Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 22 June 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action
Reduction of Carbon Emissions of 51% by 2030: Discussion (Resumed)
Mr. John Keane:
I thank Deputy Bruton for the question. With regard to the movement over the next number of years in dealing with the emissions profile from agriculture, I am conscious of the earlier questions about the specific regard in the Bill for biogenic methane. Looking at the nature of that gas and how it breaks down within the atmosphere is extremely important. All of us must remain cognisant of that because of the short-lived cycle and its nature.
I am conscious of a few remarks made earlier. The overall figure for the national herd has actually decreased over the past three years. In dealing with that, there is a science element of the breakdown of methane within the atmosphere and how that works. That is recognised as being a ten, 12 or 15-year cycle and we must recognise that on one side of the equation. In terms of how this is offset in farming and how programmes are introduced on farms to deal with that, we will have the eco-schemes in the CAP first and foremost and we recognise that, depending on where the negotiations land next week, between 20% and 30% will be set aside for eco-schemes. These schemes will have a pivotal role on farm in delivering actual results in terms of sequestration, carbon sinks, carbon farming and environmentally-friendly farming on one side but they will also be very important in determining the attitudes of farmers towards how these programmes will be implemented. I know we had greening in the previous CAP but in terms of the most recent level of ambition and the targets about which we are now talking, this will be our farmers' first experience of what these will look like. If the measures introduced under these eco-schemes are not complementary and results-based and if actions are not deliverable from a farmer point of view, we are setting off on the wrong foot. They must be farmer-centred and farmer-friendly.
The Deputy asked about the wider context and whether organic farming has a role to play. Organic farming certainly has a role to play. A vast amount of research has been carried out by Teagasc on the marginal abatement curve and the use of low emission slurry spreading, protected urea and extended grazing. There is also ongoing research into mixed species foraging and the role they can play, as well as the roles grassland can play in carbon sequestration. All this science is ongoing and will bear fruit in time but agriculture will need time to provide the science to show that what we are doing and what we plan to do over the next decade can deliver.
I am also conscious of the ongoing Teagasc research on towers and soil sequestration, which is planning to deliver results over the next five, six or seven years. This is under certain management practices in terms of soil and how we manage soil. This is also a significant element.
Going back to the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement and the rewetting of peatlands and so forth, the issue there relates to productive farmland. Addressing that in a catch-all will not achieve economics or the desired objective because we need farmers on board to drive that. In terms of the reward for farmers for carbon farming, that is something we as young farmers would love to see and would engage with but we will need that for whatever economic return there will be from those supports for carbon farming and carbon sequestration. By the same token, if there are economic output or productive losses because of that, they must also be covered and measured. It is very difficult to expect someone to take on certain measures. It is like asking a shopkeeper to set aside a certain part of the shop and not stock goods in it. We need supports that can be equated to what is happening in farms.
The important element to remember is the wider implications for rural communities and economies and the important role farmers play in terms of investment. The re-investment of funds from farmers and the farming industry in rural economies is important. All these measures must continue to encourage farming and young farmers but they must also continue to encourage and grow the fabric of rural economies because rural Ireland needs those supports. Every single aspect of the fabric of rural Ireland, be it the local GAA club or Tidy Towns committee, will need farmers in those areas to ensure people remain living in these communities. All of that must be the approach we move forward with.