IRISH agriculture claims it can dramatically increase the size and output of the national dairy herd, while not increasing net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the sector. However, An Taisce believes these claims to be ‘manifestly incorrect’.
It has called on Agriculture Minister, Simon Coveney, as well as the Irish Co-Op Organisation Society (ICOS) to publicly guarantee the Irish taxpayers that they will not be forced to pick up the tab for massive EU fines as a result of spiraling agriculture sector emissions arising from the expansionist ‘Food Harvest 2020’
ICOS, in a response to a recent press release from An Taisce, said: ‘Expansion in Irish agriculture, especially in dairying, must not be hindered by regulation for the sake of regulation’. But, An Taisce pointed out that regulation of greenhouse gases is not ‘red tape’, but is critical if Ireland is to play its role in reducing the risk of what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes as ‘severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems’ arising from climate change.
An Taisce rejects any notion of fostering a ‘them and us’ division between farmers, their industry and the environmental lobby. Indeed, they say that we need to move on to a path to stabilising the Earth’s climate system, which will depend on all of us working together for solutions.
However, they say that ICOS misquotes them in saying that they called for ‘a reduction in cattle numbers’ as the only possible answer to reducing total emissions. Am Tasice did point out that total emissions due to dairy expansion under Food Harvest 2020 would rise, contrary to the Minister’s claim.
Irish dairy methane emissions per head have increased by over 10% since 1990. Total emissions from dairy can only be calculated by multiplying the emissions per head by the total number of cattle. The annual total adds to the cumulative amount in the atmosphere causing global warming.
ICOS might prefer that other metrics could be used, but that is not the view of the IPCC report, ‘Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis’. Using ‘production-efficiency’ metrics based on yield evades the physical reality that it is only ‘total emissions’ which counts as carbon footprint.
Globally, meat and dairying produces 14.5% of global GHGs. That’s more than all the cars, trains, planes and ships in the world – combined. Yet it ‘attracts remarkably little policy attention at either the international or national level,’ according to a recent Chatham House study in the UK.
The Chatham House study underpins the growing reality that, in a world of finite and declining resources, the need to ensure the nutritional needs of the world’s population must be met without further destroying the natural world or overloading the atmosphere with dangerous emissions. This means that the only strategic approach that is both equitable and sustainable is reining in, rather than ramping up, meat and dairy consumption.
The ICOS points out that life-cycle GHG analysis shows Irish dairying to have one of the lowest GHG footprints in the EU, based on milk yield. However, under Food Harvest 2020, it is envisaged to move to a more European-style intensive dairying model, including adding 300,000 cows to the national herd, leading to dramatic increases in emissions.
Ireland is on average only about 70% self sufficient in cereals. Intensification of dairy production would require greatly increased imports of animal feed, which will contribute to food insecurity, according to An Taisce.
Given that agriculture already accounts for one third of Ireland’s total emissions, An Taisce asks if ICOS believes the rest of Irish society should undergo drastic and disruptive cuts to their emissions in order to subside an emissions-intensive agro-industrial ‘gold rush’? This, they would contend, is both unwise and inequitable.
An Taisce says that it fully appreciates that Irish farmers are critical to environmental protection. Agriculture is in fact uniquely vulnerable to the disruptive effects of climate change – and many older Irish farmers in particular are already well aware that the largely predictable weather they grew up with is undergoing rapid and disturbing changes.
An Taisce recognises that agriculture will need to make major efforts in the coming years in adapting to levels of climate change which are already inevitable. However, without global climate stabilisation, all bets for the future of farming – and humanity as a whole – are off the table, it maintains.
‘All sectors of society need to be working towards a path to climate stability for the health and well being of all our futures,’ concludes An Taisece. ‘Aspirations will not be enough; total annual emissions must fall to cultivate a safer future’.