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Agriculture Works on Lowering Emissions, but More Push Needed, Conference Reveals

The sector has a goal to decrease its emissions, mainly methane, by 25 percent before the decade ends.

Agriculture Works on Lowering Emissions, but More Push Needed, Conference Reveals
Maynooth University climatologist Prof Peter Thorne said carbon dioxide was “the big boy” and should be the prime focus in moving to net zero emissions. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Agriculture Works on Lowering Emissions, but More Push Needed, Conference Reveals

Experts worry that most people, not those involved in farming, view climate change as someone else’s problem, says climatologist Peter Thorne.

The agriculture industry aims to meet its carbon emissions targets, yet it needs to make new feeding options and better fertilizers widely accessible for farmers to do their part, as per the Climate Change Advisory Council’s Marie Donnelly.

Three key steps could slash nearly half of the necessary reductions by 2030. These include switching to protected urea as fertilizer, using alternative feed to cut emissions when livestock are indoors, and diversification, shared at a climate change conference by Donnelly.

The sector has a goal to decrease its emissions, mainly methane, by 25 percent before the decade ends.

Despite their effectiveness in emission reduction, Donnelly highlighted availability issues. The proposed feed could slash methane by 5 percent during the four indoor cattle months, but its availability remains uncertain.

Likewise, diversification options exist, but they need better presentation and accessibility for farmers. Biomethane generated from farm waste is widespread in Europe, yet Ireland lacks a renewable fuel policy, missing out on providing 10 percent of the energy sector’s needs.

Assessing “how we reward sustainability” becomes crucial. Donnelly stressed, warning that failure to act could displace Irish food products in the market.

Climatologist Prof. Peter Thorne emphasized carbon dioxide as the primary concern in achieving net-zero emissions, crucial for stabilizing the global climate. While reducing methane levels is vital, achieving net zero for methane isn’t necessary, he explained.

Think of carbon dioxide as running your bath with the plug-in – so long as the tap is running at all, it’s continuing to accumulate. Methane, on the other hand, is plug half out. It matters how fast you’re turning the tap on or off

Thorne compared carbon dioxide to a bath running with the plug in—as long as the tap runs, it keeps accumulating. Methane, however, is like having the plug halfway out; what matters is how fast you’re adjusting the tap.

He highlighted the tendency to quickly attribute climate discussions to agriculture emissions, expressing concern that the national narrative makes climate change seem like someone else’s problem for 95 percent, not agriculture.

Thorne stressed the need to shift the conversation towards all sectors’ contributions to reaching net zero CO2, including transport and the built environment, which emit far more CO2.

Laura Burke, EPA director general, mentioned a slight reduction in agricultural emissions due to decreased fertilizer use in 2022 but emphasized the need to sustain this trend.

With half of Ireland’s carbon budget for 2021–2025 already used, the country faces the substantial challenge of reducing overall emissions by 12.4 percent annually and agricultural emissions by 8 percent annually.

She noted a specific issue with emissions from land use, change, and forestry, urging increased afforestation to compensate. The current planting target falls short at 2,500 hectares out of the 8,000-hectare goal.

Burke expressed hope that new farming approaches could transform the sector but stressed the urgency of implementing Teagasc’s roadmap, known as the MACC, on the ground.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue expressed confidence in leveraging reduced traditional fertilizer use, stable national herds, breeding programs, and improved grassland management to further emissions progress.

He stressed the need for a sustainable agri-food system through the right policies, science investment, diversified production, and a collective determination against climate change, aiming for food security, ecosystem preservation, and the wellbeing of present and future generations.

Minister of State for Land Use Senator Pippa Hackett highlighted the various avenues available for landowners to plant trees, offering financial incentives through schemes like the Organic Farming Scheme and the new forestry program.

While acknowledging the struggle to meet planting targets, recent changes in licensing processes and clearance of appeal backlogs are improving the situation, leading to renewed interest in forestry, particularly among farmers, with a focus on planting broadleaved and native species.

 


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