Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 25 October 2016
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment
Scrutiny of EU Legislative Proposals
As we have a quorum of four members, I call the meeting to order. I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones or switch them to flight mode as they interfere with the sound system, make it difficult for the parliamentary reporters to report the proceedings and affect television coverage and web streaming. Apologies have been received from Senator O'Reilly and Deputy Lowry. I propose that the committee considers EU scrutiny matters in public session and that, at the conclusion of public session, we will suspend proceedings for five minutes and resume in private session. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I also advise witnesses that any submission or opening statement they make to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
The first item of business is further scrutiny of COM (2016) 479 and COM (2016) 482.
I welcome from the Department of Communication, Climate Action and Environment Dr. John O'Neill, Mr. Eamon Coneferey and Mr. Colin O'Hehir; the Environmental Protection Agency Mr. Dara Lynott, Dr.Tom Ryan and Mr. Stephen Treacy, senior manager; the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland Dr. Eimear Cotter; the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Mr. Paul McKiernan, Mr. Eugene Hendrick and Mr. John Muldowney; and the Institute of International and European Affairs Mr. Joseph Curtin. I propose that the three main delegates speak for between five and ten minutes. There will then be questions or comments from members. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Dr. John O'Neill:
I will give a brief overview of the background to the proposals made in the document I circulated. Colleagues from the agency will talk about the more detailed figures for 2020.
The two proposals are for the new period, 2021 to 2030, and to replace the existing regulation on effort sharing. In October 2014 the European Council agreed an overall target of 40% by 2030 for the climate and energy package, compared to the figure for 1990. It is to cover three areas: the non-emissions trading system sector; the ETS; and, in respect of this discussion, the land use, land use change and forestry, LULUCF, proposal. The conclusions in 2014 set out the general guiding principles for what the non-effort sharing actions would be based on. This was mainly to see how the non-ETS sectors would be dealt with in line with a similar methodology used previously for the existing regulation. It was important that the target setting for member states be done on a gross domestic product, GDP, per capitabasis. It was also adjusted to reflect cost-effectiveness. The availability and use of flexibility mechanisms were to be considered, while the multiple use objectives of agriculture were to be considered in terms of land use and land use change.
The 40% reduction is the European Union's contribution under the Paris Agreement at United Nations level. The ratification process for the agreement is under way for Ireland and will be discussed in the Dáil on Thursday.
To some degree, the proposal on effort-sharing follows the work done on the existing regulation. It has a couple of new aspects, in terms of flexibility. A headline figure of 39% was given as an overall target based on GDP, but it adjusted downwards by 9 percentage points to reflect issues of cost-effectiveness. There is additional flexibility in the regulation, in respect of the LULUCF, of up to 5.6% of 2005 emissions, while there is a once-off transfer of credits from the ETS to the non-ETS sector up to the equivalent of 4% of 2005 emissions.
This might be an opportune time to hand over to the agency for an overview of the 2020 targets.
Mr. Dara Lynott:
I thank the joint committee for inviting us to attend. I am accompanied by Dr.Tom Ryan and Mr. Stephen Treacy.
The agency is independent and has a wide range of responsibilities. In the climate area every year we produce Ireland's greenhouse gas inventories and projections up to 2020. We also implement the emissions trading directive for over 100 of the largest producers of carbon dioxide in Ireland. It is backed up by a research programme in the climate area and the support we give to business on resource efficiency. We have a short presentation and handed the slides to members of the committee.
Dr. Tom Ryan:
The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has statutory responsibility for a range of issues around greenhouse gases, in particular, the compilation of Ireland's national greenhouse gas emissions inventory, and reporting to the European Union and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCC. We also have responsibility for the development and provision of national projections for emissions which take account of the effects of national and European policies and measures. We implement the EU emissions trading scheme and have responsibility for the associated permitting, monitoring and reporting verification activities. We also manage the EU emissions trading registry in Ireland, including credit auction monitoring. The agency also provides the secretariat for the Climate Change Advisory Council and other supports, funding for climate change initiatives and emissions research. While we have statutory responsibility in these areas, there is very much a collaborative approach to inventory compilation and projection estimates. We work in co-operation with other agencies and bodies that provide essential data for these inventories and modelling for the projections. Many of these organisations are represented today - the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI; Teagasc; the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI; University College Cork, UCC; as well as the relevant Departments.
Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide which arises mainly from the combustion of fossil fuels, methane and nitrous oxide which arise from enteric fermentation in the gut of ruminants, gases from cows, in other words, fertiliser application to land, livestock manure storage and land spreading. There is another family called the F-gases that mainly arise from refrigeration and air conditioning systems.
Each of these various gases has different global warming potential.
The current published greenhouse gas inventories are for 1990 to 2014, inclusive. The revision of these is under way and will include data from 2015. It is a complicated process but work will be finalised on them in the coming weeks. They will be published as revised provisional inventories.
In the breakdown of greenhouse gas emissions by sector in 2014, agriculture was the largest with 33.1%, transport was the second largest with 19.5%, followed by energy with 19.1%. Aggregating agriculture, energy and transport, they accounted for 72% of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions in 2014. In 1990, transport accounted for 9.1%, an increase of 10%. At the same time, the residential emissions share decreased from 13% to 10% and the agricultural share from 37% to 33%. If one takes the absolute values rather than the percentages, total emissions in 1990 were 56.17 megatonne of carbon dioxide equivalent. In 2014, it was 58.25 megatonne. In that period, it represents a 3.7% increase in total annual emissions.
Total greenhouse gas emissions comprise two categories, those that come under the EU emissions trading system, EU ETS, and those covered by the effort sharing decision, also known as the non-ETS sector. The non-ETS sector includes agriculture, transport, excluding the aviation sector, the built environment, which incorporates residential, commercial and institutional, and waste, essentially landfills. When ETS and non-ETS figures are combined, in 2013 and 2014 Ireland was comfortably within its compliance targets.
The current emissions projections to 2020 are based on the latest inventory reference year which is 2014. They take account of the available energy forecasts at the time, based on macroeconomic assumptions supplied by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI. They also take account of agricultural data provided by Teagasc in December 2015, such as projected herd numbers, fertiliser usage, drainage - all the elements taken into account in Food Wise 2025. When one takes the projected non-ETS emissions and compares it to annual emission allowances to 2020, we will be in breach in 2016 and 2017. However, the accounting rules allow for us to take account of overachievement where we have not admitted as much in greenhouse gases as we are actually allowed. If this cumulative approach is taken, we are likely to breach those limits in 2018 and 2019.
We project forward emissions in two ways. The first is with measures, and that takes account of established Government policies, incentives and regulations which are being implemented. Examples of that are carbon tax, VRT, motor tax biofuels obligation scheme and building energy efficient schemes. Then there is the additional measures scenario for projections which takes into account policies, incentives and regulations announced by the Government but not yet implemented. These would include policies such as renewable energy targets or energy efficient targets set out in policy documents like the national renewable action plan and the national energy efficiency action plan. This relates to targets about percentage renewable fuels in transport, deployment of electrical vehicles, renewables for heating and those sorts of policies. Under both scenarios, projections show Ireland will breach its 2020 targets in advance at 2018 and 2019.
It should be noted these are projections. There are always ongoing processes such as annual audits which revise both the inventories and the projections. These will all be taken account in the new inventories and projections for 2017.
The EU Climate and Energy Framework 2030 sets targets to cut emissions in EU territory by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. In the new effort-sharing regulation proposal for the non-ETS sectors to be agreed for 2021 to 2030, it is proposed Ireland will reduce emissions by 30% below 2005 by 2030.
The new system introduces certain flexibilities we can avail of potentially, two of which I will mention. The first is the use of credits from carbon sinks, the LULUCF sector. This is capped at 5.6% of 2005 emissions. I will discuss LULUCF shortly as we were specifically asked to mention it. The other flexibility is around the use of EU emissions trading system, ETS, allowances, and that usage is proposed to be capped at 4% of 2005 emissions.
To reflect on LULUCF, some members will be very familiar with what is a wonderful acronym; others not so. It stands for land use change and forestry. It is important in the context of climate policy because forests and agricultural lands cover a substantial part of the EU territory and hold large sinks of carbon, preventing that escape of carbon into the atmosphere. On the other hand, draining peat land, felling forests or ploughing up grassland generates emissions. Members can see that actions such as afforestation or the conversion of arable land into grassland can protect carbon stocks or result in carbon sequestration or carbon capture. Members can see that policy choices around the LULUCF sectors can have a positive or a negative impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
Under current projections, Ireland will likely not meet the 2020 targets even under the banking mechanism and with additional measures. We see in the data insufficient decoupling of economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions, which increases the challenge for us of meeting our medium European Union and long-term national targets, which demand an aggregate reduction in CO2 emissions of at least 80% compared to 1990 levels by 2050 across the electricity generation sector and the built environment and transport sectors, as well as carbon neutrality in agriculture and land use.
I thank the Chairman. As Mr. Lynott said, we are happy to take questions from members. If we cannot answer them now, we would be happy to return with additional information in the future.
Mr. Joseph Curtin:
I thank the Chairman and the committee for the invitation at this important time in national, EU and international climate policy development. I am very happy to be here to represent the Institute of International and European Affairs and University College Cork, UCC, which are my host organisations.
Given the requirement for brevity, I was reminded of Mark Twain's observation, "I didn't have time to write a short letter so I wrote a long one instead". It would be easy to deliver a long presentation because there is much that could be said on this topic, but I have restricted myself to answering five key questions which I hope will be of most interest to the members of the committee. These questions are on slide 1. How fast is climate change happening? Did Ireland get a good deal in this legislative proposal we are discussing today? What would be the implications for the fiscal space of inaction? Is responding to climate change possible given the fiscal constraints of today, and how can we bring citizens with us?
First, in terms of how fast climate change is happening, needless to say, climate change is happening. Human intervention is the main drive; we are mostly agreed on that. The impacts will be severe, pervasive and irreversible. That much is generally accepted. However, there is an unhelpful narrative which tends to present climate change as a problem to be dealt with 50 or 100 years from now, but the impacts are evident now in the world around us. This year, 2016, is on track to shatter the global temperature record. In fact, in an unprecedented streak, as members can see from slide 2, every month for the past 16 months has shattered the previous record for that month. That is alarming even the gloomiest climate scientists, and there are plenty of them.
The negative impacts are already with us in the world around us, whether it be wet winters in Ireland, drought in Syria, forest fires in Canada or rising temperatures across Africa, South America and parts of Asia, which are putting millions of people into food insecurity. One-off events cannot be ascribed to climate change, but these impacts are consistent with model predictions. I discuss that in more detail in the article referred to in slide 3. The world is fast approaching an inflection point where dangerous climate change becomes inevitable. To summarise, climate change is here and now, and so too is responsibility for action. It is not for future generations, nor is it for future Dáileanna.
With regard to the second question as to whether Ireland got a good deal - I am back on topic with this question - the answer is "Yes". Ireland got an excellent deal in the proposal, and it is still only a legislative proposal on the table. This is because first, because Ireland's proposed target is significantly lower than comparable wealthy countries, as members can see from slide 4. That is a recognition of the high cost of reducing emissions in Ireland's agriculture sector. Second, the Commission is proposing to wipe the slate clean after 2020, therefore, Ireland's lack of progress in meeting its 2020 targets, which was just discussed, cannot be carried forward. We will not be punished for that post-2020. Members can see this somewhat bizarre outcome in slide 5. I describe this as the Harry Potter proposal, and members can see why if they look at the slide, where Ireland's 2021 target will be significantly less onerous than its 2020 target.
A third favourable aspect for Ireland is that forestry can be used to offset some emissions, as discussed, and some carbon credits can be purchased from the EU instead of reducing emissions at home. In fact, when these flexibilities are included, Ireland's "real" target is only slightly more demanding in 2030 than it is in 2020, as members can see from the slide. This is a very good deal.
With regard to the third question on the fiscal implications of inaction, when one sets the proposed target against our projected emissions, the scale of the challenge becomes immediately apparent in slide 6. The distance to target, Nos. 1 and 2 in slide 6, and flexibilities, which is No. 3 in slide 6, all imply a cost to the Exchequer. If Ireland took no further action to reduce emissions in the period to 2030, we estimate a cost of between €3 billion and €6 billion. I should stress that in many cases the numbers are subject to considerable uncertainty. However, I have had them checked since by many experts in the field, including a number of officials across Departments. This analysis needs to be refined over time but it provides a good, solid starting point.
I stress that this is a "what if" scenario, not a prediction. Given fiscal rules, billions of euro spent on fines and carbon credits mean less money for schools, hospitals, income tax cuts or other political priorities. The question is whether this would be better spent by creating jobs and investing in the low carbon economy at home. While the deal on the table is a very good outcome from an Irish perspective, there is an immediate imperative to achieve more rapid decarbonisation, particularly in the agriculture, transport and buildings sectors.
That leads to the fourth question: is responding to climate change possible given fiscal constraints? It is sometimes argued that Ireland cannot afford to meet its climate targets. I hope I have convinced the members, from the analysis I have given, that this needs to be turned on its head. I am suggesting that Ireland cannot afford to not meet its climate targets, but that argument never held much water in the first place. This is where we get into slightly more controversial territory. That is because, first, there were billions of euro of investment capital available to the Exchequer but we often chose to invest in locking in carbon rather than reducing it. If we take the Capital Investment Plan 2016 to 2021, €10 billion will be spent on transport, almost two thirds of which will go on roads, including economically and environmentally questionable projects such as the Gort to Tuam motorway, which was inundated in several places in the recent floods and which, ironically, were linked to climate change. Meanwhile, as members can see on slide 8, the National Transport Authority recently announced that several cycling infrastructure projects could not be progressed due to lack of capital.
I understand the capital infrastructure plan is due for review in 2017. Deciding between competing projects always comes down to difficult political choices. Nevertheless, there is a case for much greater climate proofing of infrastructure plans and other expenditure items in light of climate targets.
The second reason I do not believe this lack of resources is a good argument is because, as shown on slide 9, even if there was nothing in the kitty, which I do not believe to be the case, there are numerous ways emissions can be reduced without costing the Exchequer or society a penny.
For example, carbon tax can be increased steadily over time and offset by imposing lower taxes on work or funding energy-efficient investments. This would boost economic growth and employment. Vehicle registration tax and annual car tax could be further adjusted in a revenue-neutral manner. Incentives in the agricultural sector in the post-milk quota era could be realigned to focus on climate-smart agriculture. This would involve a move away from supporting emissions-intensive and loss-making sectors, which are not providing sustainable incomes to farm families in many cases. Fossil fuel subsidies for peat could be used to support renewable resources that are generated and owned locally.
The committee might not agree with some or any of these policy proposals, but I hope it will agree with my central point that it is not fiscal constraints but political choices, which are made in response to the demands of citizens, that are preventing us from responding to climate change. This leads to my final question. How can we bring society and citizens with us? A key challenge is to change the narrative from one exclusively focused on cost to one that considers benefits and opportunities, particularly for rural Ireland. It is necessary and possible to socially and rurally proof low-carbon transition. If we are to socially proof low-carbon transition, we must deal with the negative social impacts of implementing changes to incentives, such as increases in the carbon tax. There are many approaches to this. As I have mentioned, we could support energy-efficiency investments in fuel-poor households. If we are to rural proof low-carbon transition, citizens can and must be incentivised as investors in low-carbon projects in their communities. It must be possible for these projects to generate local incomes and local wealth. I refer to projects in areas like on-shore wind, anaerobic digestion, photovoltaic solar, forestry and energy crops.
Low-carbon transition needs space and land in rural Ireland. Incentives like the renewable heat incentive, which is currently under discussion, and the successor to the feed-in tariff for electricity generation are under consideration. It is vital that they are designed with local communities and citizen investors in mind, as their preferences and needs are different from those of traditional professional investors. The mobilisation of local citizens and communities has been achieved in many countries through targeted policy interventions. For the record, this can be seen on slide 11. I will spare the committee by not going through it. While there is a perception that rural Ireland is threatened by low-carbon transition, I suggest it has the most to benefit. It is possible to have a low-carbon transition that has rural Ireland at its core and is socially just. It requires an openness to change in society and a willingness to consider new approaches and new sources of income and wealth. There is a need to sell this narrative to citizens.
I thank all the witnesses for their contributions. I have two questions before I hand over to members. Can the officials from the Department comment on why Ireland has been granted such a significant allowance of 4% for the transfer of credits from the emissions trading system sector to the non-emissions trading sector? I understand Luxembourg is the only other country in this category.
This country's afforestation policy is based on the working assumption that the high-level and projected increase in emissions from livestock can be offset by afforestation. This is not accepted by some groups, including Environmental Pillar and Stop Climate Chaos. They argue that this assumption is scientifically flawed because the offset is just a fraction of the fossil fuel emissions. It would be interesting to get feedback from the representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency or the views of any of the other witnesses on this issue. It would be great if we could get comments on the issues I have raised after Deputies Stanley and Dooley have asked their questions.
I welcome the officials from the agencies and Departments and thank them for their worthwhile presentations. Questions are being asked about the new flexibility that is being bestowed on us. Some of us argued for these factors to be taken into consideration during the legislative procedures that led to the Act. There was a great deal of discussion on them when the previous committee was drawing up its report on climate action.
There is concern that we are stretching the point as we argue that grasslands and forestry have a significant carbon sink value. The value of peatlands as carbon sinks was not mentioned in the presentations and the documents we received. One of the other arms of government - the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs - is rightly trying to get on top of the peatlands issue. I would support the preservation of the peatlands we can preserve. One of the reasons given by the scientific lobby when it has been making the case for the preservation of our peatlands in recent years has been their value as carbon sinks. I wonder why that is absent from the presentation we have heard today.
There is concern about the figures and the financial implications, even in consideration of the new flexibility we are being given. It has been suggested that the cost to the State of going off target could extend to €6 billion. Even though we have just had the warmest year on record, it is not the case that there is unanimous agreement in the Houses of the Oireachtas that climate change is due to human activity. One or two Members of the House disagree with that. I am not one of them. I am not sure whether they have agreed yet that the earth is round. I would say we are moving in that direction by now. Anybody who has been observing weather patterns will see the changes that are in front of us and have to be dealt with. I have seen changes as I have observed weather patterns throughout my lifetime. Of course there is also scientific evidence of climate change.
The Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht of the previous Dáil compiled a valuable report in conjunction with Professor John Sweeney. That was certainly a useful process. The report is on record. I think it makes good reading. It gives a very good summary of where we are at. Obviously, there is great concern about the significant financial implications for the State, but there are bigger implications in terms of the catastrophic environmental damage that awaits us if we do not deal with this issue. This State needs to show leadership as it grapples with this. I will repeat my two questions. How can we ensure we do not stretch the point as we argue for this? What can we do about the exclusion of peatlands?
I thank everyone who has contributed to this worthwhile debate. I thank the witnesses for providing some assistance to us. I would like to reflect on what they have said. Mr. Curtin has set out a number of policy options for us to consider as legislators. While I might disagree with some aspects of his proposals for addressing our 2030 requirements, in particular, I think it would be useful to have a debate on them. Maybe the committee will have an opportunity to discuss them in more detail after today.
I would like to go back to what Dr. Ryan has said. If I had paid a little more heed to him when I was in college and he was trying to teach me, I might not have to ask these questions. His interesting modelling has shown that even with the best-case scenario, we will be above the line and therefore in breach of our commitments by 2018 or 2019. Can the Department give us some indication of what the cost implications of that would be for us? What would be the implications in pounds, shillings and pence?
Has modelling been done on additional measures or policies in other areas which, if implemented, could help us avoid breaching our targets for 2020? Has modelling been done on the various policy options available to achieve the 2030 targets? I ask the witnesses to communicate to the joint committee, after the meeting if necessary, a list of the various options available and the implications of adopting them, broken down on a percentage basis, for example, if we adopted 50% of one option or 70% of another. It would assist the committee if we had a comprehensive model setting out how we could achieve our commitments while allowing the economy to flourish to the greatest possible extent. We need to remain on or slightly below the line, as it were, in order that we do not further damage the environment and avoid the penalties associated with missing our targets.
Dr. John O'Neill:
I will try to cover the questions from our perspective and will pass on to my colleagues in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine the questions that are more relevant to them. The Chairman asked a question on the flexibility on the emissions trading scheme, ETS. The proposals, which were published on 20 July last, are currently part of a working party process in the European Union. Ireland and other member states are trying to get behind the methodology the Commission used to arrive at the figures, not only as regards flexibilities but also on the cost efficiencies side. We are not yet 100% certain of the basis the Commission used to give some member states a higher allocation in terms of credits.
It is important to note that even though we have access to credits from the ETS side, these credits are not free, as we would have to forego revenue that would normally be taken from the auction of these allowances under the ETS scheme. It does not come as a credit as such. It is more of a flexibility instrument we could use if required at some stage for compliance reasons and it certainly would not be free.
Deputy Dooley asked about breaching our 2020 commitments. Mr. Arnold outlined the commitments for 2018 and 2019. The simple answer to putting a price on breaching our commitments is that we do not know what it could be.
Dr. John O'Neill:
This is based on a number of factors, including the price of carbon at a particular point in time when we are trying to reconcile if we are in compliance or not. That will be done beyond 2020. However, it is also related to forecasting because every time one looks ahead, one comes up with slightly different figures. It is very difficult to come up with figures.
Mr. Paul McKiernan:
In that case, we can move onto that issue. My two colleagues on the forestry side, Eugene Hendrick and John Muldowney, will deal with the peatlands issue. This all comes under the land use, land-use change and forestry, LULUCF, issue. Perhaps the Chairman will repeat her question on the LULUCF.
I referred to the fact that certain groups contest the assumption that our projected in emissions from livestock may be offset by afforestation. According to these groups, there is no scientific basis for such an approach. I ask the witnesses to comment.
Dr. Eugene Hendrick:
In COM (2016) 479, a proposal under LULUCF, the activities covered are afforestation, deforestation, cropland management and grazing land management and it is an aggregate of these four categories that applies. The flexibility that is on the table is available in respect of these four particular land uses between 2021 and 2030. The flexibility available is 2.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per annum. We estimate that net afforestation will contribute 2.2 million of the 2.7 million tonnes total, with the balance coming from cropland and grassland. We do not regard afforestation as an offsetting mechanism but as an investment in climate change mitigation. This will come at a cost, however. We estimate the total cost for most of the forest that will come into compliance - the 2.2 million tonnes figure - will be €3.5 billion between 1990 and 2030. There is, therefore, a cost associated with it.
We view afforestation as a land-based investment in climate change mitigation. The programme is under the forestry programme from 2014 and 2020 and we anticipate increasing the afforestation rate to approximately 8,300 ha. by 2020 from the current rate of approximately 6,600 ha. We expect the rate to increase next year to 7,200 ha. We view this measure as a national investment in climate change mitigation. Afforestation, the creation of new forest, is recognised by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as one of the most cost-effective and effective ways to mitigate climate change. That is the position.
Peatlands were not mentioned in the presentation. I ask the witnesses to outline the carbon sink value, if any, of peatlands that have not been cut away, both raised and blanket bogs. Can their carbon sink value be used to assist us in making up ground in meeting our targets?
Mr. John Muldowney:
I will take a step back from Dr. Hendrick's starting point. On the granting of access to LULUCF, the Council conclusions of 2014 set out the terms on which the non-ETS targets would be based. One of the principal targets on which this is built is paragraph 2.1.4 of the Council conclusions, which recognises the low mitigation potential of agriculture, together with the opportunities available in the land-use sector, in particular, in respect of afforestation. The analysis in the impact study we have seen examined the best means of allowing access to new flexibility in this area. Principally, our position is that this is not an offset but a means of accessing a new menu of options that was not available to us previously.
For a country like Ireland with a high cost of mitigating carbon, this sets out a new toolbox of options that helps to reduce that cost-effectiveness point for Ireland.
In terms of the LULUCF, afforestation is the key area where we will get most credits. The LULUCF proposal also acknowledges that those with credits in managed grasslands and managed croplands can also get access to those.
On the managed grassland and cropland, the principal point highlighted is that there must be new and additional activities in those areas. Therefore, it is not for the existing carbon pool which people identify with in grasslands, but for the new and additional work. Again we are working closely with Teagasc to see what new and additional opportunities are available. There are opportunities for better management of grasslands - better fertility of grasslands - to get a carbon credit for grassland.
The same is true of better management of arable silage; it is possible to build up that soil carbon pool. That is a new and additional activity, as with afforestation. It is new and additional, over and above the starting point. That is the principal direction in which we are trying to take this.
Every year the EPA reports to the UNFCCC on peatlands under the wetland category. It is then up to member states to elect to count for any potential credits. Again the main point is new and additional credits. We have not yet reached a stage where we can trust the science of our understanding to prove those new and additional credits. There are many ongoing research programmes involving the EPA, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the NPWS investigating opportunities in that regard. It can be looked at again in the future.
However, it is not totally excluded because peatland that is under agricultural management is covered by managed grassland or managed cropland. Approximately 300,000 ha of peatlands are managed grassland. If we can carry out activities on those that help to manage the water table in those managed grasslands that are peat-soil based, there are potential credits on those. So there is crossover in how one looks at it. The principal point to emphasise is that is it new and additional and therefore it is not an offset. It is not seen to balance against emissions that arise from fertiliser or livestock emissions. Livestock and fertiliser emissions have their own abatement options and we are also trying to address those.
Mr. Joseph Curtin:
The Chairman asked if forestry could be used as an offset. Forestry sucks in CO2, and agriculture releases methane and nitrous oxide. That may be where they are coming from. As the others said, it is not directly offsetting the emissions produced by agriculture so it cannot really be considered an offset. Slide 8 shows that even if we were to use all of our flexibility in forestry, there is still an enormous gap to target. In the more literal sense, even if we were to maximise our forestry sink and maximise our purchase of ETS credits, we still have an enormous potential gap to target based on the current projections which may be on the negative side in terms of economic growth in the period to 2020. There are many ways in which the Chairman's questions could be interpreted, but that may add something.
Deputy Dooley mentioned the costs to 2020. My analysis considered the costs to 2020 and then to 2030. There are two aspects to the costs to 2020. There is the emissions cost and the cost of our renewables targets, both of which are legally binding. On the emissions target, I took the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment or EPA estimates of carbon prices of between five tonnes and ten tonnes to produce a high-end and low-end estimate. For the renewables target, I based the cost of missing using an SEAI estimate of €150 million per percentage point and I extrapolated in an optimistic and pessimistic scenario of where we would be for 2020 on our renewables targets. The analysis is all there and is available to pick apart or agree with members wish. To cut a long story short, on the cost to the Exchequer by 2020 including both targets, I provide a range of between €230 million and €610 million.
Mr. Dara Lynott:
In terms of the policy measures and costs, we would see it in the context of the ambition of 2050. There is a bag of policies that have to be decided. Each lead Department in charge of the biggest emissions will need to come forward in a very open and transparent way and argue their case with a set of costed policies for critique by the Government. That is probably the best way. They have to be revived on five-year periods. It allows for a broad discussion and critique of the plans made by the Departments and their costings. Irrespective of the policies that are implemented, the EPA's role in this is to ensure we are tracking the exact emissions. It will be our responsibility to report to the UN and the EU in this regard.
Mr. Dara Lynott:
Obviously even in the past five years there has been a dramatic shift in people's positions and projections. That is shifting all the time, which is why we do them on an annual basis. When we get to the mitigation plans, we will start to get some of the analysis of how realistic those policies are and how close we are to implementing those policies. We all definitely agree that we need a realistic conversation about the new measures that will now have to come forward if we are to meet the 2030 and ultimately the 2050 ambition.
I recently posed a question to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, and he indicated that it did not all fall within his remit; there are some issues for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and different areas. I am somewhat concerned about that and Mr. Lynott seems to have reiterated that it is an issue for each individual Department. My concern is that there is no central co-ordinator saying that there are number of equations that need to come together to reach the combined target. If it is left to each individual Department, there is some potential for us not to reach those targets. That is not a question for Mr. Lynott, but it is for us to ensure there is a much greater level of co-ordination. Dr. O'Neill seems to wish to reply to that.
Dr. John O'Neill:
I wish to highlight the process we have in place at the moment in terms of what Mr. Lynott mentioned for the national mitigation plan that is required under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act. Part of that process involves all the relevant Departments being co-ordinated by our Department. There is a significant amount of interaction at the policy level and also at the technical level on modelling, including working with the agency on this. That process needs to remain ongoing out to 2050. The main objective of that is to ensure we can align policies and measures so that we have a very coherent set of plans and we are sure of the implications. That process is ongoing.
I apologise for leaving the meeting. I had to ask a question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade; it did not indicate a lack of interest in this subject.
I read the presentations and saw the briefs and found it all very interesting. I am not satisfied with the response from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to Deputy Stanley's question. I am surprised at it. I would like to get more detail. As I understand it, most of our political capital in Europe in the past five years was put into getting a good deal in these negotiations. Did we maintain complete neutrality as to whether peatland would be included in any land-use measure or did it just come at the Commission's own volition? How did we negotiate on that issue? I am surprised at the response that the amount of carbon we save on peatlands is uncertain. There are various academic reports, including a very recent one from Rogier Schulte, formerly of Teagasc and others, showing in some detail that as he advocates it is possible for soil organic carbon or land-use management of wetlands to be a mechanism for carbon emissions reduction.
An earlier paper from O'Reilly and others set out 5.2 million tonnes per annum loss in CO2 equivalent from unmanaged degraded peat wetlands. I am just perplexed as to why we have accepted this idea. Has it been finalised and are we ruling out the possibility of using that massive carbon sink, which would surely come at a much lower cost than any of the other afforestation or equivalent options that could be considered? I am interested to hear in more detail what was our negotiating position on the issue. Is it closed and if not, can we not consider the option?
I will not get through all the questions. In one of the papers, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, indicates we are not on target to meet our 2020 targets. I understand we are only one of two countries - it is us and Luxembourg - that will not meet the targets. I presume that is why we were given such flexibility on the credit side. It cannot be a coincidence that Ireland and Luxembourg are the countries with the big credit mechanism, although as Dr. O'Neill indicated, it will cost us. The EPA figures show us missing the target with two possible missed trajectories. The first is "with measures" and the second is with "additional" measures. I presume we are not taking the option with "additional" measures. It is only in a year or two. Is that a correct assumption? Are we doing the additional measures or are we following the blue line demonstrated in the paper?
If we are thinking for the long term about this and moving to 2050, will we get the likely grace of a 9% lowering of our ambition because we argued that we have a particular difficulty making the transition or there is a particular cost problem? Will that still be there in 2050 or is it expected that it will be massaged out over the course of subsequent decades? Do the EPA or the others think that as we are signing the Paris Agreement, with an ambition to stay below an increase of 1.5° C, the European 2030 targets set us on that trajectory? Is it likely, if science is to be our champion in terms of policy approach, that there will be an increase in the likely targets for 2030 at some stage as we continue the ratcheting up of the Paris Agreement for 2020 and beyond? If Europe is serious about this, do we expect that there will be increased ambition within the European process?
Mr. Paul McKiernan:
I will ask my technical expert to deal with that. He will explain that not all these lands would be designated for agriculture. The negotiation was in terms of having cropland management and grazing land management, which will include peatlands. That was part of the land use, land-use change and forestry, LULUCF, sector. Mr. Muldowney will explain that.
Mr. John Muldowney:
On the negotiation, we were neutral on wetlands, per se. The argument was LULUCF, how to look at flexibilities from LULUCF and what carbon credits new and additional activity was available from that. The areas of that which are best understood are around peatland that is under grass or crop management. That has the best historic data to be able to back up any land change that happens in terms of land-use of these areas. With other areas of wetland that is non-agricultural, we are talking about raised bogs that are purely biodiversity sites or cut-over raised bog. The knowledge of the drivers of trends and how the carbon cycle works in that is less well understood in terms of the interannual variation that can happen on it to be able to validate what has happened. There is ongoing work to try to improve that and options remain to include wetlands at some point, whether that is 2021 or midway through the next ten-year period, which is 2025, should the science be of a sufficient and robust standard for that area. While the UK has elected wetlands, it does not know how it will start to get sufficient evidence to back up its inventory in that area. That is how difficult it is.
Surely, we are counting it in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, as mentioned earlier. Given the accounting mechanism is there, we have to do it anyway. My understanding is that many of the reduction targets could come from re-wetting. My understanding of the science is that how a restoration of a habitat like that stores carbon is far more certain than the carbon sequestration in forestry. I could be wrong but most of the science I have heard is to that effect. Could the EPA do a review and present us with some details on what is the best scientific assessment of the storage of carbon in either forestry or bogs? It is important we get an answer to that if we cannot get it today. I would love to know the price of re-wetting a cut-away bog or stopping further extraction per tonne of carbon. I bet my bottom euro it is cheaper than any other mechanism. I do not understand why we are excluding it.
Mr. John Muldowney:
As I understand it, reporting to the UNFCCC is a snapshot in time and a single year of what happens in the area under wetland. Accounting that emission is relative to a baseline and historic knowledge of how water tables were managed in a reference year relative to how they are managed today. The development of our metrics, monitoring, reporting and verification around that are less well developed. That is what all member states find difficult. Carbon pools are not accounted by the UNFCCC or anything. Peatlands are an enormous carbon pool and grassland is a big carbon pool. Arable soil would be a lower carbon pool. Forestry is a big carbon pool. Again, it is about new and additional activity and how to increase that is the issue. It is not just about a pool. One must consider it from that perspective.
How to balance emissions and removal is something identified in the Paris Agreement and it will be considered more in that context, particularly with regard to transparency and how other member states are looking at this. It is an area that will grow in significance. I would guess that Ireland will be interested in the area and we will look to the National Parks and Wildlife Service to engage more in this, as well as other users of wetlands. My specialty is agriculture, grazing land and cropland and how that has worked. We have been working on that.
Mr. Dara Lynott:
The "with additional measures" assumes full implementation. That is what the red line refers to. We know we are currently not on target. We have 50,000 electric cars that need to be on the roads and we are approximately 50% there in terms of RES-H and RES-T targets and the amount of renewable fuels on those. Going back to my response to other speakers, the mitigation plan will see sectoral plans being put forward with very realistic costings and what they expect. I forgot to mention the critique by the climate council and others, and co-ordination by the Department will see a better discussion than is currently available.
Mr. Dara Lynott:
The EPA response is that 2050 is the deadline. The 2030 timeline is not in stone yet and although there are proposals, there is a bit to go before that is a regulation. I would imagine there would have to be agility, depending on what the figures say, as we go to 2050, to where the targets need to be for 2030, 2040 or 2050.
My question relates to energy policy and production.
Are we on target for a reduction of carbon emissions in that territory? What is the situation on the renewables? Who is keeping an eye on that? It seems to me that there is huge political resistance to things like wind power in certain communities. The question that is worrying me at the moment is that, considering Brexit, is Ireland going to have the same interconnectivity with the United Kingdom? Are we going to have to be more self-sufficient and more of an island in these matters? How does that feed into the issue of the many renewables such as wind power that have to be backed up by more dependable or non-variable energy sources? The one thing in the back of my mind is that, with interconnection to the UK, we have access to its atomic energy. I presume nobody is talking about developing atomic energy in Ireland. Therefore, how do we become carbon-free in our energy production commensurate with what we are planning in terms of economic growth and all the rest of it? Is somebody putting all of that together into some kind of big matrix?
Mr. Eamonn Confrey:
I will answer the renewables side of the question. In terms of the EPA figures and others, we are constantly monitoring our trajectory against targets. To summarise the renewables targets, we are about halfway there in our overall renewable energy standard, RES, target, which is legally binding at 16%. At the end of 2015, we were at about 9.2% of that 16%. Below the overall RES target of 16%, we have three sub-targets, one of which is the electricity RES, which is a 40% target. At the end of 2015, we were at slightly more than 25% on that trajectory. The second sub-target is on heat, RES-H. The target for 2020 is 12%. At the end of 2015, we were at just less than 7%. The final target is in transport, RES-T. The target is 10% by 2020. At the end of 2015, we were at 5.7%, which is slightly below 6% for that target.
We see renewables, efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions as the three legs of the overall stool of climate change. We keep our progress under close supervision with regard to how we are getting there. Senator McDowell referenced onshore wind. To put it into perspective, of the 2,700 MW of renewable generation capacity that was connected at the end of 2015, about 2,200 MW of that was in onshore wind. Up to this point, wind has been the most cost-effective technology in terms of delivery. However, the Senator is correct in saying that there is increasing resistance in many communities to turbines. We are working very closely with colleagues in the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government on how we can respond to those concerns and ensure that we are also doing it in a way that is in compliance with other directives around environmental impact assessment and all of that.
The Senator went on to mention Brexit. While I am not leading our discussions around Brexit, it is clear that energy has a very significant part to play in the overall decisions that we will have to make. As members are aware, we are highly dependent on the UK, particularly for gas, although with the Corrib gas field having come on line, that dependency is not quite as high as it was. We also have an east-west interconnector. Nobody knows at this stage how the Brexit negotiations are going to go. Many of our arrangements are on a bilateral basis with the UK that pre-date our membership of the EU. I would see no reason the UK would not honour a lot of those. At the same time, we as an EU member state need to be mindful in our discussions at EU level. There is a much greater drive towards what is called regional co-operation. We are a part of a group I would term the north-western member states that is working collectively on things like offshore energy, grids, ocean energy and other technologies.
We in the renewables policy side of the Department are looking at a range of technologies beyond onshore wind. Indeed, we are already supporting some of them, namely, biomass. Ocean, offshore and solar energies will all have a part to play. Like everything else, we just need to watch the cost. The cost impact to the consumer by way of the public service obligation, PSO, which appears in everybody's bill, and the renewable portion of the costs of the PSO is on the increase. That is offsetting the fossil fuel imports that we need to take into the country.
I will bring in Mr. Curtin next because I know he wants to come in. It is in relation to Senator McDowell's question on public engagement and the obstacles that are out there around buy-in, public engagement and giving the community a sense of ownership of going to the next level of renewable energy, be it housing insulation or local communities enabling themselves to invest in renewables. Perhaps Mr. Curtin could give examples of this because I know he alluded to it in his presentation. It would be very helpful to us as politicians in rolling this out and helping communities empower themselves to take ownership of it.
Mr. Joseph Curtin:
It is important to be very clear about where we are with costs. I recognise Deputy Dooley's questions and other questions about where we are on our renewable targets. If we take the current trend, we are not going to get anywhere close to meeting our renewables target. That is the answer to the Deputy's question. If we presume a linear extrapolation, we will miss our target by about 3% or maybe slightly more. If we make a really optimistic assumption and imagine an exponential trend where the line curves upwards, we only miss our target by 1% or 2%. We are not on target to meet our renewables target. The main reason for that is the heat sector rather than the electricity sector. That is an important point to make.
The key here is how we will build community acceptance and buy-in. How are going to make sure that our climate policy is socially proofed and community proofed? What has worked in other countries is to quite simply get communities involved in owning these assets. Some 50% of renewables in Germany are owned by local communities in Germany and it is approximately the same in Denmark. Other places like the UK and Ontario are rolling out a whole range of incentives to get communities involved as investors in these technologies. That is the answer. The renewable heat incentive is currently on the table and, notwithstanding the fact that we had an energy White Paper that put energy citizens at the very core, it does not mention communities. It is focused on industrial applications. I think that no matter what policy proposals we are putting forward, be it a replacement to the feed-in tariff for electricity which is probably not going to be a feed-in tariff but some kind of support mechanism, it has to be focused on getting communities and citizens more involved in low-carbon transition. That is at the absolute heart of the resistance at the moment to many of these technologies. As I said, there really is an opportunity here to get communities and citizens more involved. There are roadmaps to draw upon from many different countries that have done this successfully. I set some of those out in the last slide of my presentation. Hopefully, that can inform the debate. This is the focus of my research in UCC and I would be very happy to come back and talk to the committee in a little bit more detail if it had a further session on this topic. I really believe that it is a key challenge to be addressed.
I agree with the points Mr. Curtin is making about the importance of involving communities, but it seems to me that there is an irony that those who profess to be most worried about the environment also seem to be the first to tog out against a lot of schemes by looking at it from a different environmental perspective. They do not mind interconnectors to nuclear power stations or whatever in Britain. That is fine because they do not notice it. However, they do notice a wind turbine and they object to many things being built, such as tidal barrages or anything like that.
Anything that touches the environment appears to be absolutely ruled out at one level. At the same time, when one considers the Corrib gas field, Carnsore and the like, virtually every option Ireland has generates huge internal opposition to it, coming from one end of the spectrum.
Mr. Joseph Curtin:
I wonder if that is because of the 25% of our energy that comes from wind, only 0.02% is owned by community groups. The Templederry Community Wind Farm is the only one we have. We have done well to get that much wind on the system so quickly, but I am not sure about this model of institutional investors and professional project developers coming into communities and building wind farms in them. There are community benefit schemes in place but they are not related to ownership. If every time one looked at the wind turbine and knew that each time it turns it puts money in one's pocket, I have a feeling that would change people's perspective on this. It is not everybody's perspective, as some people will continue to object, but we must explore those options.
Dr. John O'Neill:
I wish to add to the points made because this is a key issue in terms of having a view from the local community on climate action and so forth. The programme for Government contains a commitment to having a national dialogue on climate change. This follows on from the mandate in the White Paper on energy with regard to having a national energy forum. This is something we are hoping to run with quite soon and, hopefully, it will have a long-term life. It will bring out, at local and regional level, the issues that are important to people, not just on the mitigation side with respect to low carbon but also on how we respond to the impacts of climate change and how we adapt to that at community and local level, which is really important.
Dr. Cotter might wish to add to that with regard to the work of the SEAI.
Dr. Eimear Cotter:
To add to the comments about engaging communities, SEAI has been successful in funding over 250 communities in our better energy communities programme. This is mainly focused on energy efficiency. When we talk about energy policy we tend to focus first on renewables, but looking at the energy we use and reducing it as much as possible in the first place is the way we would like to see this happen, so we reduce our energy use and then ensure that what energy we use is clean. We have had success with over 250 communities around the country. We have seen what can happen when communities get together, with support and funding from SEAI, to deliver real action in homes and businesses. With regard to moving that on, that gets the community involved and thinking about their energy use. That sets the ground for considering what to do in terms of renewables, which is another related problem, as it were, but must also be tackled. We are doing some work in the coming months, on behalf of the Department, to examine the different models we have discussed here for how to engage communities in renewable energy projects, be that a benefit fund that they can avail of or opportunities to invest in renewable projects which will take many different forms, and also how to engage communities from the beginning and through the planning stage rather than imposing solutions when, really, it is too late.
I am sorry I was not present for all the presentations. One question that bothers me is how we see joined-up thinking on climate change and reaching our targets. I was alarmed when I read the EPA report, and I am sorry I missed that presentation. The report clearly showed that it is estimated we will be between 9% and 14% below targets by 2020. On the one hand, that is very serious. On the other hand, I attend sittings of the Dáil and committee meetings and hear, for example, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine boasting about looking forward to having the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, with Canada so we can beef up our beef trade with Canada. In addition, we are delighted that we have just done a big deal for live exports with Egypt. That does not make sense. On the one hand we are trying to reach a position where we can reduce our CO2emissions but on the other we are flying ahead with policies that will clearly increase them. It is farcical to say that one should out-balance the other. If what the EPA says is true, and I do not doubt that it is, and given that many other organisations have said they are very concerned about the low level of the targets being reached not just here but globally, surely we should take a more proactive approach not just to finding ways to use our land better but also to keeping down our emissions in general. Every sector in our emissions production should be examined.
I was thinking about buying an electric, carbon-free car. Very few of them have been bought in this country. The target is over 5,000, but only approximately 560 were bought up to Christmas last year because they cost a hell of a lot of money. None of that makes sense. On the one hand we are saying, "here is this great report and this is how we do it", but it appears that we are swapping CO2emissions in order to pretend that we are keeping up with our targets. The reality, and all of the reputable organisations continue to say as much, is that we are hurtling towards a very serious climate disaster if we do not take this seriously. I do not believe this Government takes it seriously. It is just shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanicwhen it does not challenge sectors such as transport and agribusiness in a serious way. Clearly, transport is a problem. Every morning cars are bumper to bumper for miles on the M50, with one person in each of the cars. There are many disused railway lines around that country that we must put back in use. There should be big investment in getting railway infrastructure in place and improving public transport to take cars off the roads. I do not see any of this happening. In fact, recent arguments with bus drivers and current arguments with Bus Éireann show that the investment in public transport is going down rather than up.
This is all mad. One side of the head is thinking a different way from the other side. There is no joined-up thinking in this Government. This committee, in some ways, should oversee joined-up thinking if we are to tackle the CO2emissions problem and reach our targets. Otherwise, these are just lovely reports which are very interesting, but where will they go and where will it all end up? It is a very serious issue.
Dr. John O'Neill:
The Deputy raised a wide range of issues. To take up the matter of joined-up thinking, the current position, which is underpinned by legislation since last year, is to have a whole-of-government approach in terms of how we plan for mitigation and in making sure that all the relevant sectors contribute towards the national mitigation plan. As I mentioned earlier, the key part of that will be trying to align policies within that national plan to ensure that the plan is coherent and is relevant to the targets at EU level and our broad overall commitments under the Paris Agreement. This is challenging. There is no getting away from that. It raises the questions that were raised here earlier. It will raise questions for the Government in terms of the choices it must make in policies and measures into the future and in terms of the fiscal space, to use that term, with regard to how certain policies and measures get funded to the exclusion, perhaps, of other measures in different sectors that do not get funded, be they in education, health and so forth. The key thing was to try and mainstream climate into all the different policies we are looking at, so all the policies brought forward by the different Departments and sectors are examined from the point of view of climate, and that the national mitigation plan would reflect that in a co-ordinated way.
I wish to comment on that. Dr. O'Neill talked about funding and fiscal space but there are also the political decisions that are made to facilitate the big for-profit industries, such as the beef industry I mentioned. I am not talking about the ordinary farmer with five cows going up a lane, but big ranchers who engage in the production of beef on a massive scale for export. The export of such food is causing a major problem for our country's carbon emissions. There must be economic thinking which states that we must move away from growing more animals to growing other types of food to feed people.
The reason is chiefly relevant from an environmental point of view, but it is also relevant from a health point of view. There needs to be joined-up thinking about the way we use our land. The reports to me to date do not suggest any wonderful thinking about how we should use our land in future to reduce emissions.
Mr. Paul McKiernan:
I will keep it at a reasonably high level. I have no wish to get down into what may or may not have been said elsewhere. The national climate policy document is completely consistent with the findings of the European Council. All 28 Heads of State agreed in October 2014 that European policy to 2030 should examine the best means of encouraging sustainable intensification of food production while optimising the sector's contribution to greenhouse gas mitigation and sequestration, including through afforestation. How do we respond to demand? Let us be clear: the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations will make it clear where the world population is going as far out as 2050. That is something of every country has to be cognisant. Ireland is not going to feed that demand on its own.
There is another key aspect to this. The joint research centre of the European Commission undertook a detailed survey of various agricultural systems throughout the 28 member states. The survey was published in 2011. Ireland and Austria were found to have the lowest carbon footprint per kilogram or per litre of product. We were joint fifth on beef, something we can improve on. If Ireland opts out of seeking to feed these markets, the gap will be filled. Will it be filled by a producing country as efficient as the Irish system? The answer is open to conjecture. That is the position at a high level. Mr. Muldowney may wish to make some further remarks.
Mr. John Muldowney:
I will offer a high level comment from the perspective of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Last summer, Food Wise 2025 was published. Sustainability is seen to be at the heart of how Food Wise 2025 works. The Department's commitment in this regard is evident. We have set up an environmental sustainability committee that includes the various Departments and agencies that have an involvement. The aim is to try to monitor and oversee progress on sustainability targets.
In the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine significant measures have been put in place under the rural development programme. These are driving sustainability at farm level. A sum of €1.4 billion is in place for the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme. Farmers participate in GLAS to try to encourage better land management and fertiliser use on the farm. Another headline scheme is the beef data and genomics programme to try to drive down the emissions intensity of our beef herd. The average beef herd owner in Ireland is no rancher; the average herd is 14 cows. This is the type of farming system we are trying to foster in the rural landscape in Ireland.
People might argue about the merits of growing more cereals or more arable production, but that would be at the cost of our significant carbon pool in the grasslands. The average carbon pool per hectare in grasslands is approximately 200 tonnes. In tillage, the corresponding figure is 50 tonnes. That will be released over a number of years if we convert to that type of land use. Again, there is the question of balance in all of this. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is engaging with the horticulture sector and has significant investment schemes in horticulture to try to ensure the competitiveness of the sector in terms of potatoes and vegetables and everything that happens there. We are looking at all of these options.
Mr. Joseph Curtin:
I will make a brief comment in reply to Deputy Smith. The Institute of International and European Affairs published a report on climate smart agriculture recently. Some of the points Deputy Smith has made are interesting. We probably need to look more at land use rather than doing everything as efficiently as we can. We need to do everything as efficiently as we can, but we also need to look at our land use choices.
In 1984 when the milk quota was introduced we had limited beef production and far more milk production. Now, milk quotas have been abolished. We need to decide in a big picture sense where this will bring us in the coming ten years. Are we going to try to focus on the things that I would describe as climate-smart? Such approaches are economically good for farming and rural communities as well as being emissions-efficient. We need a bigger debate on this question. I welcome the comments of Deputy Smith. She has touched on some interesting issues. I urge committee members to read the IIEA report on climate smart agriculture.
On behalf of the committee I thank the witnesses for coming in this evening. I propose to forward the transcript of the discussion to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment for information. Is that agreed? Agreed. I propose that the committee publishes the submissions received in respect of this meeting. Is that agreed? Agreed.