My Department recognises the importance of soil carbon and its contribution to the mitigation of climate change through its ability to sequester atmospheric CO2. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has made and will continue to make an increasingly significant contribution to the environmental sustainability of the Irish agriculture. One of the priorities of CAP is to protect grasslands and avoid any downward pressure that would negatively change their use.
In particular farmers are required to comply with the Statutory management requirements (SMRs) and Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) provisions, and the agri-environmental measures contained in Rural Development Programmes (RDP).
The greening elements of CAP and GAEC contribute to protecting soil and landscape carbon pools. Temperate grasslands have the potential to sequester carbon, i.e. act as a carbon sink, helping to mitigate rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, therefore potentially contributing to climate change mitigation.
In addition, measures contained within the RDP-funded Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS), encourage soil management practices that favour carbon sequestration, such as planting of cover crops, tree and minimum tillage practices. For example, almost 26,000 hectares of arable land is planted with catch crops annually which prevents soil erosion and absorbs valuable plant nutrients. This measure has the capacity to absorb 1.25 million tonnes of nitrogen annually, minimising the need for chemical fertilisers thereby having an environmental and economic benefit. The carbon sequestration potential of the 5,000 groves of trees planted under GLAS equates to approximately 450 hectares of woodland which is c. 900 tonnes of CO2 annually.
Scientific research also has a central role to play in developing our understanding of the carbon sequestration potential of our natural land resources. My Department recognises the important role that land use plays in mitigating greenhouse gases and is strongly committed to providing funding for targeted research in the area of carbon sequestration. Since 2010, my Department has provided more than €4.9 million towards on-going research into the carbon sequestration potential of agricultural and forest lands.