Sunday, July 24, 2016

Irish Agriculture Faces Emissions Dilemma

Pledges by Ireland to cut its emissions of greenhouse gases look set to be undermined by government plans for a major expansion of the country’s agricultural sector.

A herd of dairy cattle in rural County Mayo in the west of Ireland. (Image Credit: Pat O’Malley via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Ireland is facing a classic conflict, pitching economic growth targets against the need for action on climate change.

On one hand, Ireland’s planners want to see significant growth in its food and agriculture industry – a sector that is one of the main pillars of the country’s economy, accounting for about 8% of gross domestic product.

On the other hand, the country − along with other members of the European Union (EU) − is committed to lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by “at least” 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

The dilemma is that about a third of Ireland’s total emissions already come from agriculture and food production − from methane produced by the flatulence of the country’s seven million cattle, and from the widespread use of nitrogen-based fertilisers on its abundant grasslands.

Binding targets
The publication of a new report, produced jointly by Ireland’s Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) and the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) highlights the clash between government economic goals and EU binding targets for bringing down GHG emissions.

“Ruminant-based agriculture is of crucial importance to the Irish economy, and Ireland’s land use pattern is exceptional by EU comparison,” the report says.

“Plans for the continued expansion of food output, focused in particular on the dairy sector, and increasingly stringent emissions reductions suggest a growing contradiction between Ireland’s climate and agriculture policy objectives.”

The report recommends that farmers become more “climate smart”.  Large-scale investments need to be made in new technology and science in order to promote more carbon-efficient dairy and beef production systems.  And the agricultural sector should also encourage more recycling and renewable energy use.

The rate of afforestation should also be speeded up.  About 11% of Ireland’s land is currently forested, compared to an EU average of more than 40%.

Read more at Irish Agriculture Faces Emissions Dilemma

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