The analogy between Irish agriculture and the coal industry is rather unfortunate. Ireland has a comparative advantage in grass-based, carbon-efficient livestock production. The European Commission Joint Research Centre report of 2010 found Ireland was the most carbon-efficient producer in the European Union per unit of dairy production and the fifth most carbon-efficient producer of beef per kilogram. Notwithstanding this, inherent challenges remain for the sector in contributing to Ireland's climate change and renewable energy targets. It should also be noted that policy development regarding the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, has seen the decoupling of CAP direct payments from livestock numbers since 2005.
The Government's current policy position for the agriculture sector is an approach to carbon neutrality that does not compromise capacity for sustainable food production. There are three strands to my Department's approach to carbon neutrality: reducing agricultural emissions; increasing carbon sequestration; and displacing and substituting fossil fuels and energy-intensive materials.
An example of my continued focus on ensuring the lowering of the carbon footprint of the agriculture sector is my recent launch of a beef environmental efficiency pilot scheme specifically aimed at further improving the carbon efficiency of the beef sector. Sequestration has a key role to play in reducing the carbon footprint of the sector. My Department has made a significant investment under the forestry programme. In 2018, €106 million was made available by my Department to support afforestation and other forest initiatives.
The sector also has a key role to play in the supply of biomass materials, adopting energy efficiency measures and renewable technologies on farm, as well as on-site energy generation, all of which can provide profitability gains which underpin the sustainable production system.
My Department continues to review options that will enable farmers to transition to a low-carbon economy. The recently published Teagasc report, An Analysis of Abatement Potential of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Irish Agriculture 2021-2030, is key to informing the type of measures on which we need to focus into the future to continue to reduce the carbon footprint of the sector. 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.