My Department recognises that current and future EU climate targets pose considerable challenges for Irish agriculture due to the fact that agriculture accounts for 33% of national emissions.
The EU targets to 2030, negotiated by my colleague, Minister Bruton, are guided by the EU’s commitments under the Paris Agreement agreed in 2015. The Paris agreement aims to tackle 95% of global emissions through 188 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which will increase in ambition over time. The agreement means that the EU has a target of a 40% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. Ireland’s contribution to the Paris Agreement will be via the NDC proposed by the EU on behalf of its Member States.
The Effort Sharing Regulation proposal suggested a 39% GHG reduction target for Ireland for the period 2021 to 2030 relative to 2005, again based on GDP per capita. However, this emissions target was adjusted downward for cost-effectiveness, by 9%, so the national target is 30% by 2030.
Ireland has also been offered flexible mechanisms including 5.6% to be achieved via offsetting emissions by sequestering carbon dioxide through Land Use, Land use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) This constitutes the highest level of flexibility available to any member state. It was recognised that Ireland had two specific difficulties in reaching targets by emissions reduction alone and therefore has a higher level of flexibilities than those for other EU member states;
1. The ratio of Ireland’s non-Emission trading sector (including agriculture); Emission Trading Sector (principally heavy industry) emissions is higher than in most member states;
2. The high proportion of agricultural emissions with low mitigation potential in total Irish GHG emissions.
While Ireland is internationally recognised as having one of the most carbon efficient systems of food production in the EU, and when compared to other EU countries, there is huge variability in carbon efficiency that exists within the country. The Teagasc Sustainability Survey shows that the top performing third of farms emitted, on average, 9.6 kg CO2 equivalent per kg beef, compared with 14.9 kg for the bottom performing third of cattle farms. Reducing this variability is a real opportunity to make progress in reducing emissions from cattle production in Ireland with positive economic dividend on the farms concerned.
I am confident that the agriculture sector as a whole will contribute significantly to achieving Ireland’s targets and its transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy and society with collaboration, co-operation and collective responsibility being key in achieving this ambition.