SPECIFIC agriculture emissions need to be addressed in Ireland in order to combat climate change.
As a member of the Special Oireachtas Committee for Climate Action, I have been involved in numerous discussions and briefings the past year which have examined carbon emissions in Ireland.
Agricultural emissions account for a disproportionately-large portion of Ireland’s total emissions due to the fact that our agricultural sector forms the majority of our overall economy.
It is important to acknowledge that, in terms of food production, Ireland is internationally recognised as a very efficient, low-carbon producer of high-quality beef and dairy. The European Union Joint Research Centre verified Ireland as the EU’s most carbon-efficient beef producer and the fifth most carbon-efficient dairy producer.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions do however continue to be a genuine cause of concern, particularly with livestock based farming. The Citizens’ Assembly recommended imposing a tax on agriculture GHG emissions, however I believe this would be detrimental to the agricultural industry as a whole.
The GHG emissions tax suggested by the Citizens’ Assembly has been made, according to Justice Mary Laffoy, without a thorough examination of the relationship between agriculture and climate change. It is imperative that farmers are included in efforts to reduce carbon emissions, but more time needs to be spent assessing the impact of an emissions tax on our agriculture.
I believe that the desired results of the Citizens’ Assembly recommendation can still be attained by using funding support mechanisms, but I do not believe a tax is the most effective solution for lowering GHG emissions.
Firstly, carbon taxes are currently globally applied at the point of consumption rather than at the point of production. If we apply a separate tax at the production level as well, this would create significant concern about the economic competitiveness of our agriculture sector.
Secondly, there is no complete way to accurately measure GHG emissions on any given farm, and no such capability is foreseen for the near future. This raises practical concerns around equal-measure and enforceability.
Thirdly, farming is, by and large, a low margin business – the National Farm Survey indicates that an average family farm income was €31,374 in 2017 – and any additional taxes would raise serious concerns about the appropriately gradual transition to carbon-efficiency for the agriculture sector.
I believe there are a number of other viable options which would see a reduction of Ireland’s agricultural emissions. One such option is increasing the focus EU funding, e.g. GLAS, on the implementation of environmentally-friendly practices. Another is to increase the profitability of carbon-efficient agriculture production, which will encourage the entire sector into more environmentally-friendly practises.
Farmers and landowners, as curators of the land, have a critical role to play in instituting necessary climate action changes. Ireland has a very proud agricultural tradition; it is vital that the State safeguards and strengthens our agricultural sector in its transition into a more sustainable, low-carbon sector.
• Tim Lombard is a Senator for the Agricultural Panel in Seanad Éireann.
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