that they are dealing with climate change daily. All the engagement which I have had with farming organisations indicates that they are up for the challenges that lie ahead. We need to provide leadership and bring people with us. In the context of the difficult decisions that we face, it is critical that we do not run ahead of people. We need to build consensus and bring people with us, which is the challenge. As I stated, I have taken copious notes and engaged extensively with the industry and farming organisations. I am satisfied that although we are behind the curve on our targets for 2020 - there is no point in putting out any message other than that we will not meet those targets, and I could give a long dissertation explaining why - we will meet our 2030 targets. The Common Agricultural Policy post-2020 will be a critical part of developing a toolbox to help us in that regard, but is not true that we are not doing anything.

We are spending €4 billion in the current rural development programme and we are encouraging the planting of thousands of hedgerows under GLAS. It is as if farmers never cared about hedgerows because they are planting thousand of kilometres of them under GLAS. There are areas of natural constraint, ANC, payments and beef data and genomics investment to improve genetic standards, which mean better-bred cattle which finish faster and produce a lower carbon footprint, like the economic breeding index, EBI, in the dairy sector which produces more from fewer cows. Senator Marshall summed it up well when quoting from a report from Europe which suggested that a little done by many is the way to do this, rather than a few doing huge things. There is no silver bullet. We need to take a series of perhaps boring but essential steps and I believe the industry is up for that.

I cannot allow the allegation rest that Fine Gael is a party that supports large farmers, a point made by Senator Humphreys. In the convergence of the current CAP we have presided over the transfer of over €100 million in farm payments from farmers with a higher per-hectare payment to farmers with a lower per-hectare payment. That journey of convergence will continue under the next CAP and the environmental ambition in the next CAP is going to be more significant. We are accelerating a journey that we were on long before many people were talking about climate change and the environment. We learned from trade missions, and our markets, that this was what consumers were demanding. In global markets it is almost taken for granted, although we can never do so, that our produce is safe, nutritious and traceable. However, we are being asked increasingly difficult questions about our carbon footprint, our antimicrobial resistance, our use of plastics and our animal welfare status. In the higher value-added markets in which we want to be, these are the critical issues and our unique selling points. We have to continue to be ahead of the curve in these areas.

It is challenging but I am satisfied that the industry can rise to meet the challenges. Rather than pointing fingers at certain sectors, we need to work collaboratively and co-operatively. The walls between the transport sector and the agriculture sector or the energy sector are artificial. By all acting collectively and globally, we will be able to arrest the alarming march of climate change.

I thank the Minister and Senators for their contributions. When is it proposed to sit again?

At 2.30 p.m. next Tuesday.

The Seanad adjourned at 2.15 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 19 February 2019.