My Department is actively engaged as part of the whole of Government approach to transitioning to a low-carbon, competitive, sustainable and climate resilient economy and society.
The National Mitigation Plan (NMP) has identified a series of mitigation actions and measures for the agriculture and land use sector including forestry, including timelines for delivery. These measures not only focus on the mitigation of greenhouse gases and improving resource efficiency but are also aimed at restoring, preserving and enhancing ecosystems related to building resilience of agricultural production systems (i.e. adaptation).
The long term vision for the agricultural sector is an approach to carbon neutrality which does not compromise capacity for sustainable food production. Our policy approach is based on three principles:
i. reducing agricultural emissions;
ii. increasing carbon sequestration and
iii. displacing and substituting fossil fuel and energy intensive materials.
There are already a significant number of measures in place which support these principles. However, 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.
Production efficiency improvements are a core part of the efforts being undertaken by the agricultural sector. I recently launched a Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot scheme that builds on the success of the Beef Data and Genomics Programme with a funding provision of €20m in 2019. This new scheme is targeted at suckler farmers and specifically aimed at further improving the carbon efficiency of beef production.
Sequestration has also a key role to play in reducing the carbon footprint of the sector and €106 million has been made available by my Department in 2018 under the Forestry Programme to support afforestation and other forest initiatives with significant improvements in grant and premium rates under the agroforestry and forestry for fibre options.
The sector also plays a key role 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 underpins the sustainable production system as well as contributing to reducing Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Higher ambition on environmental and climate action are part of the new CAP, post 2020, and it is proposed that 40% of the overall CAP budget will contribute to climate and environmental action. This will require farmers to achieve a higher level of environmental ambition through both mandatory and incentive-based measures.
As we look towards defining measures and targets under the new CAP regime, 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 abatement measures we need to focus on 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.