Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Discussion with Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

Thank you, Minister, for your attendance. I apologise for the slight delay. You are unusual in being punctual. Usually, we must wait half an hour for Ministers to arrive. Today we rearranged our business rather than leave you sitting.

I welcome the Minister and his officials. Your Department, whether people realise it, plays an important role in the work we undertake from the climate point of view and from the energy point of view with its possibilities and on into forestry in terms of mitigation. We look forward to your contribution. We will have an opportunity to have an across the floor discussion on the various points.

I thank the Chairman and the members for their invitation to address the committee this afternoon. I welcome this chance to give an update on climate change issues that relate to Ireland's agricultural sector. In making this presentation, and to help address any queries the committee may have, I am joined by officials from my Department.

From the outset, Ireland has fully supported the strong leadership shown by the European Union in terms of policies and actions to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Ireland agreed to limit greenhouse gas emissions at a level 13% above 1990 levels. Under the EU climate change and energy package, Ireland has the highest level of target set under the EU burden sharing arrangements, to reduce by 2020 our national emissions by 20% compared with 2005 levels. Ireland has also agreed that by 2020, 16% of our overall energy consumption will come from renewable sources and 10% of transport fuels from bio-fuels.

In the event of an international agreement where other developed countries commit themselves to comparable emissions reductions and developing countries commit to contributing adequately according to their responsibilities and respective capabilities, the EU has committed to reduce the Union's collective emissions further by up to 30% compared with 1990 levels. Although the Copenhagen accord does not constitute such an international agreement, it does recognise the need to limit global temperature increases to no more than 2° centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Scientists tell us that to keep increases below this threshold will require developed countries, including Ireland, to set themselves on a glide path to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% to 95% by 2050. As we proceed to determine how Ireland should meet its 2020 targets, a cautious and pragmatic approach is needed that fully recognises the need to achieve the reductions in a cost-effective manner.

To date, Ireland's agriculture sector has played a very significant role in reducing national emissions. In the Kyoto commitment period, from 2008 to 2012, emissions from the sector are projected to be 8.5% — 1.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent — less per annum compared with 1990 levels. The sector will continue to play its part in managing the response to climate change and, where possible, the sector will continue to contribute to emissions reductions through improvements in production efficiency.

I assure the committee that Ireland's agriculture sector will continue to contribute its fair share to the national response but, as members will be aware, compared with other sectors, there are very few cost-effective emissions reductions options available to us. With current technologies, future emissions reductions are not expected be as great as in the past. In its recent report projecting emissions from 2010 to 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, forecast that emissions from the sector will have fallen by 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, or 12.5%, by 2020 compared with 1990 levels.

An in-depth analysis of the cost-effective emissions reductions options available to the sector was conducted by my Department in association with Teagasc. It concluded that, with the current product mix, current technologies could deliver a reduction of no more than 4% in emissions. This conclusion is borne out, more or less, by separate and independent analyses conducted by McKinsey consultants and by the Institute of International and European Affairs. It is also broadly in line with the latest projections from the EPA.

I stress to the committee that, to date, Irish farmers have clearly demonstrated their willingness to embrace new farming methods that are friendly to our environment. Farmers will continue to adapt further as new cost-effective methods to reduce emissions come on stream. It is worth remembering that the mitigation measures that can be introduced at farm level are also the measures that will help improve profitability for farmers, for example, better recycling of the nutrients contained in slurry and better grassland management. This is a win-win situation for Irish farmers. Not alone will it benefit the environment and contribute to addressing climate change, it will also reduce costs and improve efficiency at farm level.

I remain hopeful that concentrated research at national level and collaborative research at international level, including research into increasing the carbon sink potential of the sector, especially of soils, will yield dividends and deliver effective mechanisms to offset our greenhouse gas emissions. On the subject of research and collaboration, Ireland is a founder member of the Global Research Alliance into the mitigation of greenhouse gases in the agriculture sector. This alliance will help us gain access to the best worldwide technologies in the area of reducing the carbon emissions in agriculture, and it is an alliance in which we play a leading role.

Farmers and the food industry fully acknowledge that they have extensive environmental responsibilities that include climate related obligations. However, their contribution extends far beyond those limits. The supply of quality, sustainably produced wholesome food and feed to meet the ever-increasing demand remains our core function. Reducing livestock numbers as a solution to achieving emission reductions makes neither economic sense nor environmental sense in global terms because any shortfall on European or world markets brought about by a reduction in Irish output will be filled by produce from far less sustainable farming systems and with a far greater carbon footprint than the Irish produce it displaces. It would also have damaging knock-on effects for rural communities.

Global demand for food will increase by 70% over the next 40 years to meet the demands of a world population that is projected to increase by 2.3 billion to more than 9 billion in the same period. This increase in population is equal to the entire global population in 1950. Those statistics demonstrate clearly the challenges for the global community. Against that backdrop, world hunger has reached staggering proportions, with more than 1 billion people, or one person in six, going hungry every day. Ireland is ideally placed to contribute towards meeting this ever-increasing demand and its pasture-based farming system is better suited than many others to doing so in a sustainable way. The milk quota system will be abolished by 2015 and Ireland's dairy industry is well placed to prosper, even though it will have to compete in competitive international markets. All indicators are also pointing to increased demand for beef.

There are many positive actions we can take to make some cuts in emissions from the sector and the Department is committed to exploring and promoting the uptake of these activities. For example, reduced emissions per unit of production has followed improvements in efficiencies in animal breeding, and in recent years fertiliser has been used more efficiently on Irish farms and less is being applied. This has helped to reduce nitrous oxide emissions. The agriculture sector is making its contribution to the smart economy by way of the significant advances that we are now witnessing in the areas of animal genetics and genomics. The work being done by the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation in this area will make a significant contribution to the reduction of the carbon intensity of the dairy and beef sectors, and, similarly, the suckler cow welfare scheme will make a significant contribution.

Ireland's food processing sector uses significant supplies of energy and I am conscious of the need to ensure that energy is available to this industry at internationally competitive prices. To do this, we must help industry to explore the options to benefit fully from a wide range of alternatives, including the possibilities surrounding anaerobic digestion and energy sources such as combined heat and power units and energy generated partly or exclusively from renewable sources originating where possible in Ireland's agriculture sector, such as biomass, organic waste or agricultural by-products such as tallow and meat and bonemeal.

Under the various schemes operated by my Department we promote afforestation, hedgerow and tree planting, the introduction of clover swards, the adoption of minimum tillage and the planting of energy crops. We provide support for organic farming. The programme for Government includes a target of 5% of land area for organic cultivation by 2012. All these measures contribute to addressing climate change. Emission reduction activities, such as minimum tillage and low emissions slurry application technologies, will continue to be supported under the new agri-environment options scheme.

The development of the bioenergy industry depends on a number of factors, including evolving bioenergy policies and supports and continued investment in research, development and innovation. To address these and other issues, the Department is working closely with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The Department has been providing support to farmers through a bioenergy scheme since 2007. A pilot bioenergy scheme was launched in 2007 to support the planting of miscanthus and willow by giving farmers a grant up to a maximum of €1,450 per hectare to cover 50% of establishment costs. Grants were paid in two instalments: 75% following establishment of the crop and 25% in the year after establishment. The pilot scheme supported 364 farmers in the planting of 2,500 hectares, broken down into 2,100 hectares of miscanthus and 360 hectares of willow, to the end of 2009 at a cost of almost €3 million.

A new bioenergy scheme, co-funded by the EU under the rural development programme, was launched in February of this year to build on the progress made during the pilot phase. Under this scheme, farmers receive a grant up to a maximum of €1,300 per hectare to cover 50% of establishment costs. It is expected that in the region of a further 850 hectares will be planted in 2010 under the scheme.

The bioenergy market is an important segment of the renewable energy sector. Important and challenging EU and national targets now exist to develop renewable energy in response to concerns about climate change and energy security. Two key policy documents have been published in Ireland to increase renewable energy output. The White Paper on energy, Delivering a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland, sets out the framework for energy policy to 2020 to ensure security of supply, environmental sustainability and economic competitiveness in the energy sector. A national bioenergy action plan is also in place to increase deployment of Ireland's bioenergy resources in the transport, heat and electricity markets.

Non-food crops can make a contribution to emissions reductions in the agriculture sector through the provision of low or carbon neutral indigenous fuels. Both willow and miscanthus are carbon neutral fuels as the CO2 released on combustion is equal to that taken from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. Forestry has a key role to play in the bioenergy area, particularly as a source of biomass for heat and energy generation. There has been significant expansion in the use of wood biomass in recent years. In 2008, for example, the use of wood chip for heating grew by almost 40%. I will elaborate on this matter when I come to deal with forestry.

A number of support mechanisms are currently in place to develop a market for solid bio-fuels. The ReHeat and greener homes schemes have generated interest in the use of biomass heating fuels. New opportunities and market outlets are emerging for miscanthus and willow crops as more businesses and households switch to biomass boilers to displace the use of high-cost fossil fuels. The potential end-use markets for bioenergy crops that are grant-aided by my Department under the bioenergy scheme include those relating to pellets, chip, briquettes, whole-bale boilers and, in the case of miscanthus, power stations. As regards willow, potential end-use markets include power stations, commercial heating projects and district heating projects. Interest is also beginning to emerge in respect of using miscanthus and willow crops in larger biomass boilers. The initial target market in this regard would be buildings, such as hotels, swimming pools and hospitals, with a large and continuous heat demand.

Ireland's climatic and soil conditions are very suitable for willow and miscanthus production and offer a new rural economic activity and entry for agriculture to a large, expanding energy market. These crops can deliver positive outcomes in terms of reduced CO2 emissions and could potentially deliver additional sources of income for rural communities. A vibrant non-food crop industry would certainly provide farmers with added income streams. Given a favourable environment for development, Irish farmers can make a substantial contribution towards meeting Government targets and policies in the bioenergy and non-food crop sector.

While the forestry sector has a key role to play in Ireland's response to the challenge of climate change mitigation, it also has an important role to play in the country's economic future. Over 16,000 people are employed in the forestry and wood product sectors. In 2008, Irish sawmills and panel board manufacturers utilised 2.27 million cu. m of timber, mostly sourced from Irish forests, and exported goods to the value of €250 million. It is important, therefore, that we protect and manage this important natural resource.

Greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries account for 15% to 20% of global emissions. Finding a way to reduce such emissions is a key component of the international negotiations being held under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The main benefits of forestry to climate change mitigation are that afforestation converts agricultural land from being a net emitter of CO2 to a net sequester and store of CO2 for as long as forest cover and productivity are maintained; Ireland’s forests have the potential to sequester a total additional 110 million tonnes of CO2 by 2035; continued afforestation will provide the potential to supply 2 million tonnes of wood biomass annually for renewable energy by 2020; and there is significant potential for product substitution by utilising wood to replace more energy intensive products such as steel and plastics.

In 2008, the net contribution of Ireland's Kyoto eligible forests — that is, new forests planted from 1990 onwards — amounted to 2.75 million tonnes CO2. Assuming that carbon cost €17 per tonne, this represents a potential saving in the region of €46 million to the Exchequer. Sustaining the climate change mitigation benefit from afforestation and the goods and services that flow from forests will require, as with wood energy production, a sustained afforestation programme over the next 20 years. It should be noted, however, that forestry credits are not currently allowed under the EU ETS and there is no provision for them to be used in the latter post-2012. The discussions and consultations being undertaken by the EU Commission in respect of a proposed increase from 20% to 30% may lead to such a proposal being brought forward. It is likely, however, that such a move would require the agreement of the Environment Council and European Parliament.

I am fully aware of the key role that the agriculture and forestry sectors have to play in the complex interlinkage between climate change, energy and food security. I am keen to stress that the farming and food industry sectors will not be found wanting when called upon to deliver in each of these areas. However, there is no room for error. The stakes could not be higher. I am sure everyone agrees that the consequences of failing to deliver an adequate response that will protect our climate and provide sufficient food for the world's population cannot be contemplated.

I thank the Minister for coming before the committee. I have always found him to be open to other people's views. I hope, therefore, he and his officials will take on board some of the comments I intend to make.

I welcome what the Minister said about making an absolute commitment to the effect that, from an agricultural point of view, the climate change strategy is not based on reducing herd size. Some of his colleagues in government take quite a different view on this matter. The latter view has the potential to be extremely damaging for agriculture. This issue has been debated by the committee on a number of occasions. The idea that we should reduce the size of the national herd in order to reduce the amount of methane produced and simply move the production of beef elsewhere in the world is absolute madness. I am glad the Minister has outlined his commitment to the commercial production of beef, dairy products, etc.

I would be critical of a number of other comments made by the Minister. When one considers the figures, it is difficult to take seriously his comment that he has a commitment to forestry. The performance during the past ten years on promoting forest planting has been abysmal. The level of that performance has become steadily worse with each passing year. Even what was heralded as an increase in funding in respect of afforestation in last year's budget was no such thing because the amount was more or less the same as that provided in the previous year.

Will the Minister explain how the target of planting 10,000 hectares per year will be achieved? If we do not achieve this target, then what has been said about using forestry thinnings for biomass will prove to be academic. I suggest that we should try to reach a planting target of 15,000 hectares per year. The afforestation programme that obtained 20 years ago was far more ambitious than that which is currently in place. The target then was to plant over 20,000 hectares per year. The programme in this regard has simply collapsed and this has given rise to quite devastating consequences for parts of the forestry sector.

I agree with what the Minister said about the use of willow and miscanthus in biomass production. However, large amounts of miscanthus that were harvested last year are currently sitting in suppliers' yards. The largest miscanthus supplier in the country is about to go out of business. This is because it is waiting for the Government to put REFIT in place in order that it might supply miscanthus as a replacement for peat in peat-fired power stations. Why is that the case? If it is serious about encouraging farmers to grow miscanthus and willow, then the Government must provide market stability in respect of pricing. The only way this can be done is through providing a guaranteed price by means of a tariff. This has not yet been done. Are officials from the Minister's Department speaking to their counterparts in the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to make this happen? REFIT was supposed to be introduced in January. Farmers are waiting to be paid for crops that were harvested weeks and, in some cases, months ago.

There is a need for joined-up thinking on this matter, which does not merely relate to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. There is a need for the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to establish REFIT because this will assist in creating the market for the farmers the Minister referred to and who intend to switch to growing miscanthus and willow. The position regarding willow is similar in the context of combined heat and power, CHP, plants. There is also a need for the State to provide a REFIT, and thereby a market, in this regard because farmers will lose out — as has already happened — and will be much slower to grow these crops in the future.

The Minister did not refer to biogas or the production of methane through the use of grass in anaerobic digesters. What are his views on these matters? In Germany, some 3,000 to 4,000 anaerobic digesters are producing gas from waste materials such as slurry and other organic material, including grass. The position is similar in Denmark. Grass is grown more efficiently here than in the countries to which I refer so why do we not have such a system of production in place? Pilot projects are starting up and they are being supported but more communication is needed between the Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and Transport.

With regard to bio-fuels, the Government is about to introduce a requirement that all petrol and diesel have a 4% bio-fuel content — ethanol for petrol and biodiesel for diesel. What is the Department doing in response to that to educate and support farmers to meet that demand? I would like a detailed answer.

The key issue is price security for farmers. The Government should provide this by putting tariffs in place and by providing a market through State-owned buildings for bio-fuels through heating systems and so on. As a country, we spend €400 million importing fossil fuels to heat public buildings. That money could go into Irish farms to produce bio-fuels, biogas and biomass to provide the same heating and power in these buildings. What is happening in this regard?

The IFA engaged in a strong campaign recently to promote a new scheme that will enable farmers to produce their own power on their farms through microgeneration, whether that is from wind, biomass or anaerobic digesters. Has the Minister been in contact with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources about putting a new scheme and tariff in place to allow that to happen? Has he discussed this with the Minister for Finance to ensure we do not retain the current farcical system? If a farmer buys a diesel generator to produce power on his farm, he can claim the VAT back but if he erects a turbine to do so, he cannot. That reflects the policy in place.

I am critical of the capacity of Departments to communicate with each other to iron out these issues. There is a focus on agriculture but joined up thinking is needed between Departments and only Ministers can lead that and make that happen. Farms could produce energy for the transport sector and so on and stable, profitable markets could be ensured for farmers outside the food sector. They are desperately needed, but they will not happen unless other Ministers provide them. Buses, trains and heating systems could be fuelled by crops grown on our farms. I would like the Minister to address that because he will get strong support from my party if he makes that happen.

I thank the Minister for attending because it is useful to have key Ministers appear before the committee. I do not have a problem with anything he said in his presentation but, in a sense, that gives me a big problem because everything he said is obvious and does not pinpoint how we will make a significant shift to meet our responsibilities in the agriculture sector. I would like some simple answers. What is the target for reductions in agricultural carbon emissions? The Minister outlined the commitments Ireland has made, including a 20% reduction by 2020. What commitment is the sector making within that? The EPA indicated there will be reductions in emissions but we are being lulled into a false sense of security. It is about the only thing giving us security in the recession. Issues relating to climate change are being masked because the economy is in such a bad way. The Minister is on the Cabinet sub-committee. How many times has it met? Where does agriculture fit in the range of targets, which I presume have been set, although I am not aware of them?

There is tremendous capacity for Ireland to grow forestry, particularly if it is allowed to use this in its carbon emission calculation. Domestic forestry development is at approximately one third of the EU average. We are unique in Europe that we are in such a position. Each time this is mentioned to the Minister's Department or the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the impression is that while the EU has adopted a position, they are still hoping to make a special case to open up the sector. Where will that stand in five years? If he has an optimistic outlook regarding forestry and how it can be used in calculating our emissions, how will he significantly improve our rate of forestry development? Opening the industry to private enterprise has not produced the goods and we must examine ways to ensure we can do something in agriculture that works. Perhaps the Minister will outline the medium-term and long-term position on that.

I advise the Minister to be careful about how he talks about miscanthus, unless he is knowledgeable about the rage and frustration felt by people about this issue. The Government has encouraged them to get into this area and then broke specific promises it made. I am not sure whether Mr. Mel McDonagh is part of the Minister's team but on 2 December 2009 a meeting was held at the Farm Centre, Dublin, and it was attended by Mr. Mel McDonagh, a representative of the Department, Richard Browne, a representative of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, and various other interests, in particular, the IFA, regarding miscanthus. They sat down to deal with the issue. A statement issued regarding heat demonstration projects and REFIT changes to allow co-firing of biomass in peat power stations, which said "We should have announcements on both by the end of January". We have had an announcement on one.

I appreciate this is not the Minister's responsibility but he has a responsibility to sort out his colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The suspicion is that his colleague is holding back on a REFIT scheme in order that he can announce it when he produces his renewable energy action plan and that he is doing so for optics. I am not saying anything I would not say to his face and I have raised this with him but if that is the case, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has a responsibility to sort it out because farmers and businesses are reliant on promises that were made. We should encourage this miscanthus anyway, yet farmers are not taking up the option because they are uncertain about when the tariff scheme will come in. The committee is discussing climate change and shifts in practice but the one thing needed is certainty and, in the case of miscanthus, the one thing farmers and so on have is uncertainty. Will the Minister take this up as a matter of urgency with his fellow Minister? People have broken new ground and found themselves in an invidious position. This should not have happened.

The Energy (Biofuel Obligation and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is on Second Stage in the Dáil. I am not a proponent of Ethanol Ireland, but it is a company that has made presentations to the Oireachtas and which has concerns in this regard. One of the arguments it has put forward relates to a higher tariff scheme, based on quality, which would kick-start indigenous production. I was amazed when we were presented with a map of Europe showing all kinds of what I would term protectionist practices in other countries. For example, France does not import bio-fuels because it has constructed a tariff system that is impregnable. Will the Minister give members his views on how he envisages the construction of a tariff system in Ireland? Perhaps the higher tariff scheme is the way or perhaps there is another way. I do not know. I believe the Minister is sincere and knows we must see the development of indigenous produce where we can and is aware that all these developments offer opportunities. They require a statutory framework that encourages that kind of indigenous development.

What is the level of micro-generation on farms currently? We hear about individual initiatives but is there a plan and how far have we got with regard to micro-generation at farm level? Where do we want to go in this regard, what is the timescale and how can we ensure progress? This is something innovative but I do not have a clear idea of what is involved. I can certainly see the arguments in favour of it but I do not know where we stand on how much has been done and where we will be by 2020, or even 2015, in terms of ensuring development takes place.

The Minister may wish to respond to the first two speakers and then I can call on the other speakers.

A number of questions overlapped and I will take those together. Deputy Coveney commented on the cattle herd. I have stated clearly in every forum available to me that we do not contemplate a reduction in the national herd. I have also stated clearly at every forum in Europe that the food production base in Europe should in no circumstances be reduced. Any reduction would decrease the capacity of the most efficient food production systems to manufacture and provide food and would shift production to less efficient systems where there would probably be deforestation. Then the food produced in these less efficient systems would be transported around the world. That would make no sense and would add to carbon miles. In every forum available to us, whether at home, in the European Union or beyond it, we have stated this clearly and I am glad to know that spokespersons in this committee agree with me on that. This is a view from which I will not deviate.

We have made significant progress with regard to genomics, genetics and cattle breeding. The suckler cow welfare scheme, for example, contributes in its way, as do better carcases, light weight gain and the slaughter of animals at a younger age. It is well known that the age profile of the herd is a contributory factor with regard to emissions. Our food production system is efficient and environmentally friendly. It is an extensive, grass-based production system and we can defend it in any forum, whether debating climate change, environmental protection or the production of top class food in an environmentally friendly way. We also have top class animal husbandry practices.

On afforestation, in 2009, almost 6,700 hectares were planted, which reversed the decline that had occurred in the previous year and had been occurring for some years. That hectarage will be exceeded in 2010. Planting levels fell significantly for a number of reasons. Coillte would have planted approximately 30% of the entire planting that took place but it has dramatically reduced its planting programme. The rise in the value of land also contributed by making it expensive for people to purchase land for afforestation. There has also been general uncertainty about farming, and alternative land use options within agriculture provided a higher short-term return without the long-term commitment that is a feature of forestry. Therefore, there were a number of factors that contributed to a reduction in the hectarage planted.

What about the reduction in the incentives and payments being given in terms of forestry? Are they not a factor?

They are probably a slight factor. We have the most generous funded premium payment in the European Union and provide 100% establishment grants. We reduced the premium payment by 8% in 2008. This year, on a reduced budget for the Department, we have increased the funding for the forestry programme, but, naturally, I would like to see more private investment in forestry. Our 20-year forestry planting programme provides both an establishment grant and premium. No one has exited that programme yet, but each year, as more planting has occurred, the bill in respect of the premium payments has increased. That has been a huge demand on the Exchequer. It will be about 2014 before people will have completed their 20-year participation. That will then allow the Exchequer to contribute more to new planting as such. Our bill in respect of premium payments is rising each year because no one is exiting the scheme yet. This is a heavy demand on the Exchequer.

Three reviews on forestry are taking place. I will use these to discover how we can provide more momentum to the sector. These reviews are a State forestry policy review, a review of the role of Coillte, its functions and operations, and a review of the forestry grant and premium schemes. Two of the review groups will report to me by the end of June and the other will report in September. Ideally, I would like to see more private investment in the sector. I would also like to devise a way of ensuring Coillte gets back to an active forest plantation programme. It has not been involved in recent years. Members are aware of the case in the European courts which decided Coillte was not entitled to draw down a premium.

What is the target in terms of hectarage to be planted this year, next year and the year after? When will we reach the 10,000 hectare target outlined?

Over the next few years. The renewed programme for Government states clearly that we want to get to the target of 10,000 hectares per annum. The review programmes we have in place and the funding requirements will determine what progress we can make and when we will reach 10,000 hectares. Over the next few years, as people exit the scheme, new entrants will be permitted, even if the funding remains static. We are at a stage now where we have reached the maximum number of participants in the scheme. Up to now our graph of expenditure was increasing all the time because no one was exiting the scheme or completing their term. These years are especially difficult from the funding point of view. We are committed to increasing the level of plantation and we need to do that.

The programme for Government usually relates to the period of Government. The Minister has said the target of 10,000 hectares is not just for the period of Government. It may be ten years.

I did not say any such thing.

What is the period?

I said that whether we would be able to reach 10,000 hectares in 2011 or 2012 would, naturally, depend on the funding available to me. We are determined to get the annual planting programme up to 10,000 hectares within the next few years. It is not years away.

Does the Minister mean the year 2012?

We do not know yet what our capital funding will be for 2011 or 2012. We are spending about €120 million on the forestry programme. Last year, even though we had to reduce our budgets substantially, we increased the level of funding for the forestry programme. I hope we will be able to make some progress. Very good tax incentives exist for investment. It would be hoped to attract major investment by means of these good tax incentives for planting and participation in the forestry programme. Land prices have dropped and land use options have changed. The demand for timber products will be a consideration in farmers making decisions on whether they should plant forestry.

Has the Minister considered approaching the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, about the National Pensions Reserve Fund? This would be an ideal place for investment of some of its money. It would also help the State considerably by boosting the programme in the short term. This is a long-term investment which is ideal for pension funds.

The Chairman may have made that suggestion at a meeting convened by the Taoiseach with all the interested parties, Government and statutory agencies and relevant stakeholders. This issue is being pursued by my Department and the Minister for Finance. I spoke at that meeting about possible options that may be considered under the three review programmes. The Department will seek funding from any suitable source.

The REFIT tariff was mentioned by Deputy Coveney and Deputy McManus. Deputy Coveney referred to a particular company——

The largest miscanthus company in the country is about to go out of business.

I met the owners of that company a number of weeks ago. In the meantime my officials and I have been in contact with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. No later than last night I spoke to the Minister about the need to get the tariffs set as quickly as possible. I met the mid-west people and I spoke to individual farmers who are suppliers to that company. I am very conscious of the position the company is in and which I understand fully.

Would the Minister like to tell us what he said? It is impossible to understand why there is such a delay. It does not make any sense. It is not big money. It is something that has been promised and it is causing significant damage to the development of miscanthus. What is going on?

I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, a number of weeks ago after I met the mid-west company. I indicated to him the pressures on that company. It will have difficulties in paying its suppliers if there is no progress. The Minister told me last night that he hopes to finalise it very quickly. He is anxious to move it on. I am not answering for any other Department.

Perhaps the Minister is experiencing some of the frustrations we experience with the Minister, Deputy Ryan. We have heard that since December. We were told it would be resolved in January, in February and in March. People's livelihoods are at stake. I know Deputy Smith is not the Minister responsible but I ask him to put as much pressure as possible on that Department to get a result because a lot of farmers wouldappreciate it.

I appreciate the Deputy's concerns. I met the company and the individual farmers and a number of Oireachtas colleagues spoke to me about the concerns of people.

A number of weeks ago, I met representatives of one of the companies based in Deputy McManus's county which is very active in promoting micro-generation. In the experience of this company, the model devised in Britain would work very satisfactorily. In the past there have been models in other countries and some of them have not been satisfactory. The people I met are practitioners. From their analysis and interaction with the promoters — Deputy Doyle may also know this company — they are satisfied the British model would be a good one. They undertook to communicate with me about that issue regarding their ideas on tax incentives and on the access to the grid. To my knowledge they have not sent me the detailed submission yet. I know of individual farmers who have installed micro-generation facilities and I know it can reduce considerably their on-farm costs. For instance, a dairy farm will have substantial energy costs. Because of the pressures on farm incomes, there is a need to increase profitability and become more efficient and reduce costs. A rolling out of micro-generation would be very beneficial.

Is there a date for the introduction of the scheme? I agree with the Minister about the British model so let us get on with it.

I have not received any proposal yet. It is not particularly to do with my Department. Last year an umbrella organisation based in County Offaly put some proposals to the then Minister, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, for assistance for alternative farm enterprises through his Department's programmes. I have not received any proposals. I said I would pursue such a proposal with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and with the Minister for Finance. From an agricultural point of view, I see the benefits that can and will arise from a satisfactory micro-generation programme.

May I interject at this point as I have a couple of questions on this issue?

I have other speakers offering.

Agricultural emissions were mentioned by both Deputies McManus and Coveney. According to the most recent EPA projections, in 1990, emissions from Ireland's agricultural sector amounted to 20 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. By 2008, this amount had been reduced by 8.5%. The reduction was achieved despite a marginal increase in livestock activity in that period. The real improvement is in excess of 8.5%. The EPA projections indicate that emissions from the sector will be reduced further to an average of 18.3 million tonnes per annum for the period 2008 to 2012, a reduction of 9% compared with 1990 levels. Even in the best case scenario, the EPA projections show that Ireland’s agricultural sector will be the only sector of the economy to deliver significant emissions reductions in the Kyoto period.

A departmental research programme has devoted substantial funding to universities, Teagasc and different research institutes where a significant amount of research is ongoing on cattle breeding and grassland management. The Department is also a participant in the research alliance which has a very sensible approach to the sharing of research among countries which are part of the alliance. We also have access to the research in other countries. Under the stimulus programme, the Department has paid out substantial funding on a collaborative basis between the universities and other institutions. This research is not sitting in book form but rather has to be disseminated either to the home industry or to the other partners in the global alliance. Similarly, we will have access to their research.

Reference was made to miscanthus and the difficulties some farmers had with the failure of the crop in parts of the country. I met individual farmers. I am fully aware of the difficulties they encountered. We wrote before the end of April to the approximately 50 farmers who were involved. We have introduced a limited once-off scheme to give them some assistance in replanting this year. As it was a pilot programme, different farmers have different opinions on why the crop failed in particular circumstances. We are giving specific assistance to people who are trying to re-establish themselves.

On the bioenergy scheme in general, there has been considerable interest in miscanthus and, to a lesser extent, in willow. We announced this year's scheme in February, which was quite late, as part of the revised rural development programme. We did not get approval from the European Commission until shortly before we announced the programme. As the programme has now been approved for a number of years, in future years it will be possible to announce the details of the scheme each autumn, well in advance of the planting season. This year's delay was unavoidable at our end.

On anaerobic digestion, Deputy Coveney mentioned the biogas produced in our anaerobic digestion plants, which consists largely of methane but also includes a range of other gases. It can be used to generate heat or electricity. The Department, through the then farm waste management team, allocated substantial grant aid to individual farmers to undertake demonstration projects on their farms. The take-up was relatively good at the beginning, but it was not followed through. A limited number of plants are being developed throughout the country. Questions about size, critical mass and gate fee charges need to be asked.

The big issue is connectivity with the gas grid infrastructure. I will not say much more, other than that there is a need for tight correlation between the Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if we are to provide a market for energy crops in this area. The Minister is probably working closely with his ministerial colleague, but it needs to be more evident.

According to Sustainable Energy Ireland, four small on-farm anaerobic digesters are in operation in this country. A further two plants are at the commissioning or construction phases — one in County Limerick and one in Deputy Wallace's county. I understand that Sustainable Energy Ireland is dealing with eight applications for combined heat and power plants. Substantial investment has been occurring in this process, but the facilities have not come on stream as quickly as we would have liked. Several years ago, a few large-scale farmers from my constituency, where the pig industry is quite strong, visited existing plants in the United States, Germany and central Europe. There were mixed views about the usefulness or application of such systems at farm level here. A great deal of research has been done by the Department, Teagasc and individual farmers. As we face difficulties with the nitrates programme and other environmental programmes, it is obvious that we will need to use the best possible technology in the anaerobic digestion area.

I remind Deputy McManus, in response to her point about our overall climate change programme, that we do not have specific targets for specific sectors. We are working to publicise what has been achieved in reducing emissions from the agriculture sector. A great deal of research is being done to ascertain how we can bring about further reductions. The best estimates available suggest that a further reduction of 4% is the best we can do with our present mix of farming practices and technologies.

I also asked the Minister for his views on the ethanol tariff scheme.

Can the Deputy remind me of her question?

There has been much discussion about the introduction of an appropriate tariff scheme that would encourage the production of ethanol here, rather than importing it all.

This precise issue is dealt with in a Bill that is has gone through the Seanad and is with the Dáil. It is another example of Departments being at odds with each other.

The Bill in question is the Energy (Biofuel Obligation and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010.

I do not recall what was said about the issue of bioethanol. An incentive that existed through an EU supported-scheme finished a year or two ago. It no longer exists.

Will the Minister examine the practice in other EU countries, in the context of the legislation that is coming through? The Governments of other member states have got their acts together to encourage indigenous growth of bio-fuels, rather than imports. The plants in Britain, which does not have any such measures in place, will export what they produce. This country has to produce for its own use, to meet its targets. This is a big area in the south and south east. I am concerned that the Minister is not keeping an eye on this. While it is not his direct responsibility, it has an impact on agriculture in certain parts of the country.

I am not sure whether the proposed development in the south east is in County Kilkenny or County Waterford——

It is in Waterford.

I met representatives of the group in question, even though their work is not strictly applicable to my Department. They raised a number of issues with me and I, in turn, raised those issues at ministerial level with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, and at official level. They informed me of their proposed development, as a matter of courtesy. We highlighted the issues they asked us to raise with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. That was a considerable time ago — it may have been six or eight months ago.

The problem is that we are getting frustrated because the same issue keeps arising. I do not think this committee has ever divided along party lines. We have been in complete agreement all the way through. We keep having sessions of this nature, where there is agreement on both sides but we are not making progress. The issue that has been raised by Deputy McManus is the classic one. We have discussed it with the relevant Ministers. It will have an impact on rural infrastructure, rural employment, agricultural output, jobs in Waterford and south Kilkenny and a range of other things. However, we are still having to fight an argument that should have been won on its own merits.

I will give the Minister some examples. We are waiting for the climate change Bill. Three or four different Departments are involved in it. Nobody knows when it will be published. We are also waiting for the foreshore Bill. We do not know whether it will be published by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or either of the couple of other Departments involved in it. Everybody agrees that we should make progress with that. We are also awaiting legislation to deal with geothermal energy. Three or four Departments are involved in that. Similar problems affect the issues we are discussing here today.

The Minister just referred to the slurry pits in his constituency. He is absolutely right to suggest it might not be practical for farmers to work into that. The other side of that argument, which may not be attractive, is that every tonne of methane that escapes from a slurry pit has the same impact on the environment as 25 tonnes of carbon. Every tonne of slurry that is captured or saved is the same as saving 25 tonnes of carbon. It is not just about feeding it into the gas grid, which is important as well. There are other issues. We want to hear about these practical things.

I agree with all the points made by Deputies McManus and Coveney about the refit tariff and anaerobic digestion. I will not rehearse them all again. I would like to make a practical point. Are farmers being encouraged to till half an inch rather than an inch during planting times? What savings would be achieved if that were done? I support the Minister's view on the question of the national herd. It is crucial that he keeps saying it. I am completely with him on this important issue. The joint committee has examined the position in other countries, for instance, New Zealand, which has managed to double its herd while reducing emissions by half. What support is given to farmers for practical measures such as covering up slurry pits, tilling less deeply and converting to cattle feed that produces lower levels of flatulence?

On the issue of micro-generation, which I discussed with the Minister in another forum this morning, farmers who want to feed into the grid face a waiting time for connection of five years. Deputy McManus asked whether work was being done within the period of the Government's term. Even allowing for a general election in 2012, progress will not be made on the issue of grid connections. Farmers who want to develop small wind generation facilities are unable to do so because the waiting time for connection is five years.

Every time a new idea emerges, a problem arises with the Revenue Commissioners who always state that policy must not run ahead of revenue law. Will members of the Cabinet sub-committee and perhaps officials from Revenue attend a session of this joint committee for a private or public discussion of all the issues? If everyone was in a room together we could ask questions, identify what is to be done and set time lines for implementation. People are becoming extraordinarily frustrated by the current position which reflects badly on everybody. This should not be considered a reflection on individuals in Departments.

While I do not disagree with a word the Minister said, I still cannot understand certain issues. It may be a heresy to say so but I believe a double count is taking place in the area of forestry. As the Minister indicated, forestry is a sequester or store of carbon dioxide. What happens when people exit a scheme? After 2014, the trees will be cut down or used in some other form. I raise this issue because I want to know the emissions calculation model.

I would like to know what amount of carbon is stored. If a tree is burned, it becomes carbon neutral because the carbon stored in it is released into the environment. In that case, there is no gain. If we are talking about a net annual increase in afforestation of 10,000 ha., it is easy to calculate what this area of forestry will store. What happens, however, to 1,000 ha. of forestry that is used as fuel or for the manufacture of wood chip, bark chip or furniture? At what point do we lose the value of the storage? At what point does it go beyond being neutral?

I do not know if the Minister has seen one of the chipping machines which process tree trunks into chips or the type of machines used for the manufacture of wood pellets. The emissions created by some of these machines are greater than those saved by the trees.

If forestry is extended, which I support, will it be done only on land that is not useful for food production? We could find ourselves doing the reverse of what is being done in Brazil, an issue I discussed in an earlier debate in the Seanad. Food producing land must not be used for forestry, no more than the forests of the Amazon basin should be cut down to make way for food production. We need to strike a balance.

I ask the Minister to take me through the process. What would 1,000 ha. of forestry save in greenhouse gas emissions over a 20 year period? What will happen when we begin to gain the value of this forestry, either by selling the wood or manufacturing wood chip, wood pellets or furniture? What model is used to make this calculation?

I call for a meeting between the Cabinet sub-committee and the joint committee to discuss an agreed agenda. I do not seek to catch anyone out or to be smart. I would also like to know about practical measures in farming such as tillage, slurry pits and cattle feed. I ask the Minister to explain how we can ensure forestry will continue to act as a carbon store rather than become a net emitter of carbon.

Senator O'Malley had to leave the meeting to speak in the Seanad. Senator O'Toole and Deputy Coveney made a number of points on afforestation. The Senator raised the important issue of the availability of land. It is too easy to consider this matter in the manner in which Deputy Coveney did, namely, as simply a question of funding. Despite the availability of 100% planting grants, premia, tax incentives, grants for machinery and other funding sources, farmers are not entering forestry in significant numbers. Why? Part of the answer must be related to land use and the need to ensure food producing land is not used for forestry.

In Wicklow, Deputy McManus's constituency, I met a man on the side of a mountain who told me the forestry outside his window had not cost him anything to plant and had been paid for 100%. He had a pension arriving in the post on one day and a premium arriving the next day. This, he said, was heaven. One could not find a farmer in County Meath to live the same type of life because farmers in the county are not interested in converting food producing land to forestry.

Deputy Wallace is on dangerous topsoil. She takes a very simplistic approach. The issue is one of land use.

I accept that there are different types of land in County Meath. Approximately 5% of land in the north of the county is in forestry. Deputy Coveney argues that if we pour money into afforestation, large numbers of farmers will agree to plant forestry and we will meet the 10,000 ha. target. The issue is not so simple because land use is a factor.

I am pleased the Minister referred to Coillte because the solution to the problem of increasing the amount of land used for forestry is to have Coillte become involved in planting again.

I wish the Minister well with the 2010 reviews on forestry which are due for publication in June and September. On the question as to what additional measures are needed to increase afforestation, even if we had all the money in the world we would not convince everybody to convert land to forestry. Although we would all love to have more afforestation because forestry is an important national resource, the decision on land use is one for individual farmers.

One positive development in recent times has been the 40% increase in the value of wood chip. This makes it more profitable to be in forestry. The bottom line, however, is that Coillte's decision to cease planting forestry has had a major impact on the national figures. Encouraging the organisation to return to planting would be one way of achieving the 10,000 ha. target.

I have a small forest on my land, for which I do not receive a premium because it was approved in 1990 when off-farm income was eliminated. It was not planted incidentally until 1992. I explored the idea of expanding my forestry which is on marginal land. For the information of Deputy Wallace, there is not a 100% grant. Just to clarify, it is a grant that can cover 100% of the costs. Foresters and professional forestry companies are interested in land with high yield, in other words, better land. I guess that the farmer on the hill who was happy had his forestry for some time because today, unless it was very straightforward and adjoining another plantation, the grant costs would not cover the costs of plantation. I know that from personal experience.

Farmers qualify for premium.

I was quoted a figure which essentially meant that the premium would have been mandated to the company for the following ten or 12 years to cover the costs of the plantation on marginal land. I understand the forestry companies needed to get land that yielded a high return.

Given the simplistic approach we have heard from some people in Cabinet about the way to deal with agricultural emissions, namely to just reduce stock numbers, I welcome the Minister's support for the livestock herd. Some of the reasons that approach has achieved results include the cost of fertiliser and the nitrates directive. I do not say that it is all bad. Improved efficiencies have been achieved. Research on the digestive system of the dairy herd has achieved results.

Senator O'Toole referred to frustration. That is due to the fact that we have had a plethora of technology presented to us. We have the ability to enhance income on farms and in rural communities, to achieve significant carbon reduction and to provide for greater energy security by way of microgeneration and alternative land use such as wind and wave farming. The problem is that although we hear about a Cabinet sub-committee on climate change we have had no direct engagement with it or response from it. Senator O'Toole's suggestion is a valid one. We should have an all-day session on a non-sitting day to bring together all of the interested parties from the Cabinet sub-committee and interested parties from other committees of the Houses to come forward with a global plan to drive on the agenda.

The Minister referred to a meeting with a microgeneration company from my constituency, although the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is not technically the proper Department to approach. That is the problem; no one is driving the agenda. We have a document on the green economy that suggests the setting up of a Department of climate change and energy efficiency and that the governing Department would be the Department of the Taoiseach. That is to happen as soon as there is a political will. The document also refers to the reassignment of departmental responsibilities involving direct as well as indirect costs. That is fair enough but one could ask whether it would achieve much benefit. That is one of the reasons for my frustration. I do not know how to condense it into a simpler message. We feel that all our effort and the research and information we have gleaned in recent years is falling on deaf ears. The Cabinet sub-committee should listen to us and drive things on.

I will take Deputy Doyle's last point first. Regarding the interaction I had with the company from his county, I met those people when I went as a private citizen to an open day in my county. They took the opportunity to outline the work they were undertaking and the interaction they had with people involved in microgeneration in Britain. What they had to say was extremely interesting. As I indicated to Deputy McManus, microgeneration on farms is affected by the REFIT tariff, access to the grid and agreements with electricity buyers. Prior to meeting the company, that is an issue we were pursuing with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. Wearing my agriculture hat and as a representative of a rural community as well, that is an issue I wish to see progressed. The benefit would be a reduction in costs which would make farms more profitable and allow them to play their part.

Senator O'Toole referred to slurry tanks. He might recall that we had a successful farm waste management scheme where the Government gave a commitment that over a period of seven years total grant aid of €200 million would be paid. Instead, we approved grant aid and paid out €1 billion in three years and we have €200 million more to pay. We have put in place probably the best farm infrastructure in the European Union in terms of modern facilities. The overwhelming majority of farms in the State have high standard facilities. We also provided grant assistance in the scheme towards new slurry spreading facilities using trail shoes where the slurry is injected into the ground. All of that contributes to the environment. There has been a huge investment by the Department on that important issue.

Senator O'Toole and Deputy Wallace asked questions on forestry. I compliment Deputy Wallace on her promotional work as a Minister of State with responsibility for forestry. At that time a good plantation programme was taking place. Forestry cover must be maintained in order to maintain the carbon benefit. To my knowledge the chippers and machines that were referred to would account for 8% to 10% of the energy output from wood energy. If one were to plant land it would not be possible to return it to arable use. If one were to fell trees after 20 or more years, one could only replant it, one could not return it to grass or any other type of production.

I understand that and agree with the Minister. However, he indicated that continued afforestation would provide the potential to supply 2 million tonnes of wood biomass annually for renewable energy. We are talking about 10,000 ha. a year of afforestation to get up to a certain level. What I cannot understand is the net position. I am not necessarily arguing with the Minister but he did not provide us with sufficient information. If one uses 2 million tonnes of wood biomass, then that is reducing the carbon retention value because whatever carbon was being retained has gone somewhere.

The trees are getting bigger and if we increase production the area is getting bigger as well.

It is not getting bigger if one is using it for biomass; it is being burnt or something is being done with it. That is what I want to know.

Forests are thinned every so often.

Is it the case that there will be 2 million tonnes of wood biomass from forest chippings?

Finished product would be included with the thinnings as well.

That is why I would like to see the model on which the calculations are based. This is not a trick question. We are talking about 10,000 ha. of forestry and it is growing for 20 years. That bit is simple. We can understand and calculate the amount of carbon that is stored in that. At the end of 20 years we do something with the wood. Let us say half of it goes into biomass, what does that do to the equation to this point, allowing the 8% the Minister mentioned for the machinery to convert the wood to wood pellets or bark chippings for gardening?

We can send the Senator a detailed calculation. He can take it that when forestry is felled it is replanted.

Yes. I accept that. I agree with the Minister, but is that the net position?

Yes, that is the net position. We are one of the only countries in the world where forestry cover is expanding.

I know that. I do not disagree with any of that. Let us say we have reached that level of afforestation and we are continuing to plant, is it the intention after the 20 years that we would be felling 1,000 ha. and planting 1,000 hectares? Is that the future we see?

Twenty years is generally the life of the product.

I understand that. We would be felling 10,000 ha. and replanting 10,000 ha. That is all I wanted to know.

That is the likely outcome.

I am not arguing with the Minister. I just want a picture in my head of how it works.

That is our objective.

Where trees are felled, the land must be replanted. A 19 year old tree becomes a 20 year old tree and they all enter the next stage of the cycle.

The average is 25 to 30 years.

Do they not have to be thinned also?

At approximately 15 to 16 years as opposed to 12.

The odd request will come in. People will want to move land out of forestry but that is not allowed.

Over recent years, I have spoken about research. There has been a significant amount of research under the auspices of COFORD, which is part of our Department. Work is also done with Teagasc, the industry and international research units. A member, perhaps Senator O'Toole, said very detailed work has been done on the compilation of a proper inventory of Irish forest resources. That is very important in arriving at the calculations on which detail has been requested. Over recent years, substantial resources were invested, under former Minister of State, Deputy Mary Wallace, to ensure the existence of a proper and up-to-date inventory of our forest resources.

COFORD completes a roundwood forecast for privately owned forests. It provides estimates of future wood supply on a county basis and for selected locations throughout the country. This has enabled project developers to better estimate future wood supply. It is key to appraising potential investment. COFORD has a wood energy supply chain advisory service and has been involved with the industry in developing the wood fuel quality assurance scheme that will be in place for the next season during which heating will be required. It will provide assurance to customers and the market in general that wood fuels traded under the scheme meet certain standards. We often hear about research on food or other matters but we do not hear any public commentary at all on the research under way in recent years on forestry. That is why I am taking the opportunity to mention it on the record today.

Research is under way and has been completed on better ways to harvest, dry and transport wood fuels. Results have been communicated widely and this has led to more efficient and cost-effective ways to harvest and prepare wood fuels. We could all do a better job of communicating the results of research to the industry at large. That is what we want to do.

What about the Cabinet committee?

How often has the Cabinet committee met?

I cannot recall off-hand but we have met on numerous occasions.

That answer is not good enough. How many times has it met since 1 January?

I do not know but can let the Deputy know. I do not remember off-hand. Does the Deputy believe I remember every meeting I go to? I am on the Cabinet committee on economic renewal and on other Cabinet committees.

Does the Minister remember how many times the committees met?

He does not remember any of the meetings.

I did not say I do not remember any of them but that I do not know how many I went to. I have a very busy schedule and I do not recall how many meetings I go to.

I appreciate that and would not criticise the Minister in the least. His work rate is very much to his credit.

I would not mislead anybody and say how many meetings there were.

However, the Minster is attending a meeting of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security and I am surprised that he does not have that information in his head.

No, I do not have it in my head.

I have taken a note along the lines suggested by the Deputy. We did write previously asking for an audience. This committee was set up and one can appreciate that what is occurring is rather frustrating for its members because they have taken this job seriously.

The Minister will be pleased to hear that, as an urban Deputy, I was one of the people who defended staunchly the position that no attempt should be made to reduce our herd. I saw immediately the damage it would do to Ireland as a food exporter and to quality. We went to Brussels prior to the Copenhagen Summit and made our case there. We made our case to the officials of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government who were producing a report.

It is frustrating that the approach to climate change is all over the shop, to put it mildly. In the United Kingdom, there is a Department of Energy and Climate Change with a Cabinet Minister. I say to the Minister present, Deputy Brendan Smith, as an influential member of the Cabinet, that unless the Cabinet takes climate change seriously as a unit, the sort of work this committee is trying to do will become increasingly frustrating and interest therein on the part of members, who have plenty of other jobs to do, will decline. The Government must make up its mind whether it will take climate change and energy security seriously.

I find that once one mentions climate change to the average Joe Soap, he throws his hands in the air and says, "Don't talk to me about that". Some people do not believe in it and others are sceptical, to say the least. However, this committee is trying to sell the concept that, by dealing with climate change, one is also creating investment and employment opportunities and maximising our national resources to a great extent. By dealing with the issue, one is creating greater wealth for the country and job opportunities.

Let me give the Minister an example. We went to the trouble of producing a Private Members' Bill on an all-party basis to deal with offshore renewable energy. That was in November 2008, yet in May 2010 our Bill is gathering dust. It was sent to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and presented a glorious opportunity for change, as Senator O'Toole said, on the basis that there was all-party agreement. Perhaps the Government has some other proposal. If so, instead of communicating it to us, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is sending us letters about the Foreshore Act. That Act, as the Minister knows, was passed in 1933 when offshore renewable energy was never dreamed about. As a former Minister for Defence and the Marine, I know the Act was never intended to cater for major development at sea.

The committee, through Deputy McManus, produced the heads of a Bill on climate change. It is gathering dust somewhere. The committee also produced a report on the potential for electric vehicles and it is also gathering dust. Will the Minister please report to the Cabinet committee at its next meeting on the need to put a structure in place in this regard? Instead of our putting questions to him that do not affect him directly or over which he has no control, even though he is affected by the lack of action, a structure should be set up to co-ordinate all the action, be it a proper unit in the Department of the Taoiseach or some other unit. Perhaps each Department involved with climate change should have a section that could co-ordinate with other Departments so there would be ongoing contact to try to make progress.

At present, we are missing out on vast opportunities to create jobs and secure inward investment. The Minister stated he is on a Cabinet committee on economic renewal. As he is probably well aware without my having to tell him, there are glorious opportunities in the area of alternative energy, be they associated with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources or the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Co-ordination is required.

Will the Minister take a loud and clear message to the Cabinet committee and the Taoiseach stating this committee requires contact and encouragement so its members will not be all wasting their time? The committee should be permitted to have a positive input into whatever structure is set up in order to get over log-jams, such as having to wait for nine months or two years for action on certain matters or delays in dealing with people who have ideas.

Regarding the legislation, there is no forward planning in terms of offshore energy, no zoning to indicate where this should take place, etc. In the meantime, one reads about billions going into the north east of Britain. We are being left behind as an island nation with an enormous natural resource available to us. We are losing investment opportunities. In saying that, I am being non-party political and this is a committee that can explore things and feed into a network if such existed. I thank the Minister for his attendance and for answering the questions; I do not doubt his commitment for a second. I ask him to finalise our good day's work by taking that message back. The committee would greatly appreciate it.

Senator O'Toole referred to "min-tel", one of the measures we introduced under the agri-environment scheme I announced on 30 March. It means sowing crops without inverting the topsoil. There is a specific incentive for that in the new agri-environment options scheme launched at the end of March.

I appreciate that

I assure the committee the whole climate change area is being taken very seriously by Government and by the Cabinet sub-committee. By its nature, issues will cross a number of Departments, predominantly the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, as the Chairman would know from his time as Minister for the Marine. In the meantime, foreshore licensing in respect of offshore energy is not a matter for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Chairman referred to the need for zones for potential sites. I have always believed that this is the way it should be, if it is to be on land, and I believe consensus on this could be readily achieved. It is crazy that somebody might lodge an application and have no right to the area at all, but that will have to be processed by the relevant Department.

Regarding my Department, which is the subject matter of the committee's discussion, we have been involved in an enormous amount of research on developing new programmes to contribute to dealing adequately with climate change. In front of me are three typed pages detailing different individual projects the Department has funded over a number of years in the whole agricultural area, whether it is livestock or grass, and dealing with effluent on farms, etc. A large amount of research has been done under collaborative projects with Teagasc, the universities and the institutes of technology. At a time when resources are scarce we are still putting significant amounts of money into that research area, which we believe is essential so that we can maintain our food production base while at the same time reducing emissions and contributing to the overall determination for dealing with the climate change challenges.

We appreciate this area very much and we have made significant progress in reducing the carbon intensity of the livestock sector, which is the major source of greenhouse gases, and we believe we can make further progress. We are very much to the fore in ensuring that information we derive from our research is disseminated and we are working in collaboration with many of the agricultural players within the global alliance as well. The Department is investing heavily, both from the viewpoint of human resources and finance, in the necessary research and we hope we can contribute.

I believe it was mentioned that a member of the Cabinet spoke about the need to reduce the national herd. That was wrongly attributed to a member of the Cabinet, at least on this occasion.

I thank the Minister and his officials.

The joint committee went into private session at 4.15 p.m. and adjourned at 4.20 p.m. until Wednesday, 26 May 2010.