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Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 4 November 2021

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Questions (11)

Richard Bruton


11. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the way the inclusion of land use, land use change and forestry, LULUCF, in the inventory used to measure greenhouse gases will alter the policy challenge for Ireland. [53626/21]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Environment)

The Climate Change Advisory Council has recently added land use to the greenhouse gas inventory, which has to be halved over the next decade. That means we will have to find measures to reduce carbon emissions by an extra 5 million tonnes. I would like to ask the Minister of State what impact that might have on other sectors if that sector itself cannot deliver and what new policy and investment tools will evolve to support the land use changes.

Greenhouse gas emissions and removals associated with LULUCF are reported in Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions inventory, prepared by the Environmental Protections Agency, EPA, and submitted annually to the EU and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. LULUCF includes activities associated with forestry, croplands, grasslands, wetlands, settlements and other lands.

The programme for Government recognises that the next ten years are critical if we are to address the climate crisis. It commits to a 51% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions over the decade and to achieving a climate neutral economy no later than 2050.

These commitments have since been placed on a statutory footing through the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021. The climate Act provides for carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings to be put in place which will determine how each sector of the economy will contribute to the achievement of the carbon budgets, including the land use, land use change and forestry, LULUCF, sector.

Ireland is currently a net emitter of greenhouse gasses from the LULUCF sector to the order of 4.8 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, MTCO2e, per year. All the LULUCF categories have potential to be managed as net sinks for greenhouse gasses. It is important that we fully account for our actual emissions and removals from LULUCF in order to ensure policy is designed consistent with our objective to reach a climate neutral economy by 2050.

The climate action plan, which will be published shortly, will set out a range of LULUCF policies and measures which we will need to continue, modify and enhance over the coming decades to realise our climate ambition.

The programme for Government commitment for a national land use review is under way and it will consider options on how we might improve the management our land to meet not only the climate challenge but the biodiversity, water resource and socioeconomic challenges too. The first phase, the evidential review, is currently under preparation. This is overseen by a steering group co-chaired by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The Minister of State did not advert to the fact that the LULUCF has not been included heretofore in the targets we set for either EU reductions or Irish national reductions. The climate council is advocating that we set a reduction which will mean we have to find 5 million MTCO2e from the land use sector. I want to probe the Minister of State as to what new policy tools and investment measures will allow us do that because failure to meet this new target will fall back onto the other sectors. The climate plan will be published today but the Minister of State might recognise that this is a shift in policy and requires a shift in policy measures to match.

I accept that it is a shift and we need new tools and metrics and ways of managing it. It is something new, but it is not all negative. The fact is that at present LULUCF is generating emissions in the wrong direction - it is 4.8 MTCO2e - but it is also true that it could be a sink. That is not the case with other sectors of the economy. This is a sector of society which can make progress on emissions beyond zero. In other words, it can sequester carbon. At the same time, we can pay farmers to do that. Therefore, it can be a source of income. It can be a source of opportunity. It can be a way for agriculture to become sustainable, not only environmentally but financially. We can pay farmers to sequester carbon and they have that opportunity which is not available in other sectors. We will never have negative emissions from transport, we will never have negative emissions from industry but agriculture will go in that direction.

I am delighted to hear that from the Minister of State. I suppose we need to see what will be those mechanisms for paying for making those land use changes. It is important, if those mechanisms are not evolved today, that there is a clear statement that Government will be evolving mechanisms to pay for carbon management, which is effectively what this would be, of the land use. I welcome the Minister of State's announcement that there will be payment to farmers on that front.

Absolutely. In the commentary and debate about what needs to be done for climate action, too often the position of agriculture and farming is taken as definitely to be a negative. It is discussed in terms of pain, suffering and job losses when actually it is a time of opportunity. It is a traditional sector with a long heritage. It is difficult to have deep changes in such a sector, or lifestyle and culture. Nobody in Ireland who wants to deprive farmers of income. Everybody in Ireland is proud of their farming sector and of the food that we generate, wants to give farmers a sustainable income for the future, wants to pay them to be stewards of the land and wants to give them a way to continue to live on and from the land in a way that protects it and that we can be proud of for all of our citizens to enjoy in whatever way possible.