Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 12 December 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action
Third Report of the Citizens' Assembly: Discussion (Resumed)
I welcome members and viewers who may be watching our proceedings on Oireachtas TV to the 16th public session of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action. Before I introduce our witnesses, at the request of the broadcasting unit, members and visitors in the Public Gallery are requested to ensure their mobile phones are switched off or placed in flight mode.
On behalf of the committee, I extend a warm welcome to Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir, director of the MaREI Centre and his colleagues, Dr. Fionn Rogan, Dr. James Glynn and Ms Clare Watson. Before we commence, I advise the witnesses 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 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 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.
Members are reminded of the long-standing ruling of the Chair 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. I invite Professor Ó Gallachóir to make his opening statement.
Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir:
We are very grateful for the opportunity to discuss our research findings with the committee. As part of our work we support several Departments with our analysis and the committee's meetings with them have highlighted that. The committee's work is both very timely and important. One of the things we will show in our analysis is that the lack of political leadership is one of the reasons we are in the current position. I do not mean just Government leadership. If the committee can achieve cross-Oireachtas consensus on urgent climate action, that would be a key requirement for Ireland to move forward from a laggard position to a leadership position.
I would like to reiterate an invitation to visit the centre given by Mark Ferguson from Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, when he attended the committee. I am delighted to invite members to visit us at the MaREI Centre, if timing allows, to see some of the work that we do and some of the opportunities associated with the energy transition.
I will turn to my presentation, which highlights some of the research findings on climate action. The key policy insights are the headline outcomes. We have introduced some successful policy measures in this country, and I will touch on them, but they are not enough and they are not across the full gambit of the emissions spectrum. We have a gap to our mandatory 2030 target that is quantified at 100 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. I will show where that comes from. Early and sustained action in climate change mitigation is essential and requires political leadership. The energy transition requires everything to be addressed. We have a significant challenge and it requires efficiency, reduced consumption, bioenergy, renewable electricity and carbon capture and storage. There are many elements to the energy transition and one of the challenges is that we tend to focus on a few individual things and that is partly the reason we are in the current situation.
I ask the committee not to forget the 28% of households that experience energy poverty. That is one of the reasons we do our analysis from a least-cost approach. We see a lot of technical guidance being provided to communities for community development and community energy, which is great. That is essential, but the societal capacity that needs to be built is critical and community development approaches are essential in that.
The mission of MaREI is to advance energy and marine research in order to facilitate, underpin and provide evidence for the energy transition. A key part of that is the policy context but also societal engagement. Those are topics that we will come back to.
We have seven different research areas. As well as being the director of the centre, I lead the area on energy policy and modelling. That is where we do the number crunching for climate action. We also have significant research capacity and activity under way in marine renewable energy technologies, offshore wind energy, wave energy and tidal energy. Bioenergy has significant untapped potential. We also have a particular focus on energy management and efficiency in industry.
Most of our work is nationally focused but we have done some work internationally. We have been informing the delivery of the Paris Agreement, which was agreed in December 2015. It was a political agreement and at the time there was not much analysis available as to what was required to deliver it, so we undertook some analysis on what would be required in an Irish context. We fed that into a book that I edited which captured case studies from countries across the world and that was referred to recently in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, report on how we can achieve the transition to a 1.5° Celsius world.
Another area we have been working on is informing EU policy. In 2014 the EU decided that a minimum target for 2030 for the EU would be to achieve 27% of its energy from renewable sources. We did some analysis with the International Renewable Energy Agency, IRENA, to see if that could be increased and one of the recent decisions that was made in the summer of this year was to increase that target for 2030 from 27% to 32%. That is where we have contributed internationally in terms of policy development but most of our focus has been national.
In 2013 we produced the first low carbon energy roadmap for Ireland. That fed into the discussions. I was at one of the Oireachtas committees around the time the climate legislation was being developed. We subsequently did some work focusing on other aspects of energy policy, including energy poverty and energy security. That fed into the White Paper on energy that was published in 2015.
We did some work then to inform the national mitigation plan that was published last year. We also did some work on informing the Government's negotiations with Brussels about what should be Ireland's ambition and targets for 2030.
The two most recent analyses have been to inform the national energy and climate plan for the Department and to look at a higher ambition strategy for Ireland, associated with the forthcoming all-of-Government action plan. That is some of the analysis and how it feeds into policy decisions.
We have more than 61 million tonnes in annual greenhouse gas emissions. Over a quarter of that is associated with the emissions trading scheme, ETS, which includes emissions associated with electricity generation and large industry. The rest are non-ETS emissions, which are agriculture, transport, heating in our homes and in other buildings. That is what we have the current mandatory target for emissions reduction for, for 2020 and 2030. This shows where those emissions come from in detail. Electricity production is a significant part of our emissions but does not form part of our non-ETS obligatory target under the 2020 and 2030 EU directives. We can see that the non-ETS emissions relate to cars, trucks, homes and cows. Those are the bigger elements of our non-ETS emissions.
We have done very well in some areas in the last years. The carbon intensity of our electricity has halved since 1990. Every kilowatt hour of electricity we use results in approximately half the emissions it did in 1990. Some 30% of our electricity now comes from wind, up from 7% in 2005. We talk about leadership sometimes. We are world-leading with wind energy integration. In transport, the carbon intensity of new cars is one third lower than it was in 2008 due to the change in the car tax regime. Our biofuel obligation is not talked about much but it is probably our biggest result in the last number of years in contributing to our non-ETS emissions reduction target, with 300,000 tonnes a year. We have approximately 4,000 electric vehicles and 26,000 hybrid cars on the road. With regard to heating, we have introduced significant building regulations and our new homes now have 70% better energy performance than in 2005. We also have grant schemes available for people to retrofit their homes and 390,000 homes have availed of these. It is not that we have done nothing. We have done a number of things.
On where that leaves our numbers, a graph in my presentation shows EPA projections and historical analysis of our non-ETS emissions. We can see that, broadly, it was flat for the first years after 2005. It dropped in the recession. Since the recovery, we have been in an expansion with regard to emissions. It is estimated that by 2020, we will be close to where we were in 2005. The way in which compliance with that target is achieved is not specifically through achieving the 20% reduction but by staying within the carbon budget of 338 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. During the recession years, our emissions were lower than what was in our targets so we were able to bank them. Since the recovery, our emissions have grown so our current gap to the target is 17 million tonnes. When we talk about fines, what is generally meant is purchasing compliance and we are purchasing 17 million tonnes of credit. These numbers that have come about, whether €150 million or €600 million, relate to the purchase of those emissions. That is the current estimate of the gap to target.
Why are we so far off target if we have these policies and measures in place? The first area is growth and politics. There has been a 16% growth in the population of Ireland and a 30% growth in the economy since 2005. This is the new revised measure of economic growth, not GDP, which would be much higher. Unfortunately, political leadership on climate action has been lacking. We have had significant changes in electricity but they do not contribute to this target so they do not appear. Moneypoint, peat plants, wind and solar are important to talk about but they do not contribute to that mandatory target. Despite what we have done on transport, there has been a 24% increase in the annual distance driven since 2005 so we are driving much more and we have no policy measures relating to freight. Freight is like a sleeping giant. With regard to heating, we had great building regulations but we have not been building many houses so those have not kicked in. The retrofits that have taken place have largely been shallow, including people putting insulation into their attics, which is important, but there is still significant energy wastage in our buildings. We have not had any support for renewable heat until recently. If we look forward to 2030, we can see that the target is more ambitious. It is 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. We have a set of annual targets, which effectively sets a carbon budget over the period 2021 to 2030. One can see the difference on display between that line and the EPA projections. The gap is in the order of 100 million tonnes. That is our current gap to target in the latest official national projections from the EPA.
I will address our key findings. Since this is a carbon budget, rather than just what we achieve in 2030, anything we do in 2021 is sustained across the period. If we get 1 million tonnes in a saving in 2021 which is maintained over that period, it contributes 10 million tonnes to our gap to our target. Early action is important. We need a more urgent focus on renewable heat and transport. Most of our discussions on renewable energy have centred on renewable electricity, including wind and solar photovoltaics. We have not had the same level of discussion on biogas, biofuels, biomass and heat pumps, which are other areas that can contribute to renewable heat and transport. Our heat and transport account for 80% of our energy use. Electricity accounts for 20% of our energy use. While we get 30% of our electricity from renewable sources, that is only 6% of our overall energy. If we really want to expand our renewable energy, which we need to, and to meet our emissions reduction targets, we need to focus on renewable heat and transport.
Another finding from our work on 2030 relates to a number of measures in the national development plan focusing on electric vehicles, heat pumps and people upgrading and retrofitting their homes. These are essential. It is hard to see how they can deliver a significant amount to our target for 2030 because these things take time and there is a cumulative effect of somebody making an individual decision which then transfers outwards. Those things will take time. They are essential but they are likely to contribute more to the period post-2030 than to our target for 2030. That is not to say we should not be doing them, since they are important.
With regard to 2030, there has been much discussion in this committee about carbon tax, which currently raises approximately €400 million per annum for the economy. We did some analysis for the Citizens' Assembly. If that was doubled, there would be approximately €400 million more per annum. Using €35 million of that to offset energy poverty would be important. Increasing the fuel allowance by €4 per tonne for the approximately 400,000 households in receipt of fuel allowance would mean that the carbon tax would be offset by that increase in payment. It would only knock €35 million off the €400 million and is an important point to raise about energy poverty.
With regard to 2050, we did an analysis that I mentioned earlier which fed into some of the global discussions. When we look at 2050, one can see that the steepness of what we need to do is phenomenally challenging. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report states that we have 12 years to go, which is the kind of thing that comes through in this analysis. We are on the brink of missing the opportunity to stay within 1.5° C.
Some of our analysis on 2050 suggests that the time to act is now. When we look at 2050, there is a danger that the measures needed to achieve those targets are not put in place now. Electric vehicles, EVs, are a good example and we had a target in 2007 to have 10% of our fleet electric by 2020. That means that in two years we should have 230,000 EVs on the road but we have 4,000 at the minute. It is important that when long-term plans or ambitions are put in place that the activity is started now.
Some of the other findings from our 2050 analysis tell us that there are no silver bullets. This goes back to what I mentioned earlier about how we tend to focus on specific issues. Homes and EVs are one initiative and wind and solar energy are another. These are all important but we need other initiatives. We need to sort out freight. Our analysis shows that if efficiency and electricity are sorted in terms of renewable electricity and the electrification of heat and transport, that will get us about halfway there. There is still another 50% that needs something else. There is much less discussion on biofuels, biogas and carbon capture and storage and it is important that these discussions happen now in the context of timing.
Near zero carbon, zero carbon or even negative carbon electricity are needed to achieve the ambition of mitigation by 2050. Significant reductions in carbon dioxide from electricity and other sectors are needed but we need to have some discussion on carbon capture and storage in that context. If we only rely on wind and solar photovoltaics, PV, there is an energy security consideration and there are cost considerations so we need to have those discussions and develop approaches where we can move towards near zero, zero or negative emissions in electricity and these will not be easy discussions. This transition will be difficult. Sometimes simplistic solutions are mooted and put forward but pretending it is simple only makes it harder.
I reiterate that 2050 is not just about electricity. Parts of the energy system are discussed less such as aviation, maritime shipping, freight and the heavy goods industry where much of our energy use takes place so we need to find solutions for same. Within the MaREI Centre, we have an active biogas research group focusing on energy from waste, grass and algae and there is also a need to look at energy from wood. In the short term, this would not be wood for electricity but it would be biomass for heat and transport, using liquid and gaseous biofuels.
I refer to community energy. Energy citizenship is becoming more accepted but energy communities are struggling, according to our experience and our research and we have conducted transdisciplinary research with communities to try to understand how they are grappling with the challenges they face. Intermediaries such as the Tidy Towns and the GAA would not traditionally be associated with the energy transition, which could be tapped into. Even there, supports are needed to help them to do that. Infrastructural supports are emerging but they need more coherence. Much of the focus is on technical support but community development approaches to build societal capacity are also needed. This is particularly challenging when we think of the timing and that notion of 12 years and we have to build capacity in society in that time to enable a response. This is a difficult circle to square.
We expect a lot from volunteers and we give them grants to commission consultants to do work for them but the volunteers are struggling to meet their day-to-day needs. Community energy does not guarantee community acceptability and that is another important point. There are examples of projects that have been developed with a community energy approach and have struggled to get that acceptability. It is unhelpful to talk up community energy while these barriers exist.
I will finish by summarising the key policy insights. We have introduced some measures but not enough and not throughout the energy system. I have not talked about agriculture and that is an important aspect that I intended to mention at the start. Our focus is on energy but agriculture comprises two thirds of greenhouse gas emissions or half of the non-ETS emissions. It has come up a number of times in the deliberations so our gap to target is 94 million tonnes and I showed where that comes from. Early and sustained action and political leadership are essential and the energy transition is about a full range of measures, not just a few. The people who are experiencing energy poverty should not be forgotten. We do not want to introduce measures that will exacerbate energy poverty and we need more community development approaches in our community energy efforts.
I thank Professor Ó Gallachóir for his detailed presentation. I will begin with some of the questions that came to me as he was working through his presentation.
What are the obstacles to the development of a successful offshore renewable industry in Ireland, according to the MaREI Centre, and what can be done to overcome these obstacles? We will all have to work together to make that happen and I accept Professor Ó Gallachóir's point at the outset that the greatest result we could get from this committee is to move towards political consensus and take some of the politics out of this issue because we all have skin in the game as to how this will play out in the coming years for the country.
Are there best practice examples of offshore energy regulatory systems in other countries that Ireland can seek to emulate aspects of? With regard to offshore energy, wind and tidal energy offshore seem to be attractive issues to raise in public meetings in comparison with onshore wind developments that have not had community acceptance. How does the Professor Ó Gallachóir's find that they compare? We are told that costs are coming down but what are the challenges to the further development of that? I accept the his point that at times there is probably too much focus on this element.
On tidal energy, countries such as Portugal are probably ahead of us in terms of best practice but we have a lot of coastline so does the MaREI Centre believe there is potential in this regard?
Does the MaREI Centre have an approximate price or trajectory for a carbon tax out to 2030 to drive the necessary behavioural change for Ireland to work us towards our 2030 targets?
Does the organisation have a view on the potential approaches to the tax such fee and dividend or hypothecation models?
Teagasc are up next and I acknowledge that Professor Ó Gallachóir did not touch on agriculture much as it is not necessarily its main area of focus. Teagasc had a report on emissions abatement in agriculture that the MaREI Centre is probably familiar with. How far could these measures bring us towards the 2030 targets and how can the sector move towards this? It would be interesting to get the MaREI Centre's views on that before Teagasc come in.
On carbon capture and storage, how sound is the technology around that? Is it well proven at this stage and is it a realistic option for Ireland as part of its low-carbon energy solution?
There was a throwaway comment in the middle about sorting out freight and Professor Ó Gallachóir made it sound easy. How does he envisage that we sort out freight? Did his comment mean that it should just be banned?
Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir:
I will take the final question first. I apologise if I made it sound easy to sort out freight. My point in that was that there are areas that we have focused on and there are areas that are blind spots to us. For example, from our analysis on electrifying car transport by 2050, we see a challenge on the freight side. Because of the efficiency gains in moving to EVs, the proportion of energy drops. Energy use in cars is probably twice that of freight and that will flip around in 2050 in this analysis and, therefore, it is an issue that we need to sort out. Some of the solutions are emerging with EVs for larger fleets but some of the more proven measures are in the use of biofuels and biogas such as compressed natural gas vehicles. Gas Networks Ireland, GNI, is currently building out what is effectively a refuelling infrastructure for compressed natural gas to target freight vehicles.
If we can get biogas into the gas network in the way we do wind and solar electricity into the electricity network, we can have a renewable gas system powering our freight requirements. Hydrogen is another possibility, which is sometimes discussed in the context of freight. These are some of the options. However, my point was that it is a blind spot. It is not something we are talking about.
On obstacles to offshore renewable energy, it is an area where political leadership is essential. The biggest challenge is that of policy. It is not precisely my area, but from what I hear from colleagues, the maritime spatial planning framework is in disarray. There is none of the clarity offshore that exists with the onshore planning system. The political and policy challenges are the greatest ones there.
The costs in offshore wind energy have come down significantly. There are headlines associated with some of the numbers from auctions and so on. In this country, we have experience of auctions associated with onshore wind energy but not all of those projects were delivered. We must be careful to see what comes through to delivery and then assess the costs. However, the costs are coming down and, according to our analysis, will continue to come down. The only question is the pace. It has been faster than had been anticipated.
I would be inclined to look to Denmark as one example of best practice. They were one of the forerunners of developing offshore wind energy. Making offshore attractive is another challenge. It can be seen as a panacea if there are challenges with developing wind energy onshore. Sometimes it is as though the faraway hills are greener. There are other interests where one will find competition such as fisheries or the movement of ships. It is important to be careful about things that might be seen as an easier option until we try to get out there.
We are doing some research on tidal energy within the MaREI centre. There are some interesting companies emerging. There was a disappointing situation relating to OpenHydro which had looked promising, but there are other countries out there, such as GKinetic and others, that we are supporting to develop the technology. This is an area where there is an opportunity.
On the carbon tax trajectory, our national mitigation plan analysis, published in July 2017, suggested that we needed to go up to about €99 a tonne by 2030. This price has been adopted by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform which was using shadow prices of carbon. We have done some more recent analysis. A tricky aspect of this is that the cost of doing something different depends on the future price of alternatives, in this case oil and gas, and there is uncertainty around those. Some of our more recent analysis, with the drop in oil prices, suggests it might be more expensive. The figure of €100 might be a lower estimate. It is not necessarily that that will be the carbon tax price, but that is the price of mitigation. If we do other things, it should reduce that need. If we have grand schemes, regulations and obligations, they could all chip away at what might have to be the carbon tax itself.
I have not looked into the detail of what might be the best way to frame a carbon tax. The early analyses suggested simply using it to reduce labour tax, so that the thing that is bad is taxed, not the thing that is good. If carbon tax is increased, then the labour tax is also reduced. Different ideas are emerging now such as using it for dedicated climate action activities or, indeed, just handing it back to people. Therefore, for instance, one could take €400 million, divide it across the population of Ireland and hand it back. That would help offset energy poverty, and those emitting higher levels would pay a greater amount. However, we have not looked at this in detail and they are just some reflections on things I have seen.
On agriculture, given our Grain and Agriculture Free Trade Association, GAFTA, target of 100 million tonnes, the analysis suggests it would be 18 million tonnes. That would knock off about a fifth of the GAFTA target in terms of the 2030 target, but Teagasc would be the best organisation to speak to on that. If it is 18 million tonnes and our GAFTA target is 100 million tonnes, that gives a sense of where things sit. There is a provision within the directive to use flexibility measures, so we could reduce the amount of emissions trading scheme, ETS, credits that we auction and could also use some offsetting, effectively sequestering carbon. Those flexibility measures would knock about 50 million tonnes off that 100 million tonnes in addition to the Teagasc element which would knock off a further 18 million tonnes.
On the soundness of carbon capture and storage, CCS, a colleague who is not at this meeting visited some of the plants in the US where CCS is not so much associated with power generation than enhanced oil recovery. The technology for that is well developed. Plans were put in place about ten years ago. Like many plans put in place, and this is something I have touched on about our own situation, none of the plants has been built. We need to demonstrate and become familiar with the technology. It is available and is used for enhanced oil recovery but it is not as developed. My colleague, Dr. Glynn, has done some work on this and I will ask him to come in on this in a moment. There is an area that is very difficult to mitigate. We do not have systems that are 100% renewable electricity either, so when we look at decarbonising electricity, there is the element that can be delivered from the variable renewable electricity - hydro, natural gas with CCS, biomass, nuclear, biomass with CCS - and in each of those latter sources there are elements that are liked and disliked. The latest analysis from the IPCC and the International Energy Agency, IEA, shows that achieving the 1.5°C target cannot be done without carbon capture and storage.
Dr. James Glynn:
We recently did work on CCS for the IEA. I will give some high-level figures. There are 17 large carbon capture and storage plants globally, capturing about 13 million tonnes, that is, about half the annual Irish annual CO2 emissions. As Professor Ó Gallachóir said, the IPCC scenarios for the recent special report, SR1.5 are capturing about 200 to 800 billion tonnes of CO2 cumulatively over the whole horizon, so it is almost doubling the remaining carbon budget, giving us space. CCS in power generation costs about $50 to $100 per tonne of CO2. Therefore in the IPCC scenarios it is relatively cheap. However, we see from those models that less and less CCS is coming through in the power sector scenarios. It is largely renewables. Where CCS is being used is in industry. It is about $400 per tonne for steel furnaces and cement process emissions. How do we protect industry which does not have other options to decarbonise or get down to zero CO2 emissions? The Sleipner oil field in Norway is the oldest CCS plant in the world. It has been running since 1996 and captures about 1 million tonnes of CO2 annually. Ireland's chance of CCS is in the Kinsale field, an old gas field which could store 250 million tonnes of CO2 at about a rate of 2 million tonnes per year relatively cheaply. It is probably cheaper than CCS in other countries.
I thank Professor Ó Gallachóir and everyone in UCC for their good work on this and a whole range of issues. Let us simplify things down.
We are 100 million tonnes short. That is over the ten years from 2020 to 2030. There are all sorts of small measures in agriculture with the big ones being a change in fertiliser types. I am not sure what EBI is. Dairy EBI is mentioned in one of papers.
I am all for that. We are talking about 17 million or 18 million tonnes if all goes well with all these various measures. Regarding the other figure of 50 million tonnes that are offsets, if I understand it correctly, about 28 million tonnes of that might come from forestry and water management of organic soils and, looking at the tables, our grassland management. Is that correct? Would roughly half of it come from that area?
Teagasc tables, fine. Roughly half of that 50 million tonnes might come from forestry land use while the other half would be from the selling of the credits in the power generation, so rather than using that, we would give it over to this
Professor Ó Gallachóir did not mention transport. What are the projected emissions in the transport sector according to the modelling he has shown? How much might we expect from transport based on the analysis and modelling of Professor Ó Gallachóir?
Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir:
It is not in what I have shown. We have done some analysis on the electric vehicle, EV, measure in the national development plan, NDP, which is getting 500,000 EVs by 2030. That would give us about two million tonnes, which would be the same amount as if 2% of gas going through the pipeline came from biogas. If we start that in 2021 and have it as a fixed amount from 2021 to 2030, it would give us an amount similar to the target of 500,000 EVs. It is because of this thing. It is a carbon budget so the EVs will contribute far more in 2030 but over the period, it is a reduced amount.
In that period, our population will probably go up by 15% in the same way it did over the past 12 years. Our car fleet is growing by 55,000 vehicles every year, and unless there is an economic downturn or something changes in our transport system, there is no reason to think that it would change. The way we are going over a long trajectory and with a population increase, even if we got half a million EVs, we would still probably have half a million more cars, so we might have no net decrease in the transport sector.
Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir:
No. The issue of consumption is significant. Our analysis contains what is called elastic demand, so as the price goes up for the different fuels and different forms of energy, part of addressing or responding to that price increase can be to reduce demand. We have not looked at how that could be achieved in terms of lifestyles or consumption patterns. I am not aware of analysis that points directly to that. Our work for the mitigation plan shows what meeting that emissions reduction target will cost. Our analysis came up with a figure of the order of €100 per tonne by 2030. The Teagasc analysis was not available to us at that stage so energy took the full hit. The full 50 million tonnes were taken by the energy system so it involved measures in homes, freight, transport and the services sector.
Professor Ó Gallachóir knows that I have been critical of his work in one regard. I believe there is an overemphasis on the role of biomass, biogas, biomethane and biofuels in this projection of where we are going. Modelling what is going to happen next is always uncertain. A very good report was produced by a series of environmental NGOs such as Climate Action Network Europe, Greenpeace, Oxfam, Transport and Environment, the European Environmental Bureau, worldwide federations and wetlands associations concerning the pitfalls and potential of the role of bioenergy in EU climate and energy policy post 2020. I cite that report because there is a real concern in seeing biofuels as a solution in the transport area because we know that the effect of biofuels on land use is really acute. I remember someone high up in a UN agency being asked at a conference I attended how much biomass would be required worldwide if we were to replace our oil energy use with biomass. His answer was that we would need to use every single piece of biomass on the entire planet, with no food being produced because we would be using all of it and it would produce 20% of the energy we currently use from the oil sector. Looking at it from a global perspective, the reliance on biomass is not the silver bullet. We must be very careful. We should be looking at models such as those used by the Danes and others who agree that anything we do in biomass should possibly involve setting a global cap per country, because they say this problem will be tackled globally, and not going above that cap.
I have real concerns about some of the solutions here. I have real concerns about the possible use of biomethane and anaerobic digestion. If this is coupled with what I see from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, namely, a massive continuing increase in pig and poultry production involving animals fed on imported grain and thinking that is sustainable, we will have water problems and all sorts of other problems such as ammonia down the line. If we keep going with an agricultural model, which is all about global trade and plcs making money, which is trashing the environment, and call it green because we have some biogas at the end of it to run our transport system, it will be a flawed solution. Bord na Móna appeared before the committee. Bord na Móna has a significant future, but if we import three million or four million pellets or wood biomass from native forests somewhere else, which involves chopping down trees, and using half a million tonnes of our own biomass here, it will quadruple the price of biomass in the area where we need it most, which is combined heat and power in the food industry. There is all this talk about grass to gas when we face the risk of not being able to feed our cattle this winter if it is a long winter.
Does Professor Ó Gallachóir not agree that there needs to be a national land use study that would work out the land use implications of all this reliance on biomass that he seems to be promoting and that we should also check in on the international community, including the environmental NGOs, as to the likely long-term strategy with regard to the use of biomass on a global level? What is being proposed, which involves buying it all, shipping it in and burning it here, with two thirds of the energy ending up as heat going up a chimney, or a massive increase in pig and poultry production to give us anaerobic digestion as biogas, is just not sustainable.
It is called Pitfalls and potentials – the role of bioenergy in the EU climate and energy policy post-2020, by, among others, Actionaid, Bird Life and Climate Action Network Europe. I will provide the Chairman with a copy.
Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir:
It highlights the challenges in this space. If we want to remove carbon from our economies, there are very significant challenges. There are challenges associated with any of the technology options. We do not promote one over the other. There might be a misconception of what our analysis does. What we try to do is feed in agnostically the costs associated with different technologies, how they are projected to develop or evolve over time and see how we can meet the climate ambition at least cost.
As mentioned, we have also carried out an analysis where we rule out certain things given that many things can be ruled out. We do not promote certain things but, instead, we do experiments. The question of CCS came up earlier. We have run scenarios where we assume CCS will not be developed and others where we assume we cannot import any bioenergy. Two things happen when we do that. First, the solutions become more difficult because we have fewer options to choose from and, second, they become more costly. It is not just an energy poverty issue and there is a range of social and economic inequalities. However, we do not want solutions that veer away from least-cost unless there is a very good reason to do that.
I agree with regard to least-cost but there is nothing least-cost about burning biomass in a power station. As an engineer, Professor Ó Gallachóir would agree there is no economic case for losing two thirds of waste heat up a chimney and that it is purely a social case. I would love to see us drive Bord na Mona towards the retrofit business. The economic cost to the State of Bord na Mona continuing to run peat-fired power stations to 2025, to give that as an example, must be some 5 million tonnes a year. If we stop that earlier, let us say in 2020, in that five years we are taking about saving 25 million tonnes. It is in the ETS but, as has just been stated, we will have to pay hundreds of millions of euro to buy credits or give up credits in the ETS. This would be an economic decision that would return hundreds of millions of euro to this State, which we could invest in Bord na Mona directly to employ people to develop energy efficient housing. That is the clever economic development we should take.
I come back to my key question. As well as doing the energy modelling, does Professor Ó Gallachóir not think there is a case for preparing a national land use plan? For example, if we are going to ramp up to 20,000 hectares of new forestry as a good form of carbon storage, what type of forestry do we need and where will it be? How much grass is going to feed our animals and how much are we going to send into the transport system, if that is the plan? Where is that going to grow and who is going to grow it? In addition to all of those questions is that relating to where we stand globally. Do we just get as much biomass as we can in a winner takes all, "grab the biomass from wherever we can get it" approach, or are we going to be part of a global, responsible management system for biomass? Does Professor Ó Gallachóir agree in regard to the national land use plan and being part of an international co-operative mechanism in terms of what we do on biomass?
Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir:
We do not have biomass for power generation. We have a lot of bioenergy coming through in our analysis but, in the short term, that bioenergy is used for heat and for transport. In the long term, there may be a need for biomass with CCS in order to get negative emissions in electricity, depending on what can be done in the other sectors. It is important to clarify that on the record.
Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir:
I read the transcripts. Different Departments brought up the issue of relying on our analysis. It is the same message that is on the record all the time. The comment is always, "We do not agree with this analysis on the use of biomass in power-gen", even though that is not in our analysis. We have bioenergy in our analysis. I cannot see how we can have a climate mitigation solution with bioenergy. I see potential economic, agricultural and social opportunities associated with bioenergy and I believe it is not being discussed in the way it should be. It is a difficult thing to discuss and there are environmental consequences, but there are consequences with everything we do. We could look at the EVs that are promoted and that are excellent, but if one talked to the people in the Congo where cobalt mining is being used to generate that, they would give a very different picture of how green EVs are. For every one of these technological solutions, we can find benefits and challenges associated with them. Our analysis is technology-agnostic. We do not pick winners; we look for least-cost solutions. It is a question of what an energy system of the future will look like if we want to meet this ambitious target at least cost.
While I agree that the MaREI Centre's analysis does not show that, the point I wanted to make was that it was being used to promote biomass in power generation. On all the other uses, all I am asking for is detailed analysis on the environmental effects and the sustainability, social and international aspects. I am not disagreeing with what Professor Ó Gallachóir said but we need that analysis.
When I read through the presentation, the two terms that came out for me were "coherence" and "political leadership". In a broader context, Professor Ó Gallachóir said in his presentation that the MaREI Centre has introduced some successful policy measures. If he had to pick one area to advance to get the policies behind the MaREI Centre, which on has been the most progressive and successful to date? I take into consideration that we are all conscious of the fact we are playing catch-up and we are coming to the table way too late on this, which is unfortunate but cannot be denied. With that in mind, there is also the danger of not getting the maximum from our inputs and efforts in that there may be a knee-jerk reaction whereby we start spending money foolishly. From his research, what technological advancements does Professor Ó Gallachóir foresee? Would we be well advised, without sounding like we are shirking the issue, to take a step back and look at where technology will be in two, five or ten years time and plan towards that target, rather than everybody losing the run of themselves, if the professor knows where I am coming from? What technological advances does he foresee?
I was at a meeting this morning at which we discussed heavy haulage, air transport and so on. This is going to take a long time and our best way of making progress will be the mixing of biofuels with fossil fuels. We can achieve fantastic results but the bottom line is that, for the foreseeable future, there will not be a day when we are not burning fossil fuels in heavy vehicles. Our best approach is that there is a mixture with biofuels. With that in mind, what is Professor Ó Gallachóir's view on proposals with regard to exploration in Irish seas for gas and oil? We are going to need a combination and there is also the potential benefit of CCS, which was mentioned earlier, so it is not all negative when it comes to taking fuel from the ground.
We get many different opinions on tax versus incentivisation and we have talked about carbon tax. In the broader spectrum of the Irish public, what one incentivisation scheme would Professor Ó Gallachóir think is the most advantageous? If he had a pot of money to try to progress this project, what way of spending it would give the best value in terms of incentivising communities to buy in?
Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir:
Those are very good questions; there was a lot in that. In terms of coherence and political leadership, the Senator is right that these are the two things that are necessary but missing. We have had some successful measures but they have been bitty, so having a coherent targeted approach is essential. Political leadership has been lacking so we have not actually delivered on some of the ambitions we set ourselves.
In terms of what is the most important, it is probably the least discussed. The one that is discussed most in terms of meeting our targets has been the biofuel obligation but when one goes into a petrol station, there is no signage up and no mention of it, and it does not get the same discussion. Transport is seen as the most difficult sector to decarbonise, after agriculture, and there is good reason for that. However, the biofuel obligation scheme has been probably the most successful measure in terms of delivering on our emissions reductions targets.
I was asked about the technology and advances. I will bring Dr. Rogan in momentarily because we have just finished a project on the opportunities associated with the energy transition. It is about the opportunities associated with the technologies and it ties into the question on timing and whether we should wait. We do not have the luxury of time in which to wait because of the urgency-----
Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir:
There is a good point in that the technology costs are coming down. If we come in later, we will avail of technologies others have paid for. While there is a logic to the argument, that ship has sailed now, in particular if we are talking about leadership. We must be careful, of course, about what we invest in, which is another point the Senator made regarding tax versus incentives. If there is one measures I suggest considering - and it is only because it has not been on the radar - it is an obligation or incentivisation scheme to introduce biogas into our gas system. If we do not decarbonise our gas pipeline and if it does not become renewable, it will be come obsolete. The opportunity exists to make it renewable. There are six gas utilities around Europe which have committed to decarbonising gas by 2050. I refer to our 2030 targets. Gas Networks Ireland has a target of 20% of the gas in the pipeline being renewable by 2030. If we started at 2% in 2021 and ratcheted up to 20%, it would save us 16 million tonnes on a crude, back of the envelope calculation. It would knock 16 million tonnes off our 100 million tonnes gap to target. It would be the one thing I suggest looking at because it is not in any of the documents anywhere but is nevertheless a significant proposition. The key advantage of it is that people are using gas in their homes already. If one changes that gas to renewable gas, the customer does not have to make a decision around anything. It happens on the supply side and is therefore something that can be implemented quickly. It would not require end-user choices to inject biogas into the gas grid.
Reference was made to a ban on oil and gas exploration. I watched with interest the discussions at the other committee in that regard. I again found that our analysis was used by different parties on both sides of the argument. Some argued with each other using different parts of our analysis. It is a very complex question. The reality is that whatever our trajectory is, 75% of our energy currently comes from oil and gas. Apart from Corrib, it is all imported. We are relying currently on imports of oil and gas. Oil should certainly disappear from our system whereas gas can be converted over to biogas. On the timing of a ban, it would send a symbolic message. It would not deliver any specific emissions reductions but would be symbolic. There is a choice which needs to be made as to whether the message outweighs the fact that we could use the product of a find rather than to continue to import fuels in the timeframe during which we are still using oil and gas. That is a short answer to a complex issue.
Senator Paul Daly mentioned heavy oil use in aviation and he is right that those are areas in which there are blind spots. We see biogas as having potential in that regard. We see hydrogen as having a role also albeit more in freight than aviation. Aviation is likely to require a liquid fuel. This is where it gets tricky and it touches on the discussion of electricity versus bioenergy. We see half of the energy system requiring something like a solid or liquid form of energy. That can be renewable but there are challenges associated with it. Dr. Rogan wants to come in on the question of advances in technology. I think I got the others.
Dr. Fionn Rogan:
We recently did a project on the opportunities associated with the transition to a low-carbon economy in Ireland. There are a few technology areas we explored in greater detail to understand the opportunity and potential. To pick up on some of what Brían said, there is a potential resource regarding biogas and freight. There is also an existing gas network which could be ungraded to use with renewable energy. With the right mix of incentives, whether that is the right level of carbon tax or a grant, a lot of progress could be made. There is a great deal of potential also from energy efficiency in industry and we have also developed some smart digital tools to sustain energy savings in industry settings in Ireland. Wave energy innovation is another area we have looked at as to the policy and technology needs. We have done some initial analysis on the risks and returns of different technology. There is uncertainty about how technologies will development and how the cost and mix of technologies will develop over time. One of the risks we considered in our risk-return matrix was political risk and how uncertainty in carbon prices or around political decisions can negatively affect investment. Political leadership and cross-party agreement on climate change can mitigate that risk, strengthen the investment case and ease the pathways to a low-carbon economy. They are all challenging but that is an area where the risk can be mitigated.
Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir:
One of the challenges we identified in the context of budget discussions around climate action was that sometimes the discourse is a narrow one on carbon taxes. As I mentioned, the biofuel obligation delivered more than anything else as a single measure. An obligation around renewable gas could be significant. While carbon tax is very important, it is only one measure. We are missing out on that big piece. If the committee is having a discussion on carbon tax, I implore it to consider whether the fuel allowance could be increased by €4 a week for the heating period to avoid a negative impact on energy poverty.
I thank the witnesses for the presentation. A number of things spring to mind. At the outset, Professor Ó Gallachóir mentioned the collective responsibility we have. We have the legacy of a silo mentality on this problem. We have not worked across Departments and different areas of industry and business to adopt a holistic approach. Targets are ambitious. The fact that the target has been increased highlights the imminent crisis and the necessity for us to crack this discussion up. When we look at the growth of industry, agriculture and business on the island of Ireland, we are sometimes caught up in the headline figures while missing some of the improvements and gains in efficiency that have been made in how we conduct our business. That does not get away from the headline of increasing emissions which we must address. However, we must be cognisant of the fact within this environment of growth.
Taxes versus incentives have been mentioned. Dr. Rogan made the important point about getting the mix of incentives and taxation right. We must take a leaf out of the book of our neighbours in France where President Macron got carbon taxation wrong. That society was under immense pressure, whether in respect of agriculture, rural life or freight. When one takes a group of individuals who are under financial pressure, stress and duress and applies further taxes to them, it might not be an appropriate strategy as the French case indicates.
Regarding the electrification of our fleet of vehicles, we were told there were only 4,000 EVs on our roads. The majority of consumers would be keen to go to EVs if the cost were not so prohibitive. Electric cars are ridiculously expensive compared to their diesel and petrol counterparts. In the context of the need for a holistic approach, we must consider whether the grid and generation capacity will exist in the next few years to charge vehicles if a large proportion of cars in Dublin become EVs. I am led to believe we would need to install gas turbines atop buildings to provide charging points for some of those vehicles if that were the case. It is important to bear that in mind.
Mention was made of energy communities and the intermediaries and support they need.
We may have missed a trick in historically not embedding district and community solutions in our planning strategy. We have failed there, but we could deal with that in future. Should district initiatives and district heating infrastructure be incorporated into the planning process now that it is mandatory for development?
There have been a number of references to an holistic approach. It is an issue of not cherry-picking and not trying to get quick wins because we need to be mindful of the unintended consequences of some of our actions now. This discussion is about the next 20, 30 and 50 years. We have focused very much on generation. Deputy Eamon Ryan said we probably have not focused enough on encouraging people to consume less energy, thereby reducing our impact on the environment.
There is a reference to biomass and a reference to a land-use plan. Sometimes biomass can be misrepresented in this discussion. While it is not a silver bullet, it is certainly part of the solution. What is the view of the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy on the production of biomass? I am not referring to agroforestry because agroforestry tends to be a turn-off for farming and agribusiness people. It is like suggesting changing the shapes of all the windows and doors in our houses. While we can all do that, it is a slow process to convert it back to what it was originally. For those in agriculture, agroforestry does not always float their boat.
What is the view of the MaREI Centre on the production of hemp as a sustainable crop? In light of the shift in the business model in the midlands from peat extraction especially, could hemp as an alternative crop along with a decortication plant in the region create jobs and at least go part of the way to addressing some of the issues?
Deputy Ryan spoke about conventional farming practice. We cannot oversimplify this discussion. In the past two weeks I visited a large pig facility which will be carbon neutral. There will be no slurry and it has air scrubbers. There are no emissions and no pollution. It is a circular economy producing its own heat and electricity. We need to be careful in our discussion on agriculture.
Members of this committee are lobbied from many areas of society and we have the Citizens' Assembly recommendations. At the moment there is major pressure to deliver policy that is popular. What is the view of the MaREI Centre on the importance of focusing on evidence-based policy?
Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir:
I will ask Ms Watson to respond on the community question.
The Senator is correct about the legacy of silos. I have seen it in Departments. In recent years I have seen Departments working together. However, I now see silos in the political system and that is why this committee is so important in trying to build consensus and coherence.
Headline efficiencies have improved. Efficiency is a tricky one. While it is the low-hanging fruit in terms of cost, it generally requires getting people to change practice which is where it gets tricky. It is a no-brainer on the cost side, but difficult to achieve in practice. It is important that we do that; otherwise we are wasting energy and money.
Regarding tax under duress, it is important to learn from what is happening in Paris and the experience here with water charges. We need to learn from such experiences in how we implement policies and how we engage. Dialogue is very important in that. It creates this challenge where we have both this urgency to act and the need to bring people in a full societal movement. That is a very difficult one to square.
On electric vehicles, EVs, being cost prohibitive, it is not just costs. We recently did analysis that I am happy to share with the committee. One of the issues was not having enough models available. When people thinking of getting a new car go to forecourts, they do not see an EV and are not even told about an EV. That is changing, but while cost is a factor, there are other ones. Do we have the grid capacity to accommodate charging? In many cases people would get a grant for a home charging kit. That raises challenges not just with electrification of transport, but also with heat pumps. The analysis can, and should, be done. I do not necessarily see a need for it to be gas turbines on the top of apartment blocks. We can mitigate that. It is important to consider the unintended consequences in all these.
The Senator asked about biomass and hemp production in the midlands. That brings together the climate justice element with the renewable energy solution. On the specifics of hemp, I believe witnesses from Teagasc will address the committee in the next session. The Senator is correct that biomass is not a silver bullet, but the difficulty is that we need everything. In defending biomass, it is not that I think that it is the best or that it will do it. However, it is not getting the discussion it needs. From our analysis it is hard to see it being achieved without biomass. Biomass incorporates biogas, liquid and solid waste, wood and so on.
The Senator asked about popular policies and how we make decisions. It is a tricky one. Members all know the political game better than I do. They are trying to navigate around having the correct evidence base so that it is a well-informed policy decision. Society needs to be behind it; ideally it should lead it. I ask Ms Watson to talk about that and the issue of planning and community involvement.
Ms Clare Watson:
We need to bring the people along with us. Without people collaborating and participating in a decision it becomes top-down quickly leading to what we have seen in France. The plastic bag tax a positive example of a tax that worked. People were prepared over a period of two years for that. We need to feed that into our thinking. My research shows the importance of the resources put in at the grass roots. While leadership is key, grass-roots involvement is also key. At the moment we have many community energy groups and sustainable energy communities. We are working with people in Dingle on an interesting project. However, they cannot access money to employ somebody, for instance, to co-ordinate the work, or someone with community development experience who knows how to work with people. There is a significant gap and I urge the committee to bear that in mind and to put some time aside to look at how to engage with people.
The issue of getting the message out has come up previously. It is key to get the right message goes out. At the moment what we hear on the radio is conflicting. We are being advised to get a condensing boiler, a heat pump or an electric car. There is a debate over whether we should burn turf briquettes. Somehow we need to overcome that as part of the package.
It is important that the witnesses are here this afternoon. I had the pleasure of spending a Friday afternoon at the MaREI Centre a few months ago. It was engaging and helpful. The witnesses bring a bit of clarity to major issues. I will just ask two short questions because the Chairman has put me under such time constraint.
Where are we going with the carbon-storage model? I will be parochial. There is an energy hub in Cork Harbour. The Kinsale gas field is going through a decommissioning phase at the moment. Both of those stars are shining at the moment. What is the timeline for a national policy on carbon storage, taking into consideration the decommissioning of the Kinsale gas field in the next three to five years? The witnesses referred to the Norway model.
Can I hear the view of the MaREI centre representatives on the Kinsale gas field and the energy hub we have in Cork harbour? How will they all tie together? What do they believe we need to do at a policy level to ensure that it can be part of it?
Another parochial or minor issue concerns anaerobic digestion. Where does that fit in? There are more dairy cows in County Cork than in the entire area of Northern Ireland. Where can we tie that in with the co-operative industry across the southern and eastern base of the country? Can those involved play a role at an environmental level by improving water quality, as well as addressing the carbon issue and producing the gas that is required?
Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir:
These are good questions. We enjoyed the visit from the Senator. Senator Lombard referred to the Kinsale gas field. I know Ervia has developed plans for it. Since the gas field is largely depleted a policy decision is urgent, because there is potentially a lost opportunity. We need analysis around that, what it would deliver and we need to try to anticipate unintended consequences. It would be important to have a serious look now at some of the things that have come up rather than in a few years' time, when it is too late. I will ask Dr. Glynn to come in on that point.
Senator Lombard asked about anaerobic digestion. We have done some analysis. It was undertaken by my colleagues who work in biogas. They have mapped out the country and looked at where we could put digesters based on the different types of farming activity, the different potential for grass and the different feedstocks. I would be happy to share that with the committee.
Dr. James Glynn:
I will mention two brief points. The timeline for the Kinsale gas field will be dictated largely by the flooding of the field. It is kept pressurised for strategic storage. Once those responsible stop doing that, the field will flood. That is the lost opportunity Professor Ó Gallachóir mentioned. That is a key issue. The Norway field is for enhanced oil recovery. The Kinsale field would only be for CO2 sequestration. It would not be a matter of producing more oil but getting rid of CO2.
I am wondering about solar. It has not been mentioned. Has the MaREI Centre done any analysis on that area in the context of the mix we have discussed?
Is the MaREI analysis of transport only an analysis of the vehicles used? Does the analysis cover the travel options and choices available to people? I am referring to public transport, cycling and walking. What does the MaREI analysis tell us about the public health benefits of the various options for meeting the energy scenarios, in particular with regard to air pollution and physical activity? Can the MaREI representatives add these issues to the results generated by the models?
The question of freight is relevant. One of the big technological developments in recent years has been the automation of transport systems in ports. Has the model looked at the potential to increase the use of rail for freight as this technology becomes more widespread?
Can the deputation supply a marginal abatement cost curve for energy emissions similar to that supplied in the Teagasc presentation for agriculture?
Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir:
The latest published information we have on the marginal abatement cost curve is the analysis we did for the national mitigation plan. I am happy to send that to the committee.
We do not have specific research activity within MaREI on solar power. It is not one of the technologies we focus on. We see it emerging in our results, especially on the electricity side as one of the options as the price of solar power comes down.
I mentioned wind and solar several times. Part of our goal in presenting to the committee today is to show that wind and solar are important, but some of the other elements do not get the same level of discussion. That was where the emphasis lay.
I was asked about the public health benefits. We are working with colleagues in China, where air pollution is a major issue. In China, a total of 1 million deaths per year are associated with air pollution. We are working with colleagues who do similar modelling to bring air pollution into our scenarios. This will enable us to assess not only the implications for climate action but for air pollution as well.
As for public transport and cycling, essentially our model finds least-cost solutions. We have done some analysis but it is rather difficult to find a least-cost solution between public and private transport. If we simply put the data into the model, it would immediately go to public transport because that involves moving a larger number of people. However, it does not take into account the value that people place on their time if they are waiting at, or walking to, bus stops etc. We have done some analysis on this previously, and I can share it with the committee. We have not done anything precisely on cycling and walking and the other benefits.
I thank the MaREI representatives for their interesting contributions. I am keen to go back to the issue of carbon capture and storage. A spokesperson for Science Foundation Ireland, which funds the MaREI project, said recently at another committee meeting that we should not be too panicky about climate change. The view was that developments in science like carbon capture and storage will save us at the end of the day and that we are making great developments.
Dr. Glynn said that when he visited the US it was all about enhanced oil recovery. Do the MaREI representatives acknowledge that carbon capture and storage is not as developed as it sounds? It will not capture carbon from agriculture or transport, although it can do it from the production of fossil fuels. We should therefore be looking at afforestation, open bogs and other natural ways of carbon capture, rather than taking the view that science is going to save the planet.
Will the witnesses comment on investment in tidal and wave energy? Reference was made to some companies investing in research and development in these areas. Most people who look at Ireland would maintain we are the wealthiest country in tidal and wave energy if we could capture and exploit it. We are way ahead of anywhere else. Sweden tops the agenda in doing the best that it can do to tackle climate change. As we are on the Atlantic, we could be really wealthy in resources if we could capture those energy sources. Will the deputation comment on the amount of investment needed for the exploration of tidal and wave energy? Reference was made to how our policy on planning is an obstruction. I understand why it is an obstruction to wind energy and putting wind farms in place. As politicians we really need to address that. Can the deputation explain why the policy also is an obstruction to the development of tidal and wave energy technology?
We have 13 recommendations from the Citizens' Assembly. I imagine the MaREI representatives have seen them. If they were to pick three, which three would they pick?
Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir:
On the view that science will deliver, we do not see any silver bullets. I have said that previously. Carbon capture and storage, CCS, is not a silver bullet from our perspective. There have been arguments that we should delay things and that CCS will deliver. There have also been arguments that we should not rely on CCS at all and that we should do other things. What comes through in our analysis is that CCS is an important part of the solution but it is a small part of the solution. We need everything else as well.
I will ask Dr. Glynn to address the comment on enhanced oil recovery.
On the question about tidal and wave energy, one of our colleagues in the audience is from Maynooth University. We have teams throughout the country working on wave and tidal energy. We have done some analysis recently on what is required and by how much the costs would have to come down to make it competitive. We are trying to explore what kind of actions and polices we would need to put in place to deliver it. I will bring in Dr. Rogan on that point in a moment.
The Deputy is right to say that we are wealthy as a country in terms of our wave and tidal energy resources. It is a very difficult environment.
I did my PhD in wave energy. Some of the early prototypes put out in the ocean were ripped apart. It is a difficult and challenging environment. We do have some interesting developments, including a company called Ocean Energy building a device in Portland, Oregon. That is going to be shipped to Hawaii for testing. We have companies working with us in Ireland, such as GKinetic on tidal energy. Regarding policy, it is clear, as the Deputy noted, how that affects offshore wind energy. Turning to policy on wave and tidal energy, we put devices in the water to test then and that is where policy has an effect. We can put the test devices in our own tanks but we need permission from somebody to go to the open sea. Where is the process and planning for that? There is some leniency and we have been able to do some testing. Moving to the next level is where we need that planning policy.
Dr. Fionn Rogan:
On wave energy, we did some analysis of the scale of technology cost reductions needed to make it competitive to install the technology and deliver electricity. A reduction of about 80% was required from where technology costs are now for wave energy to be competitive. That sounds like a dramatic decrease. We looked at historic precedents for cost reduction as well, however, in respect of wind and solar PV. An 80% cost reduction is very big but there are historical precedents for that. We did additional analysis on the innovation needed to achieve that 80% reduction. We can share some of the results with the committee. We put together a policy brief on those recently. In summary, we looked at infrastructural needs, such as building up the knowledge and industrial base in Ireland. There are also technology challenges that some of our engineering colleagues are working on in the MarEI centre in Cork as well as the regulatory and consistency needs Professor Ó Gallachóir mentioned. A number of things have to come together and we can share our analysis with the committee.
Dr. James Glynn:
To stop rising temperatures, we need to stop emitting CO2. That is as clear as we can put it. Sequestration of CO2 through afforestation, CCS, direct air capture and enhanced weathering is critical. We definitely need afforestation as well as any other way to prevent the emission of CO2. The IPCC is highlighting direct air capture, enhanced weathering and CCS in its analysis. Bioenergy carbon capture and storage is the big question. What is the global resource? It is about 50 EJ now. In some scenarios, there is talk of trebling that or even an increase of up to 15 times that amount. That is the big question on CCS.
In the plants we visited in the United States, the most mature plants are capturing about 1 million tonnes to 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year. Those plants are in place because of tax regimes in Texas and Canada, where carbon taxes are about $50 per tonne. Some are in the form of rebates and some are investment charges on the cost of electricity. In the scenarios coming from the IPCC, in all of the integrated assessment models produced, bioenergy CCS, or CCS in general, is not for power generation. It produces small amounts of electricity to stabilise the grid but it is mainly to produce liquid and gaseous zero emission fuels for transport and industry. Those are sectors where it is otherwise really difficult to bring CO2 emissions to zero. In the long-term then, CCS will be concerned with zero emissions and liquid and gaseous fuels. Developing the technology is the main aspect of CCS in the short term but whether that technology is then used for fossil fuel or bioenergy in the long term is up for debate.
Fuel poverty affects 28% of households. There is an attempt to address that with insulation and other sustainable measures in housing. Most people cannot afford that and cannot match grants. Those supports are too difficult for people to access. That is, however, one of the ways we can get community involvement and get communities talking to one another. The need to insulate is inextricably linked with a realisation of the nature of climate change. Do the witnesses have ideas on how progress can be made on a community basis by talking to people and taking direct action at the same time?
Regarding the difficult area of heavy goods haulage, which is a significant emitter of CO2, have we examined the capacity of the rail network to take over some of that transport in a more environmentally-friendly way? On community ownership and the research that needs to be done on groups that have not survived, can the witnesses, off the top of their heads, give the main reason why those groups might have collapsed?
Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir:
I will hand over to Ms Watson in a moment. My own thoughts are that the Senator is exactly right regarding energy poverty and addressing that through community energy schemes. That is a very positive way to go. It is not just the money, it is also the aspect of people coming into each other's homes. In a community setting people are known to each other. That is an important dimension because there are many barriers to making community energy schemes work. The question of the rail network came up earlier as well. I apologise for not addressing it and I thank Senator Devine for reminding me of it.
We have not looked at this closely. The dispersion of the population of Ireland around the country makes this a difficult area. What we have noticed is a decline in the use of rail for freight transport. The ports are used to a slightly greater extent for freight transport but the roads are much used. There has been some analysis of electrifying rail and where that might make most sense regarding investment versus return in emissions reductions. My understanding is that it is more in the greater Dublin area than some of the intercity lines. I will try to find the information and send it to the Senator.
Ms Clare Watson:
Regarding community energy projects in the past, I am thinking of two in particular, one at Cape Clear and one on Bere Island, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They could not access funding, they could not access the electricity grid and they also had trouble with planning. They got no infrastructural or leadership support. There were others, later on, that tried to be community-oriented by accepting shares locally. Those involved will admit now, however, that they did not have the information on how to do it properly. There does seem to be a problem as well in that, even if there is an attempt to get community involvement, some people do not like wind generators. Much of the research will show that people have something called place attachment. People are very attached to the place where they live, to the view as it is now and maintaining that view in the future. Some big development coming in, or even a community development, threatens to wreck that. That is part of where long-term and in-depth engagement is needed. This cannot be rushed into, even as a community project.
Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir:
Deputy Bríd Smith asked about the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. The first recommendation was that climate change should be at the centre of policy-making. This has come up during the deliberations, but I do not think a new body is required. We need, instead, to strengthen what already exists, such as putting this committee on a permanent footing, as well as the advisory council. The fourth recommendation was on the vulnerability of critical infrastructure. The issue of adaptation does get not much discussion but it is an important recommendation. The sixth recommendation concerned trying to increase levels of community ownership in all future renewable energy projects by encouraging communities to develop their own projects. There are some moves on that with the recent renewable electricity support scheme. It does focus on electricity and community ownership and better community engagement could be extended to renewable heat and transport,
My first question picks up on wind and wave energy generation. We started hearing about this 20 years ago. I heard the reply to Deputy Bríd Smith but are there examples from around the world where wind and wave have been utilised effectively? Is the issue in Ireland due to lack of investment in research and development or is it because those technologies do not seem to be a viable alternative in respect of cost benefit or consistent output? Regarding Moneypoint power station, what is the most effective way of powering that in the future? That is a major issue and it gets bounced around. Is it natural gas? If it is, do we have the natural gas potential to supply it?
What are the greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas compared with those from oil and coal? If something is powered by oil and coal and there was a switch-over to natural gas, what would be the percentage reduction in greenhouse gas emissions?
I listened carefully to the earlier discussion about HGVs. It is a big issue because some solutions can be found in the public transport sector, including electrification of the fleet and so on, but for the haulage industry, in providing torque, or pulling power, we do not yet have them. What we are really looking at as adding biogas to the grid. What percentage of the fleet could be powered by biogas?
My last two questions are very brief. What is the optimal way to develop and implement a carbon tax, not only to achieve a reduction in emissions but also public acceptance, particularly in view of what has happened in France?
I refer to the potential to use hydro power. I do not want everyone to answer my last question, but perhaps one of the panel might answer it. We have had a dry year, weather wise, but there is still a lot of water on the island. There have been other years when there has been a hell of a lot of it. Plans have been brought forward in the past release water and flood valleys to generate electricity. Some very innovative methods used in other countries have been considered. The power plant at Ardnacrusha supplied all of the electricity needs of the State in the 1920s; my understanding is that it now supplies less than 4%. Considering that we have heavy rainfall and mountainous terrain, is there an opportunity, perhaps through using a number of hydro plants, to provide for our power needs? Obviously, hydro is a clean source of energy.
I thank Professor Ó Gallachóir for his presentation. I am sorry that I missed the start of it.
I was going to ask about fuel poverty, but Senator Devine has come in on that issue. What is Professor Ó Gallachóir's opinion on the use of biomass as a viable alternative at the likes of the plant at Moneypoint, for example? Is the fact that we would have to import most of it a disadvantage?
Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir:
They are great questions and I hope I can do them justice in responding to them.
I was asked for examples of places where the use of wind and wave energy was successful. Ireland is very successful in the use of wind energy. We are a world leader in the amount of wind energy the power system can take. Denmark is one of the few countries that obtains a higher share of its electricity supply from wind energy, but it is heavily interconnected to two large power systems which act as a cushion. The work we have done in Ireland is world-leading. Some 30% of our electricity supply now comes from wind energy. In any instant wind energy can account for a figure of 65% in our power system, which is higher than in any other power system in the world, of which I am aware.
As for examples of good practice in the use of wave energy, there is still that opportunity and no one has taken the lead over anyone else. At different times different countries have moved forward and then pulled back. They include some of the same countries mentioned, including Denmark, Portugal and Scotland. There is significant potential here, notwithstanding the challenges faced in bringing down the cost and the ocean environment, but it is an opportunity.
The future of the plant at Moneypoint is a very interesting question because it is presented as a topic in itself. If we were to close the plant at Moneypoint, what would we do? Our work looks at the whole system and it is a much bigger challenge than the one associated with the plant at Moneypoint. The fact that there is great infrastructure at Moneypoint suggests one could consider having a large power plant in the vicinity. One of my colleagues has presented the idea of having wave energy feed into that grid connection point. I saw some analysis, although it was from a couple of years ago, that in knocking the plant at Moneypoint out of the picture the overall cost of electricity would increase by €200 million a year. The reason it is being used is that coal is cheap, but, obviously, does have climate change implications. It does not help us in meeting our targets because it is in the ETS, not the non-ETS, sector.
We probably have five options to have a central station. They are natural gas, natural gas with carbon capture and storage, biomass, biomass with carbon capture and storage and nuclear energy . There will not be a fan club for any one of them, but they would all result in reduced emissions compared with the plant at Moneypoint.
Deputy Stanley asked about gas versus coal. Gas has lower emissions intensity than coal, but producing electricity from gas in the plants typically used throughout the country would be 55% efficient. The plant at Moneypoint is 38% efficient. It is a question of reduced emissions content and also efficiency. Therefore, we are talking about approximately half of the emissions. That is a crude estimate and I could come back with a more accurate one. If one was to switch to biomass, there would be zero emissions. If one was to switch to biomass with carbon capture and storage, one would have negative emissions. If one was to switch to gas with carbon capture and storage, one would be close to negative emissions. I made a presentation to the Department on this question and it did not like my answer. I said it was almost the wrong question because the challenge was what we were doing across the entire system and all elements. The discussions tend to focus on narrow silo topics that move us away from the bigger picture. Of course, it is a significant emitter, accounting for approximately 3.5 million tonnes of CO2 a year, but they are the options.
Regarding HGVs and on what we see as the role for biogas, gas feeds homes in many of the cities. Therefore, if one had biogas entering into the gas network, one would have a seamless way of decarbonising heat because biogas would deliver home heating and homeowners would not have to make a decision if they were already connected to the gas network. In the short term that would be an option while the infrastructure was being developed. It is already happening in respect of refuelling, with the focus on freight; therefore, one could then transition from home heating to freight transport because that is where biogas would be most valuably used in the future. The options in the case of freight transport are more limited. I can come back to Deputy Stanley with a number. He asked about the percentage reduction. The target of Gas Networks Ireland for the use of biogas on the gas grid is 20% by 2030. I suspect that that would meet all of our needs in the area of freight transport, but I can come back to the Deputy with a firmer answer.
I have addressed the question of a carbon tax. There are a number of ways by which the money could be given back, used to reduce labour costs or for climate action measures. It is important that the issue be discussed but, generally, the issue that is discussed less and receives less airtime is ensuring it does not impact negatively on the level of energy poverty. Increasing the fuel allowance by €4 a week during the heating season would be offset by a carbon tax of €20 per tonne; therefore, there would be a doubling of the carbon tax. I think that also addresses the question of the use of biomass in the plant at Moneypoint.
I welcome Mr. Trevor Donnellan, research officer with Teagasc.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to 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 asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing ruling of the Chair to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I ask Mr. Donnellan to make his opening statement.
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
I thank the joint committee for its invitation. In a short presentation I will take it through some of the work Teagasc has done in the area of greenhouse gas emissions in the agriculture sector. It looks at what the emissions could be in the future and sets out a range of mitigation actions which, if employed, could reduce the emissions produced by the sector. I will skip through my first background slide which sets out the state of affairs with respect to agriculture's share of greenhouse gas emissions and with which I am sure the committee is familiar.
It is important to emphasise when looking to the future - I am referring to the years to 2030 - that the position in agriculture is quite uncertain. It is a sector heavily influenced by policy. When I refer to policy, to a large extent, I am referring to the Common Agricultural Policy. The sector is also heavily influenced by international demand. That is a particularly important issue for agriculture. On the key agricultural outputs, we export very large shares of dairy produce, beef, sheep and pigmeat. Exports account for a very high share of total production, which is unusual in a EU context. The level of activity in the sector is heavily driven by international considerations.
Acknowledging that uncertainty, we decided to look at six future scenarios for the level of agricultural activity and the associated emissions that will be produced by the sector. Given that most of the greenhouse gas emissions in Irish agriculture are generated by cattle, that is, in beef and dairy production, we centred our scenarios on different views of how the total cattle population could evolve and knowing what the total cattle population would be in different scenarios. In assessing them and the level of activity in other sectors of agriculture and the amount of nitrogen used, an important source of emissions, we can come up with a suite of projections for what the emissions from the sector will look like in the future before we take mitigation actions into consideration.
Reflecting on what I have said, I draw the committee's attention to the graph for the cattle population. I draw its attention to the relatively narrow vertical axis. There are a little over 7 million cattle in the country. We have produced projections for six scenarios which we have labelled Nos. 1 to 6. The key point to note is that we have projected a range of about 1 million head of cattle by the time we reach 2030. It is important to emphasise the current population is a little over 7 million. The most important scenario, the one about which I will talk most, is scenario 1. It is the central scenario in which the cattle population will increase to about 7.4 million in the period to 2030.
Why do we have these scenarios? We have them because we have based them on different possible evolutions of the dairy cow and suckler cow populations. They give us a spread of six potential outcomes. The reason we have done it is to emphasise that we cannot know with certainty what the total cattle population will be or what total emissions will be in agriculture. The same is true of any other sector of the economy and the associated level of emissions. It is an important point to note. If we take the six scenarios and factor in the emissions from other sectors of the economy, we can come up with six scenarios for the emissions that will be produced in the agriculture sector. There are some important figures to note on the graph. The figure for 2005 is the reference level of emissions relative to which we are trying to achieve by way of a reduction in emissions by 2030. All six scenarios show emissions increasing relative to where they are. In all six emissions are higher than they were in 2005. The key point that needs to be made is that the six scenarios and the levels of emissions exclude mitigation actions. It is before we take into consideration actions that could be taken in the agriculture sector to address the emissions. We have identified about 25 actions that could be taken to address them.
That is not the final outcome. Other key figures to note are the 10% and 20% reductions in emissions relative to the figure for 2005. If we take the figures and put them in tabular format, we can see the associated percentage changes in emissions.
The most relevant is probably the one in the second last column for 2030 versus 2005. As members can see, under all of the scenarios shown, the level of emissions would be higher than it would have been in 2005. Again, the caveat here is that this is before we take into consideration the mitigation actions.
I will home in on scenario one, which is the central scenario across the six scenarios we have looked at. In that context, we are talking about a 9% increase in emissions relative to 2005 by 2030. This is without mitigation being taken into consideration. We then identified three mitigation pathways, three ways in which we can address the emissions being produced by the agriculture sector. The first of those was to reduce the methane and nitrous oxide emissions produced by the agriculture sector. This would involve lowering the emissions produced by animals, animal waste and the application of synthetic fertilisers. The second mitigation pathway is sequestering carbon, which, in large part, involves increased afforestation. The third mitigation pathway is energy efficiency, biofuels and bioenergy. It mainly involves biofuels and bioenergy production. In other words, we want to reduce the overall energy usage on farms. I caution that energy usage on farms is a relatively small share of the total emissions produced by agriculture. The focus in this area is on biofuel and bioenergy production and what farmers could do that would result in the displacement of fossil fuel emissions.
We produced three associated marginal abatement cost curves, MACCs. It is easier to focus on the figures on the right, rather than dwelling on the detail on the left. The key point about these three marginal abatement cost curves is that very few of the individual measures are large in size. We have identified those that are large in size in yellow for the benefit of members. In the three marginal abatement cost curves we can see that many of the measures are small in size. This reflects the fact that there is no silver bullet to address emissions being produced by the agriculture sector. We will need to continue to attack this issue from a whole range of angles. The first of the two key figures shown is the dairy economic breeding index, EBI, which is geared to producing dairy cows that have superior performance. That is one of the ways we can address methane emissions produced by dairy cows. The second key figure is on changing the fertiliser type that is used. We can change to fertilisers that produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
When we take into account the mitigation I just outlined in terms of methane and nitrous oxide emissions, we can see what this does to the curve in the future. Members can see a projection out to 2030 in the absence of any mitigation, which would see the emission level for the agriculture sector to 20.5 million tonnes. We also have the mitigation that we identified which brings the figure to 7% below the 2005 level, as opposed to 9% above that level, by 2030. I should emphasise a point of which members are probably aware. While the focus of my submission is 2030, progress towards the 2030 target has to be achieved on an annual basis. We cannot continue as we are until 2029 and achieve all the mitigation in 2030. The way the system works is that countries are basically assessed in terms of emission reductions from 2021 through to 2030. This also highlights that early action on mitigation is particularly useful because it is important to get onto a good pathway towards achieving the 2030 target. This is the mitigation associated with methane and nitrous oxide emissions produced by the agriculture sector.
Figure 2 is the MACC associated with land use sequestration. The main source of emission reductions within this category is forestry. I should have emphasised in my previous point that we are looking at the mean level of mitigation, that is, the average level of mitigation achieved between 2021 and 2030. This will ultimately be what our success will be measured against in respect of addressing greenhouse gas emission reductions. A key point is that forestry is, by a long distance, the most significant sequestration source. This is based on planting rates for forestry of about 7,000 ha per year. Ireland's planting or afforestation rate is only about 4,000 ha per year at the moment. We are, therefore, below target and even below the assumption we are making for the purposes of this exercise. Forestry is a long-term game. While we are thinking about targets for 2020 and 2030, we should probably also have in our minds targets that will exist beyond that point, out to 2040 and 2050. Having trees in place in the short term would have significant benefits in the longer term beyond 2030. That is an important point.
Figure 3 is the MACC for energy efficiency, bioenergy and biofuels. The energy efficiency component is relatively small. I mentioned already that energy emissions by the agriculture sector are not particularly significant as a share of the total emissions produced by the sector. The largest single contributor here is wood biomass for energy. This covers thinnings from forestry and some residues used to produce electricity and fuel for heat.
When we accumulate all of these mitigation actions together, the summary figure shows the mean level of mitigation and the level of mitigation by the time we reach 2030. We can also see the figures on the level of emissions before mitigation is considered. That is the first significant row of figures on the slide. Taking all of these into consideration, the agriculture sector could be producing a total level of mitigation of some 7.7 million tonnes by 2030. It is important to emphasise, however, that the final category on energy mitigation would not be credited to agriculture on the basis of the way the accounting system works for the greenhouse gas inventory.
On the costs associated with mitigation, most of the mitigation actions we have identified cost less than €50 per tonne to achieve. That is just our assumption for the purposes of this exercise as to what the cost of carbon would be. We could also say that the agriculture mitigation, which is the first of the three categories of mitigation I referred to, is generally cheaper to achieve than the mitigation associated with land use and bioenergy production. On the figures for costs, there is considerable uncertainty around bioenergy in particular. It is very difficult to determine the extent to which farmers will be interested in moving into bioenergy. For this reason, we are less confident in respect of the figure we have produced for bioenergy production than we are in respect of the other figures in the presentation.
This submissions is the product of contributions by about 20 individuals. I am just a spokesperson and I will endeavour to answer questions to the best of my ability but I am sure there will be some on which I will have respond in writing.
I thank Mr. Donnellan. Mr. Donnellan is here to give members a briefing in advance of meeting the farming organisations. I ask that members limit questions to points of clarification around the Teagasc report. That would be very useful. We will try to limit the time for lead questioners to five minutes and other questioners to three minutes.
This report will be very important in drawing up our report in the end of January. Based on Teagasc's interactions with the farming community, what are the challenges and barriers to rolling out the findings of the Teagasc report to reduce these greenhouse gas emissions? What incentives or supports should the Government provide to help implement the report and reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
The key issue we identified is one of communication and making farmers aware of the actions that they could pursue to address the emissions on their farms. We need to address the level of understanding of what farmers need to do to mitigate emissions. There is some understanding of this but it can always be improved. Teagasc is active in that area. We have an aid called a carbon navigator which is designed to assist farmers in identifying ways in which they could address their emissions. Communications would certainly be one of the issues we have identified. Without farmers understanding what they need to do, it will be difficult for some mitigation actions to take hold.
Some of the mitigation actions are much easier to explain and implement than others. Some are more complex and require farmers to develop skills that they may not yet have. Some of them, as I also identified, are probably more significant in terms of the emission reductions that they produce. It may be relevant to focus in the short term on some of the bigger emission reduction actions we have identified.
On policy, the upcoming reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, creates an opportunity in the sense that there is some national level scope now to design aspects of the CAP, with the agreement of Brussels, that can address specific concerns that member states have. Some of the environmental concerns would be to the fore for Ireland.
On the communications issue, could the Government do anything better on the knowledge transfer side? Based on its engagement with the farming community, what does Teagasc need? Is there anything we can include in our report? We want to include tangible measures that will assist Teagasc in its work. If there are any gaps, we would like to hear about them.
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
From my perspective, I would prefer to confine my comments to the economic and scientific aspects, rather than getting into a discussion of what should and should not happen. That is above my pay grade, as they say. Resources are always welcome in this regard. If we delay in achieving some emission reductions, that will make it all the more difficult to achieve the 2030 target, or get anywhere near it. The sooner we begin on a pathway towards emission reduction, the better.
I welcome Mr. Donnellan and thank him for his very informative presentation. His information is based on science and a large amount of research carried out over a long period. Why, in his opinion, was that information not used in the Citizens' Assembly?
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
The whole issue of developing marginal abatement cost curves is that this is an extremely time-consuming activity. One tries to accumulate sources of information from researchers across a large strand and put it into something that one use to make a MACC. That process is very time-consuming. We did a MACC in 2012 as well. Having said that, what has happened in recent years with respect to the development of Irish agriculture following quota elimination is that with the increase in agricultural activity is even greater than many of the most optimistic people would have suggested. The associated level of emissions is higher than we would have anticipated as well. This is not a finished product. We will have to come back and do this again.
At the same time, this is very important scientific information. If it had been available or, more to the point, requested in advance of the 99 independent people meeting and deliberating for a period of time, the Citizen's Assembly may have taken a different slant.
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
My colleague, Gary Lanigan, had the opportunity to address the Citizens' Assembly and will have provided some of the detail I have presented today in his presentation to the assembly. I am not sure it is fair to say that none of that information was available to the Citizens' Assembly.
A large cull of cows is under way in some of the livestock factories and processing plants at the moment. The number of cattle in the country could stabilise rather than increase in the future. Mr. Donnellan's presentation refers to achieving more efficiency and refers to "better before bigger" coming into tune more than in the past. Prior to the abolition of milk quotas, there may have been a serious push to increase cattle numbers. Mr. Donnellan also spoke about the economic breeding index, EBI, which is crucial. We will see more production from smaller numbers. Is that the case?
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
That is correct. My expectation is that we will see more produced by each dairy cow, but we will probably also see more dairy cows in the future. That is baked into all of the scenarios we are looking at here. The level of profitability that is in the dairy sector is so high, relative to other sectors, that expansion of the sector is inevitable and arguably desirable from an economic point of view. The question ultimately becomes one of what happens to the other part of the cattle population, the breeding and suckler herd. Whether that stays the same size in the future or decreases in size is the question. I cannot see it growing in size in future. That will be a key factor in terms of what will be the total level of cattle population in the future and what will be the total level of emissions.
Mr. Donnellan's presentation sets out very well the various ways of trying to achieve the targets we are aiming for, providing different scenarios, projected emissions and three mitigation pathways. I agree with his statement that there is no silver bullet. At the same time, some of the measures are common sense and would not take an awful lot to push forward. Is more incentivisation required to achieve those targets? Should we show more carrot than stick in our approach to this?
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
That is a question for policymakers and one which I do not want to get into, to be honest. Returning to the answer I gave to the previous question, awareness of what farmers need to do in the first instance is critically important. Measures that do not cost farmers money, in some sense, are the ones that farmers should look to adopt in any event.
Some of the measures we have identified potentially save farmers money by increasing their profitability. Farmers should be looking at these measures, apart from the fact that they help to mitigate emissions.
Some of the measures we have looked at are quite expensive. I had not mentioned that earlier but some also have the dual benefit of addressing ammonia emissions, which is another important environmental target that agriculture faces as well. That is almost as an aside but it is important in the context of the emissions mitigation actions we have identified.
I think the communications strategy, as mentioned by Mr. Donnellan, is one of the crucial elements as we proceed. In my opinion there has been a general lack of communications about what has been achieved to date. A great deal has been achieved and we must consider what can be achieved by following some of the strategies Mr. Donnellan has outlined today. Has Teagasc a strategy in place to try to inform, enlighten and encourage farmers on how to achieve some of these targets?
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
Increasingly everything we do from a research perspective, and this reflects a comment Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir made in the earlier session, has the impact on climate change baked into it. Our research cannot be exclusively about the profitability an action would produce or how much additional production could be achieved by it but also the implications from a climate change perspective.
Members will be aware that Food Wise 2025 set ambitious targets. CAP reform will be coming down the line, and in my opinion this will be crucial. How can we marry CAP reform to Food Wise 2025 targets to increase agricultural exports to €19 billion by 2025 and create an extra 20,000 odd jobs, which the economy needs and the exports are very important as well? What work has Teagasc done from an environmental point of view to inform CAP reform?
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
We are only moving towards that point at this stage. The serious deliberations in terms of what the next CAP reform will actually look like in a broad sense, not just from an environmental sense, have not started in Ireland in a meaningful way at this point in time. We will be active in that space and we will be open to informing all stakeholders in terms of scenario analysis of different possibilities. Our position is that we do not prescribe policies, we look for people to come to us with suggestions of policy because we do not want to be put into the position of being policy advocates.
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
No. In the end that will be seen to compromise our independence in terms of the way we assess things, certainly from the perspective of policy. Science is a different matter. From a policy perspective, if we are given a suite of policies to analyse, we can provide advice as to which policies look better than others. It is not for Teagasc to make decisions that other people are in place to make.
Chairman, apologies, the transport committee meeting next door is also discussing carbon and I am shooting backwards and forwards. I will watch a replay of the full presentation and I read Mr. Donnellan's slides with real interest.
Our job is to help the State in this major herculean task of meeting its climate change ambitions. The more we can come up with concept block ideas on which we can get agreement, the more we can help the State. I recognise the good work that Teagasc has done in agriculture, for example Dr. Rogier Schulte's study in 2012, which recognises that environmental care and farming community interests are going to go hand in hand into the future and that profits will increase the more we look after the environment. Should we take that concept to the national scale and think that we need a national land-use plan that thinks in detail in the next 20 to 40 years as to what type of farming we do and where we should do it, what type of forestry and where we should do that, how do we protect biodiversity, how do we restore wetlands and, to revert to research by UCC on grass to gas, how much do we need and how that affect the land-use plans? Has Teagasc a land-use plan in mind? Is work being done on a land-use plan? Would that be a useful contribution and a really strong detailed one to the task we have ahead of us?
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
I am going to express a personal view. What the Deputy is suggesting is quite prescriptive. I may be taking a wrong interpretation, but it sounds to me as though the Deputy is suggesting that we effectively determine what happens in different parts of the county. I think what would be more effective and more realistic is to work with the circumstances as they exist. We have a situation where agriculture is driven by market forces to some degree and by policy forces to some degree. When I say policy, I mean agriculture supports provided for by Brussels. That is the framework from which we must begin in terms of looking at what can be achieved in the future. I cannot think of any instance in a western country where people are going down to the level of detail of prescribing what type of activity should happen in a particular hectare of land. I do not know if that is a realistic objective. We need to bear in mind that there are 140,000 farmers in the country. It is a different process from looking at what six factories might be doing. The heterogeneity that exists in terms of agriculture is critically important as well. I think we would be much better off to focus on measures that farmers would be more willing to buy into, that is, things that farmers understood as opposed to being very highly prescriptive in terms of telling farmers that they are doing X and they should now be doing Y.
Mr. Donnellan has misunderstood my point. I have no intention of telling farmers because they know the land better than anyone and they are business people and have to make business decisions, taking into account everything that is happening. I think we need a land-use strategy plan to shape the policies that give farmers the payments and the signals for what we want done. For example, the need for this would be influenced by what seems to me to be one of the best ways we can get beyond 2030. While much of the forestry we have done already will account for the mitigation we do between now and 2030, we need to be thinking in terms of post 2030. The best analysis I have read from Teagasc in the recent report on showing the 27 emissions, was toward the end of the report where it states we need in the region of 20,000 ha per annum of afforestation to meet our future targets. That matches the analysis that I would have done in terms of the scale of ambition in forestry. We know that in counties such as Leitrim and Roscommon and elsewhere, we are not going to be able to tell people to set 20,000 ha of Sitka Spruce monoculture, which would have implications for the soil and so on. My sense of a national land-use plan is that we would know how much might we get in agriforestry in a land-use plan to help people to decide. Similarly, I recognise that the country is very different. Having talked to people such as Dr. Rogier Schulte for many years, I am aware that what is happening in the north and west of the county regarding soil, climate, the nature of farming and the nature of farms is totally different from what is happening in the Golden Vale. A land-use plan would assist in laying the policy determination of how we would pay the farmers in the north west, instead of leaving the farmers in the west and north to compete with the farmer in the Golden Vale, as if all the land was the same and the market will sort it out. The benefit of a national land-use plan is that it can pay farmers for protecting biodiversity, managing water, for training young farmers, for storing carbon and so on. One leaves it up to the farmer how to do it but to give them the signal, one needs a land-use plan to know what the signals are.
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
I agree entirely with the Deputy's point that we need to look at this from a holistic environmental perspective.
The worst thing we could do is plant a load of trees under an afforestation plan but discover in subsequent years, for example, that we had done nothing on biodiversity. The concern I have - again this reflects the remit of this committee - is that the pressure is most acute in respect of greenhouse gas emissions but we know we have other objectives to which we want agriculture to be able to contribute and deliver. Having a more holistic view of what agriculture should be delivering for Ireland from an environmental perspective is critically important in the context of assessing what it can do in respect of greenhouse gas emissions.
We are in a difficult place at present in regard to intensive agricultural activity. I do not think we have significantly intensive agriculture in this country, certainly nothing by comparison with what would be found in the US. We have aspects of agriculture which are more intensive and more focused on delivering profit from the marketplace and agriculture which is more focused on the delivery of environmental goods. We are telling both groups of farmers that they are doing one thing correctly and the other thing wrong. We are telling farmers who are not making very much money but are farming at low intensity that they need to intensify their production and become more profitable and similarly we are telling farmers who are quite profitable that they are not doing enough in terms of consideration for the environment. Perhaps we should consider that both groups are delivering on two different objectives, both of which are important from the perspective of Irish agriculture. If that is something that policymakers decide is important, then perhaps it should be reflected in a policy that evolves in the future. Beating everybody over the head and telling them that they are doing something wrong and telling others they are also doing it wrong, that one farmer needs to be more like the other person in one respect and his counterpart needs to be more like the other farmer in a different respect, could be counterproductive. I do not know if we can deliver a situation where every single farm is delivering on the objective of producing a significant level of income from the marketplace and simultaneously doing 100% of what it could from the environmental perspective.
I am cognisant of the time constraints. I have a number of questions on the report. My colleague, Deputy Deering alluded to the cattle numbers. Since we started on this committee, everybody has been trying to predict the future and to say what we should be doing, and we are all trying to look forward, which is nigh on impossible. What can we learn from looking back at what we have done? Based on the cattle figures, it is a fact that the agriculture sector decreased the greenhouse emissions from 1990 to 2016 by 3.5%. In the middle of that period, 1998, cattle figures were in excess of 7.5 million. What did we stop doing? What can we learn from looking back? What were we doing right at that point? Was it due to the production process? Was it the result of farming style, farming habits or a change in farming philosophy, in that there was much more mixed farming at that time and we now seem to have moved away from tillage?
I see from the report that tillage is in the mitigating sector. What are the proposals for tillage going forward? Where would the beet crop come into that? Would beet be grown with a view to biofuel production or whatever? At this stage I get nervous analysing reports because we have to wonder if we are wasting our time because so many of them seem to end up on shelves. At what stage are the Teagasc reports, what is Teagasc working on at present and at what stage are its communications with the Department? Teagasc is the research wing of the Department. What communications has it had since it published its report? It is a fabulous report but what is the Department's position on it at this stage? Has it started to buy in? What is the next level the Department intends taking it to? I assume the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has already looked at the Teagasc report. I wonder about its position on it.
Will Mr. Donnellan give a brief summation of where the report stands in comparison with similar reports that would have been done in other countries? I am coming from the angle of carbon leakage. Mr. Donnellan has made the point that we have to take a global holistic approach. If we tick all the boxes, plant the entire country in forest, we will still not solve the global problem. We will make it worse in cases because the food we produce so efficiently will be produced elsewhere with a far greater carbon footprint. How does the report that Teagasc did on Ireland compare with a report that it would do on South America, eastern Europe or wherever?
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
Let us talk about the history of what has happened up until relatively recent years. The simple answer as to why emissions have increased in recent years is because we have had an increase in activity in the dairy sector and an increase in the use of nitrogen-based fertilisers, which are also an emission source. Historically, one of the things we achieved was a very significant reduction in the amount of nitrogen-based fertiliser that is used. That is forgotten to some degree, but over the period of ten or 15 years, we reduced the amount of nitrogen fertiliser we used in agriculture in Ireland by between 25% to 30%. That was one of the contributors to the stabilisation in greenhouse gas emission reductions and even a reduction in some years in the level of greenhouse gas emissions that were achieved historically.
On the question of what Teagasc is doing in terms of communication, it is too much from my perspective. During the summer when we launched the report, I travelled around the country in the height of the heatwave, with a broken air conditioning system in my car, presenting this report in a range of different forms. We had a very large stakeholder event which was organised by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in Kilkenny with probably about 200 people at it, some of whom are in the Gallery today, where we discussed in detail what was in the report. We also had briefings for smaller fora, including the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and other interested stakeholders from different sections of the agrifood sector. We have done a great deal in terms of communications.
The use of sugar beet for ethanol production was raised. Different groups have expressed some interest in doing that in recent years. I think it would depend on the yield. It would depend on where the sugar beet plant was located as well as where the sugar beet was grown because one would want to economise on transportation costs. It depends ultimately on the level of oil prices. If oil prices were very high, the price of ethanol would be high and that would make for a product that is probably more likely to be profitable. It depends on sets of circumstances, only some of which we have control over.
I was asked to contextualise the report in terms of what is happening internationally in terms of transparency. From our work, the agriculture sector nationally is very transparent on where emissions could get to in the future and the potential solutions that will address these emissions. While agriculture gets unfavourable mention in commentary about climate change, there is a very high level of understanding on greenhouse gas emissions. I guess that greenhouse gas emissions are of interest in other countries. A key point is that agricultural emissions as a share of total emissions in other EU member states in general is much lower. The average in terms of greenhouse gas emissions produced by agriculture in other EU member states is only about 10%, whereas in Ireland, as members are aware, it is 33%.
That results in a different level of political emphasis on reducing agricultural emissions in Ireland by comparison with those in many other countries. Obviously, in countries such as New Zealand agricultural emissions also comprise a very high share of the total. Countries concerned about addressing agricultural emissions will be engaged in this type of MAC analysis. It requires a good scientific understanding and capacity which not every country has. The reality is that for our type of agriculture which is bovine based, we are in the premier league in terms of emissions efficiency. At the same time, bovine agriculture generates more emissions than other forms of agriculture. This is related to a point I made previously. It would not be very sensible to try to engineer a situation where every country in the world had the same type of agricultural output. There are natural reasons Ireland in largely involved in bovine agriculture. They include climate and topography. Ireland is never going to be like the Paris basin where the tillage sector is dominant. In Ireland we just do not have the type of land, climate or farm size to switch dramatically to other types of agriculture. Therefore, we will continue to have a bovine-based agriculture sector. Therefore, it is inevitable in some sense that agricultural emissions will comprise a higher share of total emissions than in other European countries.
I thank Mr. Donnellan for his presentation which included a lot of useful information. As we all know, agriculture and transport are very often portrayed as the villains, but it is important to state at the outset of the discussion that agriculture and farming reacted to demand. Food demand stimulated growth in agriculture, to which farmers were only reacting.
Senator Daly has alluded to the period in which there was no growth and no opportunity for it in dairy production. Therefore, we have a set of figures and information that probably do not reflect the true position on the expansion of dairy production, which was explosive. The sector has been portrayed in a poor light, which is unfair.
Mr. Donnellan has mentioned what could really make a difference by way of mitigation in agriculture. On estimated breeding value, EBV, we all know that better performing and more efficient animals help our case.
An interesting concept associated with forestry has been raised a number of times at this committee. I made the point at an earlier meeting today that when forestry was mentioned to farmers, it was a little like saying to the those in attendance that if they made the windows of their houses smaller, they would be more efficient and conserve more heat. That is radical and represents a long-term, significant change. In a similar vein, planting a forest represents as radical a shift to farmers and I understand why they have difficulties with it.
Let me refer to something we sometimes miss in this debate. Reference has been made to our ability to grow grass. This is arguably the second best grass growing region in the world. Actively growing productive grass would sequester a lot of carbon. I am led to believe 15 cm of topsoil sequesters as much carbon as a tropical rainforest. In other parts of the world forest plantation can present a challenge owing to arid conditions. This is the result of carbon loading and the risk of fire. As much as planting forestry is an option, has there been enough emphasis placed on actively managing productive farmland and pasture? That, in itself, would sequester a lot of carbon. Mr. Donnellan has mentioned the impact of fertiliser and referred to making the shift from calcium ammonium nitrate to urea. I am led to believe this is subject to the pH value being right. It is not a simple switch, as sometimes portrayed. If we are to make a shift to using urea, especially urea with inhibitors, we have to manage pH values. Therefore, more lime would have to be spread on land. Is there a risk in some of these discussions that we will oversimplify solutions? Is the matter not more complex than very often portrayed?
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
Taking the particular example about which the Senator is talking, it is not, but in a general sense it possibly is. There is an issue in Ireland with fertiliser use in the sense that farmers probably do not place as much emphasis as they should on soil testing from an economic point of view. It will identify issues such as pH level and the requirement to use lime. There is a general issue in Ireland owing to not enough lime being applied to agricultural land. The consequence is that fertiliser is less effective than it could be. Lime is not particularly expensive and having the right pH level can actually reduce the amount of fertiliser required. I do not believe it is particularly challenging for farmers to understand, but at the same time we would like many more farmers to engage in soil testing. It is an area in which progress certainly needs to be made.
The question on the sequestration levels associated with grass and forestry is more scientific and beyond my personal remit. As I am coming from an economic background, I cannot answer it for the Senator, but we may be able to follow up on it in written correspondence.
I thank Mr. Donnellan for his presentation. In what way does Teagasc engage with policymakers? It is emphasising the scientific research it is undertaking. Is there a contribution being made to long-term planning through this research, both at national and European level?
Does Mr. Donnellan have a view on the best option for carbon sequestration or is there a multitude of options? Has Teagasc examined carbon budgeting as an option? Should there be a certain carbon allocation per unit of production? Has any research been carried out on moving to more organic farming or conservation agriculture? Might such a move be a method for us to reduce emissions?
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
Some of my colleagues and I have had extensive engagement with policymakers. We provide regular briefings for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on a range of issues, of which climate change is just one. We are very active on issues associated with reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, Brexit, etc. In the context of the work about which I have just talked, policymakers are very much aware of what we have done.
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
The issue of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture is not as considerable in other member states. Having said that, we were quite active in the period before the milk quota was eliminated in emphasising to policymakers elsewhere in Europe that agricultural emissions in Ireland were going to increase in the short term because we knew that the dairy sector was going to expand considerably after the milk quota was removed. The difficulty was that policymakers elsewhere in Europe were a little circumspect about it. They did not believe expansion to the extent that it occurred was feasible. They had a very poor picture of the dairy sector in Ireland from a competitiveness point of view, but we did as much as we could to put them right on the issue.
There was a question about carbon sequestration. The main mechanism we have identified is forestry or afforestation. It dwarfs all other carbon sequestration measures we have identified.
Carbon budgeting is a difficult issue. I mentioned that there were 140,000 farms in Ireland. How could we ever measure with certainty, by which I mean with 100% certainty, to the level of a breathalyser test or a blood test to measure alcohol levels, the level of emissions a farm was producing? We can approximate the level of emissions it is producing based on the number of animals, fertiliser usage and so on. We do this as part of the national farm survey. However, we can never tell with 100% certainty what the level of emissions will be. When we are talking about trying to reduce emissions, being 100% certain about the level of emissions being produced on a farm and in determining whether they have gone down is challenging and rather expensive. It would have to be done for every farm in the country. I suggest that, as a mechanism to address emissions, it could be prohibitively expensive.
It could also be difficult, given that the science is evolving all the time. I could claim today that the emissions from farm X in 2015 were X amount. However, if the science evolves, we might get a more accurate picture of what we believe the emissions were. When that happens, it leads to a complete revision of all of the estimates made historically and we could have a revision of the calculations for a farm. A revision could suggest the emissions from a farm in year X were actually higher than estimated. That would be rather contentious for farmers. We may have to say to them we figured the emissions were X amount but the science is telling us that they are X amount plus 5% and that they will have to work even harder to reduce them in the future. That could be counterproductive from the perspective of creating trust and a buy-in if we want to reduce emissions. It could be counterproductive to try to assess the level of emissions produced on each individual farm to that level of detail. Expense and controversy are relevant in that respect.
Some people like organic farming. It can deliver environmental benefits, but I contest the view that it actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Ultimately, it means that there are lower emissions from a farm, but there is also lower output from it. It is producing lower emissions, but it is also producing less food. When we factor that in, ultimately, we may find that it is actually producing higher emissions per unit of output. An organic farm potentially has a bigger carbon footprint – I trust committee members understand what I am saying – than a conventional farm. Organic farming is not a silver bullet, but certainly it has a place. That brings me back to my earlier comment that we need to think in an holistic way, not only on the single issue of climate change but also about what we want agriculture to deliver for the economy as a whole. Organic farming is relevant, but seeing it as something we should pursue uniquely to address greenhouse gas emissions could be misplaced.
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
I do not. I said we were a little concerned about one area with respect to the report we had produced. Persuading farmers to become involved in producing a new crop is challenging. Like anyone who engages in an activity from a business perspective, farmers want to be confident that if they are to produce something, someone will buy it from them at a price they consider to be attractive or one they envisage is possible. Who is going to buy it? Where is the market for this produce? That is a concern farmers would have.
Another concern farmers would have is acquiring the skill set required to grow the particular crop. There is a misconception is some quarters than an individual farmer knows how to engage in any type of farming. That is not the case. A plumber cannot fix my car and a carpenter cannot plumb my house. There are different types of farming and some skill sets are common to all forms, while others are far more specific. There is also a skill set to be acquired. That is another aspect. Farmers would need to be confident that they could grow the crop and achieve the yield they would expect to achieve in order that the crop could be sold and have commercial value. The supply chain is important in that respect.
I hear a lot of Deputies questioning the efficiency of the herd. Some have asked why in 1995 we were able to have 7 million cattle and now all of a sudden it is a problem. Let us consider the reports, especially the most recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency. We can see that the emissions from the herd are actually growing. If I have it right, the EPA projects that by 2020 agriculture will account for 33% of emissions. That figure is projected to rise to 34.5% by 2030. If we combine Teagasc's presentation with the previous one and think about the graph in terms of where our problem is in not reaching our targets, agriculture is a major part of the picture and, in turn, the size of the herd. This is something we have to tackle.
Mr. Donnellan has said there is a desirable economic outcome from increasing the size of t he herd and the output from each bovine creature. I accept that there is a desirable economic outcome for some farmers, but I do not believe that is the case for all of them. In its last presentation Teagasc illustrated clearly to us that a significant tranche of farmers lived in poverty and struggled on low incomes. Many of them find it difficult to cope with the pressure to increase their herd. They have told me personally - I have also witnessed it - that it is coming from all quarters, including the Department, the IFA and the journals they read, including the Irish Farmers Journal. The view is increasing one's herd is the way to go, but that is not of great economic benefit to those who operate on a smaller scale and have the least income. It is especially the case in the context of climate change and when we move from drought to flood and the fodder crisis when farmers have to watch the catastrophic deaths of animals on their farms. That must be so awful for them because it is a major financial loss, as well as a major tragedy for them. That cohort has to be thought about.
I am not convinced that it would be that difficult to convince farmers to shift to more sustainable methods of farming. That is why I am keen to ask Mr. Donnellan about this matter further. We are to hear a presentation later by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association. Has Teagasc held discussions with it? Is it on its radar in the context of how farmers should move forward and how it should communicate and convince them to make changes in how they farm?
There is also the idea that we can grow the herd and at the same time reduce emissions. That is a glaring contradiction, which I do not accept. I know that Teagasc's representatives do not accept it either, but some think that because we are increasing the herd, we are simultaneously more efficient in reducing emissions. There is a glaring contradiction.
Mr. Donnellan has said a lot about afforestation being a major part of the solution. Let us suppose that is the case, but it is only a proposal, on which I am keen to hear a comment on from him. Perhaps this is above his pay grade, but would it be sensible for the Government to pay farmers to engage in afforestation, rather than buying carbon offsets or engaging in carbon trading?
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
I will begin by clarifying the Deputy's interpretation of a comment I made earlier in answer to Deputy Deering. I said, specifically, that dairy farming was highly profitable. That is not the only form of farming in Ireland that involves cattle and it is actually the minority. There are about 17,000 farmers in Ireland who would describe themselves as dairy farmers. Most cattle in Ireland are on what we call cattle farms, either suckler farms or farms that specialise in bringing cattle to a finishing age for slaughter. In a broad sense, those cattle farms are not particularly profitable. I agree with Deputy Bríd Smith on that. Cattle farms tend to be smaller than dairy farms and some of them, historically, were dairy farms. The change from dairy production came about because it was found that the work involved was too arduous or the farm was too small to provide an income. Many of those cattle farmers also have off-farm employment as well. Some of them certainly are limited in their income sources while for others the agricultural income is only one source of income and their spouse may be working or they may be working off-farm themselves. There are also some farms where the income from agriculture is the only income source and it is not very large. I agree those are the farms in acute difficulty from an income perspective.
Having said that, we have many cattle farms in this country. It is difficult to see how we can address the issue of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions without involving all of the farmers in this country who have cattle on their farms, whether those are dairy cows or beef animals. While cattle farms do not generate as many emissions as dairy farms, there are many more of them than dairy farms. If it is left to the dairy sector alone to resolve the issue of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, then there is not going to be a very satisfactory outcome.
I am open to correction on this, but I believe we met the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association only about three or four weeks ago in our offices in Athenry in County Galway. The question on afforestation is interesting. In the ordinary run of things with the Common Agricultural Policy, if we are going to spend money on any new or different scheme, such as the one suggested involving an annual payment just to have trees existing indefinitely on farms, then the money for that has to come from somewhere. The same applies in respect of increasing the level of money spent on such a scheme. In that context, the money probably has to come from somewhere else within the budget of the Common Agricultural Policy envelope available to Ireland. There are options available where the State can co-fund schemes to some degree.
That is one of the first difficulties. If farmers were asked tomorrow whether they would like money for planting trees they would say "yes". If they were told, however, that it was just going to be a reallocation of money they are already receiving for doing other things, then there might not be the same interest.
I thank Mr. Donnellan for his contribution so far. It has been very interesting. I have a question he probably will not be able to answer. I want to tease out a little more the relationship between Teagasc and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. What is Teagasc's role with the Department? That is key.
Maybe it is. Without actually saying anything, perhaps Mr. Donnellan can give us the answers. I see the Department as being very limited in what it is doing. It seems to be completely hung up on the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP. The next opportunity for anything to happen will be the new CAP in 2020. We should be making sure now we get the right environmental aspects into that CAP, and all aspects of the CAP, to ensure it responds to the problems we have discussed. If we do not do it then, it is going to be lost and we have to be realistic. The only time farmers are going to respond is within the CAP. Will Mr. Donnellan comment, insofar as he can, on how the Department deals with the research information it gets from Teagasc and how accepting it is of the role of Teagasc, because what Mr. Donnellan is saying is very useful and interesting?
On the graph Mr. Donnellan referred to earlier, in scenario one or two of those Mr. Donnellan said we should be examining, what would be the impact of a model where the herd was reduced by 500,000 along with that? What difference would that make and what would the impact be on farmers? That is a key consideration. In the context of my own work as a Deputy in Donegal, cattle farmers do not make money and they depend on social welfare to make an income. Farmers who keep sheep, however, do much better and there seems to be more money to be made from sheep, somewhat bizarrely. Could farmers change over from cattle to sheep? It seems that would have a positive impact on emissions and it is also a traditional type of farming that people are still involved in and know as well. How feasible is that?
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
I will take Deputy Pringle's last question first. Just last week, we produced our income estimates for 2018 in agriculture and our forecasts for next year. One of the things we highlighted at our conference last week was this progressive improvement over time in the profitability of sheep production. The better sheep farmers, in particular, are returning fairly significant margins at this stage. The difficulty in thinking about farmers transitioning into sheep production is that, compared with keeping beef animals, it is a labour-intensive activity. I had discussions with staff in our own organisation in recent days, especially those who meet farmers and collect economic data from them. One of the points they made was that sheep farmers are increasingly an ageing population. Regarding those farmers, despite sheep production becoming more profitable relative to beef production, we might still continue to see them leaving sheep production. That is purely because it is a labour-intensive sector and, as farmers get older, that aspect of the business makes it unattractive, especially if there is no successor to take over the farm.
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
I will put it this way. Being a beef farmer is more compatible with having a full-time off-farm job than being a sheep farmer. Sheep farming is particularly demanding in respect of labour at particular times of the year, especially at lambing time, and that is a consideration.
On reducing the herd by 500,000, Deputy Pringle did not clarify which herd he was talking about. If it is the breeding herd, looking at scenario six from the chart, that involves a significant reduction in the size of the suckler herd, which is the less profitable part of cattle production in Ireland.
It would involve the lowest future level of cattle. I will display on the screen the corresponding data with respect to emissions before the mitigation option is factored in. As the dairy sector continues to expand, the smaller the suckler herd, the fewer total emissions from agriculture in general. This is a contentious issue because although beef production is not particularly profitable, there has not been a significant exodus from suckler production. The number of suckler cows has fallen by approximately 8% over the past three or four years but the figure is higher than we expected five or ten years ago.
On engagement, when I started working for Teagasc more than 20 years ago, evidence-based policymaking did not have the same foothold it currently does. That probably holds true across Government. Much of my background and training in terms of my work is derived from the US and the way economists engage with policymakers there. It has been relatively successful in the sense that we have significant engagement with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on issues it is unable to answer from an analytical perspective. We provide that input to the Department.
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
It is the parent Department. It usually contacts us rather than the other way around. We have quite a high level of engagement with it. In the new year, we will move to the next stage of discussions on the successor to the current Food Wise 2025 programme, which will provide the path for the agriculture sector to 2030. We expect to be asked to speak to a committee if such is formed in that regard. We are active on a broad range of areas, such as Brexit. The discussion on reform of the CAP has not really begun, but I expect we will have an active involvement in that next year and will engage with the Department and other organisations, including those whose representatives are currently in the Public Gallery.
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
It is not for me to decide that. Member states are being given greater discretion with respect to how they shape the Common Agricultural Policy to meet the specific needs of a member state. At a European level in Brussels, the environmental dimension is centre stage with respect to agriculture. The deliberations of this committee on agriculture are not unique in that regard. The interaction of agriculture with the environment will be very prominent in the next CAP.
On biomass and the supply chain, Mr. Donnellan is aware that the three peat-fired power generation stations must switch to using biomass. The station in Edenderry is currently co-fired. What is the potential for Irish producers to supply that biomass? What would be involved in developing a supply chain in the midlands, namely, counties such as Longford, Laois, Offaly and Westmeath? I ask Mr. Donnellan to keep his answers brief because other witnesses are waiting to give evidence.
The willow scheme was not a success. I do not know the detail of the matter and have been trying to gain an understanding of what happened. Was the failure due to the type of land that was being used? What crop should we use for biomass?
The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Deputy Bruton, today stated on a radio programme that emissions from agriculture could be halved if we did the right things. Does Mr. Donnellan agree with that statement?
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
I do not know the answer to the Deputy's first question. It is not an area on which I claim to have any expertise. We may be able to revert to the committee with a response on that issue. The earlier forays into the use of miscanthus were not especially successful for several reasons. I would prefer to be able to provide the committee with a more comprehensive answer on that issue.
I do not know the timescale for halving agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. As stated in the previous session, it is very difficult for us to know with any certainty what scientific breakthroughs will emerge in the coming ten, 15 or 20 years. Based on current knowledge and technology, it is very hard to see how we could halve agricultural greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland without doing something very differently in terms of the type of agriculture we have. The only way to achieve that reduction by 2030 or 2040 in the absence of any dramatic scientific breakthrough would be for the agriculture sector to be far less focused on the bovine sector in favour of crop-based agriculture, for example. It is difficult to see how that would materialise.
On sugar beet, the briefing documents supplied by Mr. Donnellan deal with crop cover and its sequestration value. How realistic is it for sugar beet to be used a covering crop for up to four or five months of the year? Typically, there was a covering crop from late June until December.
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
I cannot answer that question. The specific example offered in the report addresses the use of mustard as the cover crop. Some farmers in Ireland still grow sugar beet or fodder beet as an animal feed. If the Deputy is asking about sugar beet as a crop that will not be used for animal feed, the issue might come back to the supply chain. It depends on what the crop will ultimately be used for.
I apologise for my lateness. I have some brief questions. I have read the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, FAPRI, model outlined by Teagasc and questioned members of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine who appeared before the committee on it. A representative of Teagasc may have been present. The model is quite bleak in terms of what we are trying to achieve across all of the scenarios that have been mentioned and the mitigation measures. Where is Ireland on the graph referred to by Mr. Donnellan? Towards the conclusion of his statement he outlined that there is mitigation potential but it is only on paper. What substantive action is being taken in that regard? Are any mitigation measures being taken in an attempt to reduce the curve that he outlined? The FAPRI model is quite bleak when one takes the entire sector into account.
Mr. Trevor Donnellan:
The Deputy is not the first person to make that observation about its bleakness. This is an unfortunate reality in terms of some of the projections we have produced from an economic perspective.
The issue at present is that the dairy sector has expanded quite rapidly over recent years and the extent of that expansion over a five or six-year period is never going to be repeated. We are never going to have the percentage increase in the size of the dairy sector ever again, in my view. That was the handbrake coming off and the engine running at full revs. The situation we have seen in recent years is that emissions are going up in aggregate, and emissions efficiency is improving. The carbon footprint per unit of product is actually improving, but at a lower rate than the growth in the total amount of what is being produced. That is why the emissions continue to go up, and not because nobody cares or nobody is doing anything. It is more on the basis that we are producing more. There is a global requirement to produce more food. The issue ultimately that we have to understand in some sense the extent to which Ireland is going to contribute to meeting the increase in global food demand. Global food demand in terms of growth is very high. My expectation is that the percentage increase in production in a developed country like Ireland is not going to match the level of growth internationally. Developed countries themselves will probably have to service some of that growth.
We are somewhat unique in Europe in the sense of our agriculture sector producing more output, and significantly more so in the case of dairy production over recent years. No other country in Europe has done something like that. We are different. Whether it is a good different or a bad different is a question for policymakers to decide because the development that has happened in the dairy sector has been quite valuable from an economic perspective. It is not desirable from a greenhouse gas emissions perspective, but as politicians know very well, there are multiple objectives that we are trying to achieve across the economy. It is not all about greenhouse gas mitigation or economic growth in the agriculture sector. There has to be a medium found that balances those different objectives.
I welcome our witnesses: Mr. Michael Spellman, Mr. T.J. Flanagan, and Mr. Eamonn Farrell of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society, ICOS; Mr. Gerry Loftus and Ms Bridget Murphy of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association, INHFA; Mr. Pat McCormack and Mr. Lorcan McCabe of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA; and Mr. Joe Healy, Mr. Thomas Cooney and Mr. Damian McDonald of the Irish Farmers Association, IFA. They are all very welcome.
Before I commence formal proceedings, I must begin with some formalities and advise our witnesses on the matter of privilege. I advise witnesses 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 this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. The witnesses 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 nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Finally, members are reminded that, under long-standing parliamentary practice and rulings of the Chair, members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I will call the witnesses to make their opening statements and I ask that the presentations be limited to four or five minutes. The members will have received these beforehand and should have read them. Those asking questions will first be allowed five minutes, and then three minutes. There will be a lot of questions arising in this session.
I ask now for the opening statement of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society, ICOS.
Mr. Michael Spellman:
We appreciate this opportunity to discuss the issue of climate change and agriculture and to provide our perspective on the recommendations by the Citizens Assembly. The Irish Co-operative Organisation Society is the umbrella body for the co-operative movement in Ireland. We represent a range of co-operative enterprises operating across many aspects of the rural economy, including dairy processing and milk purchasing societies, livestock marts, breed societies, animal health and artificial insemination, AI, horticulture, forestry, financial services and other rural-based societies.
In a few short months, ICOS will mark its 125th anniversary. I make reference to this milestone merely to illustrate that the co-operative business model is a sustainable one that has served the interests of Irish farmers, their families and rural communities very well across many generations and through some very difficult times. There is no doubt that Brexit is at the forefront of all our minds at present, and in the most recent developments over recent days, the uncertainties are there as strong as they were two years ago.
It is no exaggeration to state, however, that environmental sustainability, be it climate change, ammonia emissions, water quality and biodiversity, are of equal if not greater importance to the agrifood sector.
The recent special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change related to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees is extremely stark. It calls for rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society. At ICOS, we strongly believe that the co-operative model will be an important vehicle to assist the rural economy with future challenges in this area, for example, through the development of community-based renewable energy projects.
The ancillary recommendations by the Citizens' Assembly rightly recognises the importance of agriculture to the economy, especially to the rural economy. The agrifood sector provided 174,000 jobs or almost 8% of total employment in 2017. Total agrifood exports were worth €13.5 billion in 2017, with exports of dairy and dairy ingredients valued at €4.02 billion. An analysis by Ernst & Young has indicated that additional milk production equates to 90 cent of additional economic benefit for every additional litre of milk produced. This multiplier effect is due to spending by co-operatives and on farms, spending by service providers to the dairy industry, and spending by those employed in the dairy sector. The analysis concludes that additional milk production from 2016 to 2020 will result in a €2.7 billion benefit to the economy or €540 million annually. There is simply no other industry generating wealth, investment and jobs to this significant scale in rural Ireland.
Dairy farming provides a sustainable livelihood, despite extreme volatility in income from one year to the next. It is a legitimate aspiration by farmers to develop the potential of their farm enterprises fully to secure better incomes and to provide better futures for their families. That said, the dairy industry acknowledges the importance of climate change and our responsibility to develop in a sustainable manner following decades of stagnation due to the imposition of quotas that severely impeded the sector and disadvantaged thousands of farm families. The Irish dairy industry exports to a multiple of Ireland’s national population a highly nutritious food product recognised as the most carbon efficient in Europe. This is because Ireland’s temperate climate is perfect for growing grass, with a long grazing season. This also enables superior animal welfare conditions on Irish farms. Globally, 80% of milk is produced in confinement-based production systems, in contrast to Ireland where cows are at grass for up to 300 days a year.
Furthermore, 95% of dairy farmers are participating in the sustainable dairy assurance scheme under Origin Green, which requires the completion of a carbon footprint every 18 months. The sustainable dairy assurance scheme has enabled Ireland to position itself as a partner of choice globally for sustainably produced and quality assured dairy products. The inclusion of the carbon navigator tool makes the Origin Green programme unique from a global perspective. It provides the average carbon figure for production on the farm and also indicates where the greatest potential saving can be made in both carbon emissions and, importantly, in financial savings. In doing so, it has mainstreamed the message that carbon efficiency goes hand in hand with economic efficiency.
As an industry, we fully adhere to the principle of sustainable intensification, as set out in the European Council conclusions from October 2014. These conclusions also recognise the lower mitigation potential of agriculture. The European Council further acknowledges the need to ensure coherence in policy between the EU’s food security and climate change objectives.
Mr. Michael Spellman:
Okay. Climate smart agriculture has three main objectives: to increase agricultural productivity and incomes sustainably, in view of the responsibility of the agrifood sector to provide more food for a growing population; to adapt and build resilience to climate change, which is particularly pertinent considering the weather extremes of 2018; and to reduce or remove greenhouse gas emissions, or both, where possible. In line with recommendations 5 and 6 by the Citizens' Assembly, we agree that sensible financial tools are required to stimulate widespread uptake of on-farm renewable energy projects, including biogas from anaerobic digestion and the installation of solar panels on farm buildings. ICOS also urges the Government to prioritise the establishment of community-led and co-operative projects in the area of renewable energy and microgeneration. The reality is that mitigation in agriculture is limited. There are no quick fixes. That is why we must work collectively to ensure that mitigation in agriculture is maximised. This will require a sustained and concerted effort by industry, farmers and the Government.
Mr. Gerry Loftus:
I thank the committee for the invitation to address it today. I am accompanied by my colleague, Ms Bridget Murphy, who will answer some of the members' questions. My other colleague in the Public Gallery is Mary Rooney from Leitrim, who is chair of Cavan west.
The simple truth about climate change is that we have ignored it for too long. Our beef, dairy, sheep and timber plantations have made a significant contribution to the modern Irish economy but, unfortunately, this contribution has come at a very high cost of loss of biodiversity, loss of soil fertility, considerable air and water pollution from chemical fertiliser, and a significant contribution to greenhouse gas in our atmosphere. In fact, if climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution costs were included in the true cost of producing beef, dairy and sheepmeat, much of Ireland's agrifood sector would instantly lose its economic viability and green image. We talk about having to farm this way to feed the world's growing population, but at the same time we are struggling to find markets for our beef and dairy and the farmer is no better off for all his work. We must rethink how we feed the world. It is no use doing so at the expense of our land, water, air and the other non-human species with whom we share the planet.
Looking to the future, farmers are responsible for many things, not least feeding ourselves and the world's growing population and being the country's first line of defence against climate change. We will do this at the same time as restoring biodiversity and soil fertility, eliminating our pollution, and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. This is a huge task, and to meet it, the role of farmers will undergo massive change. The INHFA's approach in tackling this task is led by common sense more than other more sophisticated agriculture models. This is not to say that science and technology are not important in our approach, but making the right choices about what we are facing requires wisdom, a vision for the future, values and the fact that we choose to care about the farmers, our environment, health, culture and identity, and our future. We support the approach that understands farmers are not just producing commodities but are taking care of the health of society by providing natural food. They are taking care of the health of the ecosystem by preserving biodiversity and environmental services. They are also taking care of the health of rural communities by generating an adequate income for their families while preserving the cultural heritage of society in terms of tradition and historical landscapes.
We will need new tools, skills and resources. We must have upskilled Departments that work much more closely together. Bodies such as the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, will have to be far better funded and resourced. Others such as Coillte will require a new remit and a board with environmental and change management expertise. Schools, agriculture colleges and universities will require new curricula. The INHFA would like to see a great deal more research undertaken on land use and management in the uplands and designated lands. More importantly, we want those who are deciding what to do to speak to us, especially farmers who farm mountain commonage and Natura-designated land and valuable carbon-rich soils. Let our inherited knowledge and direct experience of these high nature value areas help to design the programme of schemes that will deliver on the task we have as well as provide a livelihood for farm families into the future.
Mr. Pat McCormack:
I am accompanied by my colleague, Mr. John Enright. Mr. Lorcan McCabe sends his apologies that he is unable to attend.
I am pleased to get the opportunity to respond to the Citizens' Assembly climate action and mitigation strategy. The recommendations that are of relevance to us are Nos. 11 and 13, which have a significant effect on the dairy and livestock sectors. Recommendation 11 suggests that a carbon tax would be applied to farmers based on carbon output. That would have a disastrous effect not alone on the dairy and livestock sectors but also on the rural economy, given the impact of agriculture on rural areas.
We must establish a few facts. The first is that global demand for food is increasing as the population is increasing. Dairy and meat remain main constituents of our diet. Ireland has been proven scientifically to be the most carbon-efficient producer of milk in the world and the fourth or fifth most carbon-efficient producer of beef. They are facts. Mr. Donnellan spoke earlier about Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025. Irish agriculture is on course to deliver the aspirations in that regard. When those ambitions and goals were set out, a commitment was given to the primary producer in order that they would drive forward for the betterment of the rural economy and the industry. We cannot envisage an unfair levy being applied. To apply a tax on the producer would completely undermine our ability to export. We are unique in that we export 85% to 90% of our agricultural produce. People need food and it would be unacceptable to be paying a liability and for the food to be produced in a less efficient country. Given that our climatic aspirations and liabilities are a global issue and not just a geographic one - it is not a case of Ulster against Munster or Connacht against Leinster - we need to be in a position to produce food in the most efficient countries. That would have a significant impact on the viability of family farms.
Recommendation 13 concerns afforestation and organic farming. I was interested to hear the experts from Teagasc say that organic farming can have a high carbon footprint for each unit of food produced. We must remember that. Another drawback with organic farming is that it is very much a niche market and is easily oversupplied. Not alone would it be environmentally unsustainable, it would be economically unsustainable if there were a surge towards organic production. The Government must incentivise and encourage more positive land use to mitigate climate change. At the same time, however, we must be mindful of the social as well as the economic issues associated with forestry. Previously forestry was stigmatised due to poor felling practices where eyesores were created in rural areas.
Methane and nitrous oxide are the main greenhouse gas contributors from the agriculture sector. For a farm to remain environmentally sustainable, there needs to be economic sustainability. Unfortunately, in the debate thus far this afternoon there has been very little discussion about economic sustainability. For that to happen, there needs to be an education process for food consumers around the globe. They must know what they are getting and where they are getting it. People get high-quality, environmentally sustainable produce from an Irish and European perspective but the bridge must be crossed in terms of the education curve.
We have heard about measures that can be introduced to improve efficiency from the point of production per food unit. The economic breeding index, EBI, and the use of slurry and fertiliser are important in that regard. Farmers have been active in that regard with the targeted agricultural modernisation schemes, TAMS, resulting in a significant level of applications for low-emissions slurry spreading. There are many opportunities to use slurry and to develop solar and wind energy that are underutilised. It is unfortunate that they were overlooked in the recent budget. Our European counterparts can make as much from the roof of the barn as they can from the basement, and a third of their profit comes from the middle. There is an opportunity.
I will reiterate the four critical points. We are carbon efficient from a dairy and beef perspective. The carbon stored in grasslands needs to be fully incorporated into the greenhouse gas emissions abatement strategy. Fertiliser and slurry management needs to be incentivised through schemes such as the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, and the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, to bring our lime pH up to the optimum level. Energy generation from renewable sources must be promoted. There is an opportunity to do that annually as well as through CAP reform. We will be pleased to take questions.
Mr. Joe Healy:
I am joined today by my colleagues in the IFA, environment chairman, Mr. Thomas Cooney, director general, Mr. Damian McDonald, and executive secretary, Mr. Thomas Ryan.
Ireland has a carbon-efficient model of food production. The European Commission's science and knowledge service, the Joint Research Centre, has confirmed that Ireland's dairy farmers have the lowest carbon footprint for milk in the EU and our beef farmers are among the top five most carbon-efficient. That is important at a time of increasing demand for these types of proteins, produced sustainably by farmers in Ireland. It did not just happen. It is underpinned by our grass-based model of food production.
Ireland is to the fore in targeting CAP funding to address the climate challenge. For example, 87% of the measures in the rural development programme are focused on environmental protection and addressing climate change. The IFA's smart farming programme is run in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. That has highlighted a climate impact reduction in emissions of 9% and a reduction in costs of €7,000.
The measures included in GLAS and its predecessor, the rural environmental protection scheme, also highlight the work farmers are doing. The schemes promote the retention of soil carbon stocks through the encouragement of climate-friendly agricultural practices such as minimum tillage, green cover establishment and low-emission manure spreading techniques. Almost 50,000 farmers are in the GLAS programme, but it is oversubscribed. I strongly encourage the Government to reopen the scheme to allow maximum participation.
In addition, every one of the 130,000 farmers in receipt of a basic payment under CAP has to meet stringent EU requirements to keep their farms in good condition, including compliance obligations regarding the management of soils, hedgerows, water courses and fertiliser management. Farmers are subject to onerous inspections to ensure adherence to these obligations.
CAP also delivers for consumers, ensuring that the sector provides a secure supply of top-quality safe food, produced to the highest standards at affordable prices. A fully funded CAP budget is critically important for Ireland in respect of its farmers, economy, jobs and consumers, as well as contributing to environmental protection and combating climate change. The IFA has called on the Government, the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, to insist that the CAP budget for Ireland is increased to cover the extra costs and to cover inflation. As part of Bord Bia's Origin Green programme, more than 200,000 carbon assessments have been completed. Uniquely, Ireland is the only country in the world that measures, monitors and manages carbon from farm to fork at a national level.
Extra carbon taxes are not the answer. Almost €3 billion has been collected in this country in carbon taxes since 2010. Despite that, national climate emissions have increased. Therefore, the carbon tax has failed to make any environmental difference. Indeed, research work conducted by the ESRI indicates that increasing the annual carbon tax take to more than €1 billion may reduce emissions by just 4.7%. While the Citizens' Assembly suggests ring-fencing carbon taxes, I note the significant reluctance of Departments and agencies such as the ESRI when they addressed the committee on this proposed hypothecation. Regardless, the IFA will continue to oppose the imposition of further carbon taxes on farming. Environmental taxes such as the plastic bag levy worked because there were alternatives.
Carbon taxes on farming represent an additional cost on production with little or no extra benefits. The IFA supports the view of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine on carbon taxes which states that in place of a carbon tax that penalises farmers for failing to meet emissions targets, the application of additional incentives for farmers who sequester carbon may be a more effective approach in delivering change.
This year, Teagasc published 27 measures as part of its analysis. Those measures have the potential to reduce climate emissions by 9 megatonnes. The delivery of this requires intergovernmental and inter-State agency co-operation. It is a solid piece of work that can be a roadmap for the future. The IFA is also seeking a fairer share of the value food chain so we can reinvest in the climate proofing of our farm businesses. After all, it is hard for farmers to be green when they are in the red. In Ireland, this requires the Government to appoint an independent retail regulator and to support fully the European Commissioner's initiative to eliminate unfair trading practices. We are also calling on the Government to back French proposals that aim to eliminate food imports from unsustainable sources such as the Mercosur countries where beef is produced in the Amazon. Greater support for community and farm-scale renewables, including anaerobic digestion, must be put in place. This requires the Government to introduce a guaranteed feed-in tariff model, increased grid access and the development of a regional biomass trade and logistics centre. We will continue to work with the EPA to maximise cost savings and climate improvements in our smart farming programme.
I ask members of the committee to consider carefully the recommendations included in its report and not simply default to the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. This is particularly important in light of Ms Justice Laffoy's comments to the committee in September when she stated: "In truth, if we had time we could have had more information on the agricultural sphere and, in particular, on how various parts of the sector are and would be affected." The committee has taken the time and afforded a range of stakeholders, including the IFA, the opportunity to outline the complexity of addressing the climate challenge and to ensure Ireland's carbon-efficient model of food production is not compromised.
As president of the IFA I am proud to stand up for the agrisector, which is Ireland's indigenous sector exporting food, drink and forest products worth in excess of €13.5 billion in 2017 and providing direct or indirect employment to 300,000 people and 130,000 farmers. It has been a key driver in Ireland's economic recovery and it is the backbone of the economic activity throughout rural Ireland. From a carbon efficiency perspective, we are best in class. We seek a more complete and nuanced set of solutions for agriculture that safeguard Ireland's climate-efficient model of food production while providing innovative opportunities for farm families and rural Ireland to climate-proof their futures. We recognise there are challenges for all of us and agriculture is up to that challenge. We ask of the committee that its climate proposals be based on logic and take full account of the potential economic and social impact on farm families and the wider rural community.
I thank the representatives of the four organisations. Perhaps they feel their voices have not been heard on these matters. We welcome their presence at the committee meeting.
Before I go to members for questions, I propose that members direct their questions to a specific organisation rather than to all four organisations. Everybody will have a number of questions. Members should put their questions to the representative of a specific organisation.
I have a number of brief questions. My question for ICOS is about the co-operative potential. I was very interested in what was said about the potential for co-ops and biogas. Do the witnesses see it as a real alternative? Is there a lot of potential in terms of second and third incomes for farmers? It is not just the premium from beef and milk but perhaps also from energy. Has ICOS looked at models in any other countries that could be held up as an example? Will the witnesses keep their answers brief?
Mr. Michael Spellman:
We see an advantage for co-operatives getting involved in energy generation. One of the positive things that came out of the address in Poland this week was a recognition of the co-operatives getting involved in this. We know there is ring-fencing of 10% with regard to access to the auction for the electricity input that will be generated from the solar development in particular. We believe there is scope for co-operatives to be set up where the community would benefit from it. There is huge potential for that.
The Acting Chairman asked if we know something else that happened. There are small towns and villages in Germany that have maximised the co-operative model and have delivered very high levels of generation capacity. In Freiburg, which is near the Black Forest area of Germany, they are 130% self-sufficient in energy generation meaning they export 30% over and above what they require. It is something that could operate in Ireland just as well as it operates there. The dairy industry in Holland was able to support farmers there in microgeneration of roof-based solar power. Without a doubt there are opportunities.
I have two questions for the IFA. One is about GLAS. Mr. Healy mentioned it in his presentation. There are 50,000 farmers involved in it. Mr. Healy said the scheme should be reopened. There are two parts to my question. From an IFA point of view, does it have a significant positive environmental impact? Would it be possible to bring another 50,000 of the 130,000 farmers in the State into it?
I have a question on hedgerows, which are a bugbear of mine. I heard what the IFA and farming organisations have said. They put forward a very strong and coherent argument on the production of beef and milk. It is the most sustainable in Europe. There are some things that could be done a little bit better on farms to try to improve things such as the sequestering value of farms. One thing is hedgerows. There is a programme of reinstatement. One has to reinstate what one takes out. We all know that when one takes out a hedgerow, it is not something that can be recreated in one, two, three or four years. I am especially concerned about the practice of cutting them down to about a foot high. Why can we not go back to the practice of what used to be referred to as breasting ditches, in other words, cutting the outsides? I asked one of the IFA's members about this recently. The person will remain nameless. I asked him why people were doing it. I was curious about it. I noticed a lot of it happening around Ballymena and places like that. He said it was a Protestant thing. He will remain nameless. I am curious about it. For the life of me, I cannot understand it. Apart from being able to see someone's farm or show off how tidy and neat my farm is, I fail to see, as a rural Deputy, the benefits of cutting them down to one or two feet high. I will keep the name of the IFA member secret.
Mr. Joe Healy:
The last part of the comment shall remain an ecumenical matter. The first question was about the impact of GLAS. Perhaps I left it out so my presentation would stay within the time allowed but nine out of ten measures in the rural development schemes have climate mitigating actions within them. I will read out some numbers. In the GLAS scheme there are 357 km of arable grass margins.
There are more than 238,000 ha in low-input permanent pasture, almost 6,500 ha of minimum tillage, just shy of 13,000 km of water courses protected from bovine animals, 62 km of riparian margins, and 46,000 ha of traditional hay meadow.
The Acting Chairman mentioned the hedgerows. Mr. Cooney might be better on this. I think there are 1.4 million m of hedgerows.
Mr. Thomas Cooney:
There have been 14,000 km of new hedgerows planted between the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, and GLAS in the past ten years. Hedgerows have also been a protected feature, as part of CAP, since 2018. It is now against the law to remove a hedgerow unless one has an equal amount of hedgerow planted somewhere else on the farm. If one looks at the rest of Europe, we have a far higher percentage of hedgerows than most other European countries. There was talk about the Paris Basin earlier on. There are not too many hedgerows there.
There are a couple of measures in GLAS for maintenance of hedgerow. One is laying of hedgerows which rejuvenates a hedge that has been only grown up recently, in the past 20 years. It thickens it up. There is also a measure called "coppicing of hedgerow" where a hedgerow grows up into trees and there are large gaping holes in the bottom of it where livestock can walk. That is one of the measures where it is cut at approximately 6 in. high and it grows up into a nice thick hedge again.
I understand the Acting Chairman refers to where a hedgerow is trimmed every year. There would be a very small percentage of those around the country. It is predominately roadside hedges that are done like that and it is done on a road safety basis. That is the logic for doing them.
I welcome the delegations from the different farm organisations and ICOS here today. This is an important meeting. I concur with the comments that the farming organisations and agriculture in general did not get a fair hearing in the Citizens' Assembly. I was one who asked Ms Justice Laffoy here last September the question Mr. Healy mentioned earlier, that is, if she had more time, would she have taken on board some of the comments the agriculture sector may have had. It is important that everybody is here today.
It is also important to point out the contribution the agriculture sector makes to the economy in Ireland. We saw this during the ten difficult years in this country. The value of agriculture exports have increased from €7.5 billion to €13 billion in the past year. It could be argued that had it not been for agriculture building the foundation at that time, the economy might not be as good as it is today.
Reference was made in two of the reports, those of the ICMSA and the IFA, to the carbon tax issue. Has an economic analysis has been done by the ICMSA on the potential implication of a carbon tax being imposed on agriculture?
Mr. John Enright:
We have not done a specific analysis on it. From a dairy farmer's perspective, we are the most efficient in Europe. Our concern is that if a carbon tax is imposed on our sector, the consequences will be that it will make us less competitive on the global market and shift production from a carbon-efficient region such as Ireland to a less carbon-efficient region in some other part of the world and make the climate situation worse rather than better. The point we would make strongly is that a carbon tax does not work from the point of view of climate change because there will be different carbon taxes in different countries and our dairy sector could be targeted unfairly.
I note that the IFA, in its opening statement, mentions that Ireland has been the most efficient dairy producer and the fifth most efficient beef producer in the world, that there is significant risk of carbon leakage, that the potential implication of carbon leakage would benefit countries that are less efficient which could have a knock-on effect on us, and that we have made considerable progress since 1990, with production rising faster than emissions. In that regard, what could we be doing to make sure that will not be a difficulty for the future?
Mr. Joe Healy:
Every €5 per tonne in carbon tax costs the sector €8 million. That will give Deputy Deering an idea of it.
On the second part of the Deputy's question, Irish farm incomes are always a problem. We have fought for many years to ensure that the deal with Mercosur is not done. We have listened to European politicians tell Irish farmers to get real about climate change and at the same time they are trying to push through deals between Europe and countries such as Brazil, the efficiency of whose farmers is four times less than ours. The figures show that it takes 18 kg of CO2 to produce 1 kg of beef across Europe and it takes 80 kg of CO2 to produce 1 kg of beef in Brazil. That shows what we need to do.
We have stated clearly that climate change is not only an Irish issue. Listening to some commentators in this country, one would imagine that it is only an Irish issue. We heard Mr. Donnellan talk about the increase in demand for food and the increase in the population in the future. There will be increased demand for protein products and dairy and beef are strong protein products. If we are not producing the dairy and beef here in Ireland, which is recognised as the most carbon-efficient producer of dairy product and in the top five in Europe, to satisfy the extra demand, it will be produced in a less efficient country. From where I stand, that goes against improving climate change and carbon emissions. The point needs to be put across strongly that food should be produced in the countries where it is most efficient to do so, particularly if there is demand there for it.
I will ask about the suckler herd. An article in yesterday's Farming Independentregarding the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, began: "Suckler herds can reduce their Greenhouse Gas emissions by 10pc over the next 20 years if they use genetics to produce profitable and carbon efficient cows." I welcome that statement. The beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, has been one of the most efficient and best programmes introduced. It is the only one of its kind in Europe whereby there is the collection of data developing the maternal trait, getting the information about the suckler cow and feeding it back. It can be most advantageous for the future.
On my last count, 25,000 suckler farmers are in the BDGP. In the recent budget, there was another scheme introduced, the beef environmental efficiency pilot, BEEP, which will be most beneficial in that regard as well. There are many more than 25,000 farmers in the country. What can the IFA do to encourage more farmers to join this scheme in the event that the pilot is opened up in the future and so that it will form a significant part of the next Common Agricultural Policy?
Mr. Joe Healy:
The plain and simple answer to Deputy Deering's question is that the pilot is closed and we have called for it to be reopened. It was fully subscribed. Deputy Deering correctly stated that just shy of 25,000 farmers participate in it. There are 550,000 cows involved in it. It was a good scheme that was probably sold and explained badly to farmers at the start, and despite that, farmers showed their willingness to get involved in it. It is important that they are for a number of reasons.
Many of the measures help the environment. As direct payments account for more than 100% of the average farm income on those farms, obviously it is important. Even going back to the emissions per calorie of food, that has been reduced on Irish farms by 14% since 2013. The target is that it will be reduced by 25% by 2030.
Mr. McCormack referred to education and communications. It is crucial in the whole discussion. There are some people who think that rural Ireland is a place where a person goes for a walk on a Sunday with a dog, closes the gate behind, and it will be all right next Sunday.
That attitude has to change. The only way that can be done is by a communications and education process about the role played by agriculture in rural Ireland and the whole economy. We need to educate those who may not be as aware of what has been achieved in efficiencies in the beef industry and other areas which have assisted with climate change. How do the three farming organisations believe they might be able to improve communications and education?
Had it not been for Brexit, there would be much more discussion about CAP reform. There will be a great deal of talk about it, however, over the next two years. It plays a significant part in the sustainability of the agricultural economy. Looking at the different income streams, 75% of farmers’ incomes are from Europe. I like Mr. Healy using my line, “You cannot go green if you are in the red”. It is important that the agriculture budget is maintained. What do the farming organisations see as the main elements that will be required in the new CAP to ensure we are not just efficient and sustainable but can contribute to tackling climate change?
Mr. Joe Healy:
It is crucial that CAP is fully funded. We sought an increase to 1.3% of gross national income, GNI, from member states. It was increased to 1.1% but we saw the new initiatives, for example, migration, defence and security, eat up more than that 10% budget increase. We talk about a 5% decrease. Taking the European Commission’s proxy figure of 2% for inflation, we came up with a decrease of 17% to 18% in CAP for farmers. It is imperative that CAP is fully funded.
In 1984, CAP was over 60% of the EU budget. Now, it is at around 30%. By the end of the next CAP round, it will be at 28% of total funding. It has been a successful policy. While people might look at it as only a benefit for farmers, when it was introduced, over 30% of the average household income was spent on food. Today, that is somewhere between 10% and 12%. It has probably had more benefits for the non-farmer than for the farmer.
The one original aim for farmers in which it has failed, however, is ensuring a viable income for the farming sector. Borrowing Deputy Deering’s line again, it is hard to expect us to be green if we are in the red. The average farm income across Europe is only 40% of the average income in other sectors. Farm incomes are indexed for inflation and there is a significant amount of extra costs to get that CAP payment.
Mr. Thomas Cooney:
On education and communications, the IFA has up to 700 advisers throughout the country and there are 350 Teagasc advisers. They have to be results-based and have targets given to them to deliver results. There are targets put on farmers in different schemes and they have to achieve various thresholds to get their payments.
Deputy Deering referred to imports from Brazil. That concern has been raised with the new Brazilian President who has spoken about pulling out of the Paris Accord and has proposed further deforestation. It is important we protect our Irish sustainable based industries.
Mr. Pat McCormack:
We want to see the CAP budget maintained. There is slippage in itself given the cost of inflation over the past 30 years. We would like to see the Pillar 2 rural environmental schemes practicable for commercial farms. There is a pH issue with our lime levels in soil where only 10% of soils are at an optimum pH level. That has an effect on water quality and fertiliser usage. That needs to be got right. There needs to be a funding mechanism, be it through the Exchequer or CAP reform, for our renewables policy where we can see Ireland come back into the equation from a renewable energy point of view.
There needs to be education for the consumer. Origin Green has educated farmers and made them environmentally aware as well as compliant with animal records and so forth. We need to bridge that gap. There is probably a place for Ornua and Bord Bia with some of the larger multinational companies to educate the consumer. If they want top-quality and environmentally friendly food products, they need to pay an economically sustainable price to ensure a farm family can have a viable living.
The co-op system is a great model which we should expand across Europe. The Irish Co-operative Organisation Society identified the need for additional support to knowledge share. Will the representatives expand on that? Would it be an advisory type programme or a form of sectoral training? Are they aware of a similar model in another country that could highlight best practice?
I do not want farmers to be the fall guys. We are here in a sense of co-operation. On hedgerows, GLAS was discontinued because the nurseries were unable to meet demand. Importing hedge saplings was not an option as it ran the risk of bringing in plant diseases. There was a failure to guarantee the supply before the scheme was put in place. What needs to be put in place to ensure supply before a scheme of funding is in place and farmers sign up to it?
The demand for protein, be it beef or dairy products, is increasing. If it increases and we stand still, other countries will come in with their imports. We cannot expand any further, however. Teagasc stated the emissions from the cattle population are up and the population is due to increase.
This probably goes against Mr. Healy's product, but what does he think about diversifying and suggesting that we decrease some of our protein intake for our health? In terms of dietary intake, it was popular until the 1950s and 1960s to have meat on the dinner table only twice or three times per week.
I love the quote from Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association, INHFA, which states, "We need to rethink how we feed the world, for it is no use doing so at the expense of our land, water, air and biodiversity." What Government supports do those witnesses believe are available to re-skill us to rethink how we feed ourselves and other people? That is in the same vein of diversification. Is there any data on the available Government supports of which the witnesses spoke that reflect positive outcomes?
Mr. Joe Healy:
I do not think GLAS had a lot to do with the nurseries running short. We hit our targets for the planting of hedgerows very early and we hit the targets in the GLAS programme as well. The funding was used up.
Demand is there for dairy and beef protein products. That is what farmers are doing. We are supplying a market that is there and looks likely to grow. As I said, we are the most carbon efficient producers of dairy products in the EU and in the top five in beef. While the demand is there, let us produce it in the countries that are carbon efficient at producing it.
What was the last part of the Senator's question?
Mr. Joe Healy:
There was one other point. We are producing 40% more from farms at the moment than we were in 1990 but the amount of carbon being produced has flatlined. We are at the same level as 1990. We are down in carbon emissions from agriculture since 1998. Figures came out the other day. Emissions were 22.4 million tonnes in 1998 and that figure was 20.2 million tonnes last year. There is a lot of very efficient work being done and that is a result of science, research and genetics and we can build further on that, particularly in light of the Teagasc report that was launched in June.
Mr. Thomas Cooney:
If we do not meet demand, it will be met elsewhere. Beef produced in Brazil has four times the carbon footprint of beef produced here. Our dairy farmers are similarly more carbon efficient than any other place in the world. We are the best placed in the world to meet growing demand in developing nations.
Mr. T.J. Flanagan:
When we were talking about knowledge sharing, it was a combination of the mainstream advisory services, State or private, and more innovative, collaborative structures, joint programmes between co-ops, State agencies and Teagasc etc. In the previous presentation, Teagasc set out the steps available for us in terms of mitigation or abatement. We have a roadmap but it is about communicating these steps clearly to farmers.
One thing that should be pursued is milk recording. Less than half the farmers in the country are milk recording. It is a logical thing to do because it improves their efficiencies in so many ways but we need to work a little better to spread the message that this technology should be adopted and farmers can increase their productivity while reducing their emissions.
Ms Bridget Murphy:
The Senator asked about rethinking how we feed the world and what Government supports are available and if there are any data available. We said, in our longer document, that the INHFA approach will be led by common sense, as opposed to more sophisticated agricultural models because neither the support nor the research are there. That is not to say the science and technology are not important to our approach, however making the right choices about what we are facing requires wisdom and vision for future values and the fact that we choose to care more about the farm and the environment etc. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of research into the complex socioecological systems underpinning agriculture in Ireland and we need to proceed on that basis with common sense.
Deputy Eamon Ryan made a suggestion earlier, when Mr. Donnellan was speaking, about land use and in some senses a lot of research needs to be done in that area because it is quite critical to start understanding exactly what we are working with within ecosystems, rather than firing ahead with what we have. Traditionally the practice has been to get the pH up and throw a bunch of fertiliser at it and make something out of that land. That might work very well on lower land where there are more established grass systems, but for us, up in the high nature value areas, throwing a whole bunch of lime at a mountain is not going to make much difference and we certainly do not throw a huge amount of fertiliser up there.
Essentially, we need much more research. We called for that as well, saying that we would like to see a lot more research undertaken on land use and management in the upland and designated areas. It is an area that needs more exploring. Traditionally, we have got where we are because the research has been focused on a different angle. Perhaps we need that spotlight to shift and it really starts with understanding what land we have, what can be produced from it, where is the best place to locate certain things and move on from there.
I must apologise for being absent earlier. I had to go up to the Chamber for a contribution on the European Council debate but, as it happened, Deputy Micheál Martin approached me and informed me that he had made some sort of deal to extend this Dáil by another year. I asked, in my contribution, what are we going to use that year for? We should use it for consensus on certain key issues and I hope we can get consensus on the key elements of the new national energy climate action plan that has to be delivered by next year.
For the farming sector, the timing could not be better in the sense that, in getting ready for it, we have to have a vision of the new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP. Extending that vision of new politics, I hope the environmental movement can sit down and talk with the various farming bodies to see how we can achieve both better pay for farmers and a restoration of nature in our land. Mr. Healy was talking about 1990. Since then, we have lost pristine water. Could we pay farmers to help restore that?
The World Wildlife Fund report came out last month saying we have lost 60% of invertebrate wildlife in the world and that has happened in Ireland the same as elsewhere. Could we pay farmers to help restore that in this consensus that we seek?
Mr. Healy said that things have not changed since 1990. One thing that has not changed since 1990 is that most farmers, I understand, are getting the same price for the produce that their mother or father got in 1990. Could we change the power structures in Irish retailing and the power of the PLCs to start changing that as a precondition?
If we were to do all that, we should also pay farmers, under CAP, for turning the current situation. No matter what is said, the physical reality is that our emissions went up 3% last year and roughly the same the year before. It is a hell of a challenge to turn that around, but we must collectively turn it around.
The Green Party is in a really interesting place. Our colleagues in Germany, Belgium and Holland, the people who are going to be paying this budget, are on the rise. I would love to bring over my colleagues to sit down with the witnesses here. My colleagues have their objectives and interests and the witnesses have theirs. Those interests may be different because, as the national land use system recognises, we may have different needs for different types of farmers. Would the witnesses be willing to sit down with my colleagues under new politics and in a just transition way? We need a just transition with Irish farmers in the same way we need a just transition with Bord na Móna workers and perhaps do a just transition with each different category of farmer in terms of how it works for the witnesses, us and everyone.
We must do this in the next year. In respect of a willingness or not to do that, do the witnesses think the current system serves their members? If we are talking about changing it, are we talking about tweaking it or radical change going into that process for the next year?
Mr. John Enright:
The first point I would make is that we go to meeting after meeting at the moment. Everybody thinks CAP can solve every problem. First, there is a proposal to cut the CAP budget. Second, if we are to solve all these problems, what other issues are we going to drop because there is only a certain amount of money in the budget? More and more objectives are being set out and more and more demands are being placed on CAP, and in my honest opinion, I do not believe it can achieve what everybody thinks it can achieve. We have no issue with power and the supply chain but that has been an issue for 20, 30 or 40 years. To be fair, the current Commissioner is making an effort in that regard but the reality is that the primary producer is getting a smaller share of the final consumer price. In my opinion, food is probably too cheap. Its price does not take account of the cost of producing that food. I would agree with the Deputy on those points but the problem is how we solve them. The idea that we will solve all these problems with a reduced CAP budget is not correct.
Mr. John Enright:
There is no doubt there are certain parts of CAP we would change. We would like to change the supply chain. There are issues around that. We would like to see CAP simplified. There is a range of issues that need to changed with the key one being the price of food. The farmer is not getting true value in respect of what he produces on his farm, taking account of all the costs involved such as animal welfare or environmental concerns. The farmer is not being adequately rewarded for that.
Mr. Joe Healy:
I will add to what Mr. Enright said. We have always agreed to sit down and have sat down to discuss issues relating to Irish farming and its sustainability. The Deputy is right about prices. We would love to see more being done about prices. It is important to build on Commissioner Hogan's agri-markets task force with regard to unfair trading practices and give a bigger share of the margin to farmers. We have seen this margin being continually eroded to the point where the farmer gets 21 cent out of every euro paid by the consumer while the retailer gets 51 cent with the processor taking 28 cent in the middle. When this report is rolled out and when there is legislation around it, we have called for an independent regulator to be there to enforce it. Where it is found that retailers are not acting fairly with their suppliers, a regulator needs to be there to levy penalties in the same fashion as Christine Tacon, the groceries code regulator in the UK, can. Mr. Enright has covered most of the rest of it. Many of the aims of the original CAP are being met. What is probably not being met is an adequate income going to farmers. CAP has definitely ensured the production of safe, top-quality food that is traceable from farm to fork and that the European citizens get a good deal from it.
Mr. Michael Spellman:
I was particularly interested to hear Deputy Ryan say that the price being received today for what is being produced is nothing more than it was 18 or 20 years ago. How right he is. When we hear that, we must ask whether people are prepared to pay more for the food they eat. That is a serious question. I agree wholeheartedly with the Deputy that now might be a good time to have a national conversation or forum that would look at all aspects of the future of farming in Ireland. ICOS understands that we face major challenges on issues like generational renewal and getting people to represent the industry at board level. Many things will change dramatically in the coming years. For example, on average terms across the EU, 46% of farmers' income comes from CAP. If CAP is not properly funded and if the funding is not enhanced in the short to medium term, there will be a further decline in farming activity in rural areas. We talk about continuing expansion. There are areas in this country where we will not be able to engage in any great form of expansion and if there is no support for the sort of measures and programmes that are working very well on farms at the minute - I referred to GLAS, TAMS and other programmes that are supported - we will see a further decline in our industry and we will all suffer, particularly when we must face the enormous challenges posed by climate change. If we are not there to do that at individual farm level up and down the country, the citizens of Ireland will be the greatest losers.
Mr. Gerry Loftus:
Regarding Deputy Ryan's first question on pristine water, that would have to form part of overall climate targets. It feeds in from one thing to another. To be honest, our starting point on all of this should be whether we are prepared to realise where we are. We saw a report the other day that measured 56 countries where we were ranked 48th. We are the lowest in the EU when it comes to making progress. Emissions rose by 3.5% in 2016, 3.7% in 2017 and 2.9% this year, which is 10.1% increase in total. If we do not realise that this must be our starting point and stop the rise in carbon emissions, we are all wasting our time. We can produce all the research and waffle we need and want. We were told by the summit in Poland a week ago that we were going to lose huge parts of the world to climate change through flooding. Depending on how high sea levels rise, it could affect parts of this country such as Dublin, Cork and Waterford. Is our Government looking at things like this? While we invest all this money in cities and towns, are we listening to the scientists and the advice we are getting because we have not been listening for the past 20 years? Our starting point must be to stop the rise in emissions. With regard to pristine water, it involves flow and pollution from agriculture. There is no point denying it is happening because it is happening. It is as simple as that. Farmers are spreading slurry four times a year because we did not make adequate provision for this in digesters and correct our systems. There are no fish left in rivers in our part of the country and in several other parts of the country. In many of these cases, it is because of run off from forestry - Sitka spruce plantations and aerial fertilisation. Farmers cannot spread fertiliser into rivers or streams but forestry companies can do so. That is not a problem at all. We had gorgeous spawning rivers of salmon and trout but the salmon and trout have now gone and nobody says a word about it. It all seems to be fine. When I was sitting in the Public Gallery, I heard an earlier speaker from Teagasc make the point that 20,000 ha of Sitka spruce plantations are required to combat greenhouse gas emissions. There are about 740,000 ha of Sitka spruce plantations in this country.
Their carbon sequestration is less than 4%, and between 20% to 25% of that is planted on the most valuable soil in the world, peatland. Some 3% of the world's surface is peatland. That 3% sequesters more carbon than every tree on every plantation on the globe, yet here we are discussing planting more trees. If trees were doing such a good job on this, why are our emissions at the rate they are? The rhetoric we must listen to is unbelievable. We have been doing the same thing with thicket spruce plantations for 100 years, since the Brits were here, and we continue to do it. It is just crazy. Are we or are we not serious about this?
Ms Bridget Murphy:
To the question whether the current system is serving our members, we would have to say "No". Our hill sheep farmers are high nature value farmers. We expect them to do both environmental work and production while being paid for production, which is limited, as our stock are management tools on mountains. We do not have the luxury of putting very heavy, bigger animals up on a mountain. They must be light and lean to work on a mountain. We earn off production but we are providing a management service instead. The CAP document, however, does not get to grips with that. In fact, one of the new good agricultural practices, the good agricultural and environmental condition, GAEC, refers to peatlands having to be kept in a good condition before we can even receive a Pillar 1 payment. Keeping wetlands, peatlands and boglands in good condition takes a lot of resources, information and skill. It cannot be a precondition for getting a first payment. It must be further down in the ecoschemes. It would be possible to say something along the lines that the bogs should not be degraded, but it certainly should not be that we must maintain them in good condition to receive the Pillar 1 payment.
Mr. Thomas Cooney:
On water quality, it is also worth noting that, since 1990, the amount of seriously polluted water bodies has declined by 90%, although there are still improvements to make. More than €2.5 billion has been invested in Irish farms, in slurry storage, effluent management and so on. The code of good agricultural practice is improving. By European standards, we are in the top ten. There is more to do but we are confident that the new measures in the latest river basin management plan will deliver the agricultural sustainability and support advisory programme, ASSAP, which is being rolled out. We are confident it will give us further improvements where the 30 sustainability advisers will help further improve water quality. There has been a decline in some of our pristine waters, but we should remember that not all was in intensive agricultural areas. It will probably be discovered when the local authority water support and advisory teams go out there and there will probably be improvements.
On emissions, it is important that 27 measures that Teagasc has recommended are implemented and that every effort is made to ensure this. As the previous speaker from Teagasc noted, to take out 7 million tonnes is over one third of agriculture emissions. There is potential to do that with the current stock numbers. There is no point in rehashing it, but that is our line.
I have some short questions which I would like each group to answer. The farmers of Ireland are the custodians of the environment. That is our starting point. The people present at this meeting represent them. This is a major issue, no matter where one goes, in every sector of society. What kinds of ideas are coming from the meetings? Are the farmers - I am one, so I cannot be criticised for saying this - simply saying that they are farmers, they will keep farming, and how can they do anything when they are not making money? Alternatively, are they making any suggestions as to how they can turn it to an advantage? We sell our food and agricultural products all over the world as being green. Were we to add carbon efficient approved to that, could we turn that to our advantage? What feedback have the organisations present received from their members on this?
At the first meeting of this committee there was agreement across the board that whatever decision we made would have to encompass all parties from a political perspective, and whatever suggestions would be made would transfer from Government to Government. We are in agreement on that. How well are the different sectors communicating about what everyone can do collectively into the future to improve the situation? This is a global issue. The majority of the grain feed coming into this country comes in on boats from Russia, which is a massive global footprint, yet according to our own report, although it is obvious to anyone, our tillage farmers are on their knees. As people in the sector, will the witnesses give us an idea of how we can overcome that type of issue, where we would cut out the carbon footprint of the imports, which are transported across the world and help the tillage sector by using home-grown feed? In a product for which we are world famous, Guinness, over 50% of the grain in Guinness is not Irish. The farmers would love that it was, naturally, but how can we overcome these things and turn them to our advantage so that we turn the red into the black and at the same time turn green?
What relationships do the organisations present have with other organisations outside farming in the community? It comes back to the co-operatives and where they were started by the farmers. There was a whole community buy-in and effort. If farmers were providing slurry, grass or whatever to an anaerobic digestion plant that was providing district heating into communities, the us and them aspect suddenly goes, everyone is united and happy, and it is much easier to get a buy-in to the problem. What initiatives can the groups present come up with rather than waiting to see what the committee arrives at?
Mr. John Enright:
On the ideas coming from our members, farmers do things every day to improve climate change. For instance, in relation to the economic breeding index, EBI, when farmers breed their cows every spring-summer, they use more climate-efficient animals. It is an ongoing issue.
The area of renewables is something in which farmers would be significantly interested, whether solar, wind, anaerobic digestion, or biomass. Farmers need to see the policy framework around that which would allow them to get into that area, whether rooftop solar panels on farms or anaerobic digestion. They need to be convinced that there will be an economic return from it. There has been bad experiences of this in the past, for instance, in relation to miscanthus, and these are issues that need to be resolved. The Government must come forward with initiatives in the area.
The matter of grains in Ireland comes down to economics. The key issue is the price of food and whether the farmer can make an economic return from the product. Unfortunately, tillage farmers have been struggling in recent years, but it comes down to the way we are pricing food.
On working with other sectors, our members work with dairy co-operatives, local LEADER groups and so on in different initiatives. Renewables are an area in which farmers have a great deal of interest but they need to see the policy framework.
Mr. Gerry Loftus:
I thank the Senator for his question. I wholly agree with his remark that farmers are the custodians of the land, and so it should be, but with the amount of bureaucracy, legislation and so on, one would sometimes wonder who are the custodians.
We talked earlier about 1995 and the number of animals, cattle, cows and so on we had in the country. At that time the cattle numbers might have been similar, but there were considerably fewer cows. As we all know there is much less spreading of fertiliser slurry.
The industrialised business-led model we have adopted in this country has failed miserably. Let us consider the distribution of CAP. Of 120,000 farmers, some 53,000 are on a basic payment of €5,000 or less and some 27,000 are on €10,000 or less. Things have changed from years ago where everybody had everything on a farm and we were self-sufficient. Last winter at the time of the snow, if it lasted for another week many would have died of hunger. If we look at where the money is at the end of the year, is it in the farmers' pockets? It is not in mine and I do not know if it is for many. Because of this golden circle running Irish agriculture with corporatisation creaming the profits from the top, farmers have little or nothing.
We have heavily promoted the dairy sector. Much of this relates back to Teagasc which came up with the idea because of global warming and the increasing carbon in the atmosphere we were going to have much more grass, as we do. That has now resulted in major increases in our emissions, a dairy sector that is €1.5 billion in debt, and mothers and fathers who cannot sleep at night because they have signed up to loans for their sons and daughters to get into this racket promoted by many people, including politicians, dairy co-ops and farming organisations.
In fairness, Commissioner Hogan has given a serious hint to farmers over the past year in outlining where we were going with our emission targets and farmers were not biting the bullet. Most recently he talked about a cull and so on. We cannot continue to sacrifice our taxpayers at the rate of €600 million per year from 2020 to 2030. Why should they be sacrificed when people in responsible positions who should have directed us on a different road up to now did not do so?
The way out all of this is, unfortunately, going back a bit in time, decreasing production and putting in place proper schemes for all farmers. I am not saying that cows cannot be milked; of course they have to be. I am not saying beef cannot be produced; of course it can. However, we must look at diversification. Farmers could be doing many other things than producing excessive amounts of milk, beef or whatever. We need to look at it in a general context. We import far too much material, food and so on. For example, we imported 40,000 tonnes of potatoes last year, 20,000 tonnes of chip potatoes, 16 million tonnes of junk meal from South America that I would not give to anything. I would not feed it to my animals although some people are prepared to feed it and promote it. Then we sell this idea of Origin Green. Ornua, the company behind Kerrygold, is involved in a major court case over false advertising.
We are also seeing enormous rises in the incidence of diseases in people and I am not sure why. However, I am saying we should be producing top-quality food for the people of this country and we should also export whatever top-quality milk, beef, lamb etc. we can. First and foremost should be 100% healthy food.
Ms Bridget Murphy:
We were asked for any suggestions from our members or what we are suggesting to our members to overcome that. Two specific things are coming up. One is that people want to explore growing hemp. The problem is with test-running it. There is a long process to get licences etc. If we are on timeframes, it would be great if those timeframes could be shifted down to allow some trials to happen.
The second thing is to have bees designated as a livestock unit. The managed honey hive would have a very large margin of forage around it which would include the wild pollinators. It would kill two birds with one stone; I accept that analogy is not very environmentally friendly. We could sort out forage and habitat of the wild pollinators which is a critical issue for the environmentalists. It would also give farmers another source of income from a different livestock unit.
Mr. Michael Spellman:
Senator Paul Daly raised an issue and Mr. Enright made reference to it in his reply. As I outlined earlier, we could see an expansion of the energy on a co-operative level. For example, the group water schemes have been well served by their involvement in ICOS and the co-operative structure. We need Government support for energy projects and they should be community-led to get a better buy-in as far as the community is concerned. The difficulty with many of those energy projects for many years has been the opposition and the difficulty in procuring planning permission. If the local community benefits from the existence of such a project in the area, that would be a way of avoiding that difficulty. To talk about killing two birds with the one stone, if we generate more of our electricity from a renewable source here on a co-operative or community basis, we would need to import less of what is required to generate our energy today. It is a win-win situation for everybody. It would take care of the issue raised by my friend here regarding diversification. It would be a way for the farmer to diversify from what he has been doing well for generations. He can see this as another opportunity.
As it is being done right across Europe, why not give support to put panels on the roofs of the big buildings that exist in every farmyard? We will be able to add an additional dimension to that very shortly because the technology for battery storage is improving which would allow us to make better use of the energy generated from the roof. There are enormous opportunities and they can all be done on a co-operative community-led basis.
Mr. Thomas Ryan:
Senator Daly asked what farmers are thinking. The farmers I meet are very engaged. Some 200,000 carbon assessments have been done on farms, which means someone must be doing them. There is at least one done per farm household if we think about 135,000 farm households. Some 50,000 farmers are involved in GLAS. The IFA president, Mr. Joe Healy, has said we need to get that reopened because there is a pent-up demand to participate.
Every farmer who gets a basic payment and is part of CAP has to complete an inspection and to comply with 20 key measures, 13 of which are called SRMs and a further seven good agricultural environmental conditions. Any farmer who does not is subject to a penalty. Some 24,000 farmers in the beef data genomics programme, BDGP, are genotyping their stock in order to try to reduce their emissions by 10%.
We can also consider what farmers are doing voluntarily. In conjunction with the EPA we run a voluntary scheme, called Smart Farming, which is oversubscribed. We are heading into 2019 with more farmers interested in participating than the capacity of the scheme.
That is because it focuses on the win-win that Deputy Ryan referred to earlier of improving farm returns while also enhancing the environment by focusing on climate. The committee's report earlier this year stated that it should look at expansion. That is before renewables are considered. This is the great value of the Teagasc abatement climate roadmap in trying to pull all this together. All the ideas for generating, whether about renewables or efficiency, seem to be included in the 27 measures. To give direction and guidance to the sector, IFA president Joe Healy has written directly to the Taoiseach, stating that we should look at what delivery of the climate roadmap looks like. For the first time ever, we have some sort of vision regarding what 9 million tonnes of emission reductions from the sector could look like. The farmers I meet are very engaged. They have to be because their future depends on getting sustainability right.
I will begin by referring to Deputy Stanley's comments. With regard to Northern Ireland and Protestants cutting hedges, I would like to make it clear that one's religion is probably not a sign of one's predisposition towards being environmentally responsible or irresponsible. It may be a reference to the fact that Protestants have a tendency to cut their hedges around the 12th fortnight. I hope that is what he was implying.
I echo Senator Paul Daly's comments about the Citizens' Assembly. I have concerns that agriculture was underrepresented in that and that we need to revisit it. It is good to hear the contributions here today and the fact that a strong lobbying exercise is being done to say that agriculture is a critical industry for Ireland and it will have a role to play in this. I do not want to repeat everything but obviously agriculture has delivered on efficiencies, which has been well-proven and documented. There was a reference in an earlier meeting today about a successful venture, the taxation of plastic bags. It changed behaviour and delivered. My concern when one looks at taxation of farmers and primary production can be seen in the analogy drawn with the plastic bags tax, which was applied at supermarkets and was paid for by consumers. My problem with the carbon tax on agriculture is that the farmer cannot pass that on or recover it from the marketplace. It resides with the farmer as a cost he or she will bear.
Before he left, Mr. Pat McCormack from the ICMSA referred to sustainability. We have all discussed environmental sustainability at length today. We all know what is economic sustainability. If it is not profitable, there will not be an industry. I do not think we pay enough attention to social sustainability, which is about the creation and vibrancy of rural villages, towns, schools, shops, post offices and Gaelic football clubs, all of which are dependent on strong, profitable agricultural structures. A number of references have been made in the committee to the importance of agriculture in the Irish economy, but it is disadvantaged by this headline figure of its percentage impact or contribution to the emissions discussion. New Zealand was referred to as an economy that is similarly heavily dependent on agriculture and is disadvantaged. I do not think we have recognised the contribution we have made with regard to ammonia. Every 1% by which we have reduced protein in our animal feeds reduces ammonia by 10%. The intensive sector reduced ammonia output by 30%. If we consider these things and the reference made earlier by Deputy Ryan to the possibility of paying farmers for a positive contribution, in the opinion of the different representatives, what is the possibility of farmers being paid for carbon credits for delivering benefits to society? Mr. Thomas Ryan referred to there being 200,000 farm audits. Are enough data and information emerging that we could be in a position to pay farmers carbon credits for positive delivery?
Mr. Thomas Ryan:
Carbon credits bring the matter of the carbon sink into play. We do not feel, as a sector, that there is a fair picture of farming where climate is concerned. That is because methane and nitrous oxide are counted and accounted for but the carbon sink from our forestry, hedgerows, grasslands and permanent pastures are largely ignored, with forestry beginning to be involved. Ireland has the largest permanent pastures in Europe, yet there is no carbon credit or recognition for that. This all relates to keeping farmers engaged. If we look at forestry alone since 1990, some 4.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide are stored that could be accounted for from 2021 to 2030. That will probably come into play in 2025. The EPA has done work on between 0.5 and 2 tonnes of carbon on our soils. Where is the value of that coming back into the sector when the magic 20 or 21 million tonnes are compared to agriculture? We contend that it is absolutely not a fair reflection on the sector that methane and nitrous oxide are counted.
Let us go a step further and look at the landscape. Deputy Ryan referred to a land use strategy. Whatever the committee's view might be, more than 200 wind farms are offsetting approximately 3.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. That is happening on our landscape. If we look at the landscape and landscape contribution, since we are all tied up in the methodology, we are blocking a really positive discussion that could take place about carbon stores. We are all concerned about 2020, when in reality, if we do not make progress on the carbon sink discussion, we will be here in the run-in to 2030, having an identical discussion. It is a barrier to positivity in the discussion. The value is there and the more quickly it is recognised, the more positive it is for engagement.
Mr. Michael Spellman:
I want to come back on one of the points I made in my opening address relating to sustainability of rural communities. There is a serious concern relating to the loss of services in rural communities, whether Garda stations, doctors' surgeries, banks or other services. Ernst & Young indicated an increase in milk production from 2016 to 2020 was putting an additional €540 million annually into those rural communities. They were supporting jobs, including the farmer producing the milk, who supported the store, local grocery or supermarket, the butcher, garage and whatever else. That sort of sustainability is critical too and there is a place for all levels of sustainability to be nurtured here. Sustainability in the production of our food is critical, as is sustainability of the communities that live in rural areas. It is worthwhile to keep in mind that a little change can make a big difference.
I thank the witnesses for coming in this afternoon. It is a helpful engagement. One very strong message is that the witnesses all accept that climate action has to be taken. It may surprise some people who might have had different views about those in the agriculture sector, and it is great that the witnesses are being proactive in their messages this evening and about actions they want to see taken.
The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine compiled a report on climate change and sustainability in the agrifood sector. Have the farming organisations had a chance to examine the report? It has some good ideas, which were referenced earlier, particularly for agroforestry. Earlier we heard that agroforestry would be a quick win for mitigation measures. We do not expect dairy farms to completely plant mixed plantations. There are 130,000 farmers in this country. Have the organisations considered the possibility of asking each farmer to set aside an acre of land for agroforestry?
Do the organisations think Food Wise 2025 should be reviewed in terms of the pressures the policy puts on farmers to deliver reduced emissions?
Have the organisations considered the carbon taxation models that have been discussed? The British Colombia's fee and dividend model is being considered at present. The model proposes that money would be returned to the rural economy or poorer communities when money is circulated. Do the organisations have a view on that model?
ICOS is in existence for 125 years and I congratulate it on reaching such a milestone. Recently I attended the 50th celebrations for the Arrabawn Co-Operative Society that took place in Birr, County Offaly. Two of the founding members attended the event and it was a great afternoon. Has ICOS put in place a model? Let us say there is a policy that recommends farming co-operatives should get involved in anaerobic digesters or the biofuel industry and models have been designed. If a group of farmers approached the organisation, said they wanted to undertake such projects and have a plan, does the organisation have a funding model available?
Mr. T.J. Flanagan:
The Deputy asked whether there is a structure in place if a policy was decided upon. Of course, yes. We provide rulebooks for every society and we have model rules for every sector. We have already developed model rules for energy co-ops, farm machinery co-ops and every type of co-operative one can imagine. We are working with a number of groups and we have model rules ready to go. If a group has a proposition we will have no problem providing a structure for them and certainly the legal basis for their existence. We do not have the money to fund them but we have legal and democratic structures in place.
I shall comment on the carbon taxation models. I echo what Mr. Donnellan said this morning that carbon taxation models are the bluntest of instruments. A carbon tax on agriculture per sewould be the bluntest of instruments. If one would put a tax on every animal then the good, bad, efficient and inefficient animals would be taken out. Such a policy would not deliver. It would simply reduce our competitiveness, reduce production and increase inefficiency. We cannot assess the carbon efficiency of every cow in the country. That would be possible only if one could do so with the press of a button, but that is not possible. My colleague, Mr. Spellman, will comment in terms of the committee.
Mr. Michael Spellman:
We set up a group to address climate change and it made a number of recommendations, one of which was agroforestry. In the first instance, we recommended the removal of the replanting obligation in standard afforestation as it acts as a significant barrier and prevents farmers from converting agricultural land into forestry. In addition, we recommended, in order to assist with afforestation targets, that livestock farmers would welcome a worthwhile agroforestry initiative using native broadleaf trees to increase forestry cover, provide shelter belts, offset emissions and increase biodiversity. Certainly, it is something that would get a positive response. I understand what was said about dairy farmers not putting large areas of their farms into forestry and how a couple of acres on every farm might be preferable. Some of our co-ops have reached out in a small way to their members by supplying them with trees to plant in small coppices on their farms. We could extend that, thus partially addressing what is needed in terms of afforestation.
Mr. John Enright:
The ICMSA can see the potential in agri-forestry. I am not sure it would suit every farm but we believe the scheme should be promoted.
In terms of a review of Food Wise 2025, we would need to know what a review would entail. I have certain concerns about the matter. ICMSA members have invested in their farms and taken on long-term debt on the basis of Food Wise 2025 and a review could have major implications for those individuals. We must be cognisant of those people who have taken the brave decision to invest in their businesses and contribute to the whole area. We need to be careful about what is meant by a review of Food Wise 2025, in my opinion.
The ICMSA has stated its views on carbon tax in our submission. We believe a carbon tax is not a good idea for the agricultural sector.
Mr. Thomas Cooney:
I shall respond to the question on forestry. There is an urgent need within Government to review the existing forestry regulations as they limit planting on unenclosed land. More than 180,000 hectares of unenclosed land are not designated. If the same rules that apply in Scotland were applied here that land could be planted. The measure would go a long way towards addressing our shortcomings in forestry because the forestry rate for this year was a little more than 4,000 hectares but the target was 10,000 hectares. If the restriction was lifted there is a potential to plant 180,000 hectares.
In terms of Food Wise 2025, it does not address farm level profitability. Farmers all around the country have raised that issue with the IFA.
Carbon tax makes sense only if there is an alternative. Most farmers use jeeps and tractors on their farms. There is no such thing as an electricity powered jeep or tractor. Until there is an alternative it does not make sense to impose more carbon taxes. As was said earlier, every €5 a tonne increase in carbon tax takes another €8 million out of agriculture and the current carbon tax takes €30 million. There is no alternative at the moment.
Mr. Gerry Loftus:
I shall respond to the first question on agroforestry. What Mr. Spellman has said is close enough to the right idea. The INHFA totally disagrees with short-term payments. The agroforestry scheme lasts five years and is a bit like the afforestation programme overall. We have told here today that 4,000 hectares were planted last year, which surprises me. The scheme is just a land grab because one gets paid for 15 years but ends up with nothing, which is what happens when one plants Sitka spruce. At the end of that scheme, if one wants a felling licence to fell one's timber, one must agree to replant the land and pay for it oneself. That is how good the Government is at conning people in this country, and that has gone on for quite a long time.
The agroforestry scheme is a five-year payment. One can fence off the land but ten years must elapse before one can allow an animal to graze on that land. The conditions of the scheme insist that trees are planted about six metres apart and one cannot graze the land for ten years. One is paid for only five years so what payment does that land produce for the next five years? It produces nothing and from there on the land is taken up with trees. The INHFA suggests that if we are serious about tackling climate change and truly want farmers to participate in these schemes, they must be paid indefinitely, and whoever is their successors must be paid indefinitely. Fewer than 4,000 hectares will be planted in forestry next year because the people of the west of Ireland are sick of the scheme. A beautiful county like Leitrim has been wiped out, communities have been wiped out and rivers are being polluted. For what? So we can milk cows?
I did not suggest that vast tracks of land should be planted. I asked whether an acre of land on each farm should be planted with small amounts of mixed species of trees. I am not going down the line of making previous mistakes again. I based my question on findings and recommendations in a report compiled by the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Mr. Gerry Loftus:
We would fully support a scheme if it viewed the work as a service being provided by farmers indefinitely, which it would be, and that he or she should be paid for it indefinitely.
Regarding the carbon taxation models, we believe that one cannot determine anything until one determines one's carbon footprint. In our CAP proposals we have proposed that the eco scheme, which replaces greening, be mandatory for all farmers to measure their carbon footprint in order to determine their carbon levels. If we do not do this as a starting point, there is no point in talking about carbon credits because no one will know where they stand.
Mr. Gerry Loftus:
The carbon navigator is not a measurement for every farmer. There are a very limited number of farmers in the beef genomics scheme. It is not resulting in accurate measurements. We need this to be done right across the board, mandatory for every farmer, if we are to make a start on this. A voluntary scheme was mentioned in the CAP proposals. Commissioner Hogan's wording is now that farmers will have to "partake" in this. He has not said it is mandatory. If it is not mandatory, however, it is just a waste of time. It is a starting point to determine carbon credits. Of course carbon credits should be traded. They are being traded right now.
Ms Bridget Murphy:
To fill in one point in the context of what Mr. Loftus said, the carbon navigator looks at one's footprint but does not actually look at what one's farm sequesters or sinks. That component is missing. It is especially critical for our sector, which is providing a massive sink through peat soils and some other measures.
Should Food Wise 2025 be reviewed? We would say yes. We would want to look at an industrial-led model of continued growth. We are talking about €19 billion by 2025. When we get to 2025, are we going to flatline that growth and maintain it or set another, much higher target and keep moving along on a growth model when we know at this stage it is causing many problems? I can understand the contention that there is resistance due to sunken costs, but perhaps in some senses it is time to look at repositioning the plug sooner rather than later rather than allowing people to get in way too deep. We saw this happen in Paraguay, where farmers were all encouraged to expand and then the price of milk dropped and the loans were called in and every single farmer lost his or her farm. We really would not want to see this, especially for the young farmers who have been encouraged to expand into dairying. Yes, it is critical we look at Food Wise 2025 and perhaps change the metric from €19 billion to a different set of metrics that looks at whether we are feeding people in a good, healthy way and keeping a stable economy and environment.
I thank everyone for their contributions. I wish to start by fully agreeing with the IFA that this is not just an Irish issue. Greenhouse gases do not go up over a country and keep within its border; they go into the atmosphere. It is a global issue, and I fully acknowledge that the IFA acknowledges this. It was therefore really unhelpful for the Minister to say the other day that there is no contradiction between growing a herd and reducing emissions. Clearly, this is not in line with the reports that continually come before us, whether from Europe or the EPA or our own reports. They show us that agricultural emissions are increasing year on year and have increased for four out of the past five years, and the main contributor to that is the growing of the herd. I understand that the IFA is here to defend its members and their position but I also appreciate that people will find it difficult to be green when they are in the red. This is why the notion of a carbon tax that should be imposed on everyone, regardless of their circumstances, is not on, as proven by the people of France - the farmers and the workers and the people from villages, towns and cities. One does not impose a carbon tax on ordinary people who cannot afford it without providing an alternative. If people in this country had a great alternative in terms of public transport but refused to use it because they wanted to go in and out in their Ferraris, I would say, "Tax them to hell." They do not have an alternative, because we do not have good public transport. We have people living in satellite towns outside of the big cities who must drive in and out to work because they have no choice. If we were given the alternative, the carbon tax would be absolutely sound, but in this situation it is not. Neither is it sound for farmers, except, of course, in the case of big ranchers who make vast profits. I am an urban dweller and not familiar with who is who in rural Ireland in terms of agricultural production but I do know that there are certain types of farmer who are vastly wealthy, grow huge numbers of cattle and dairy herd and make a lot of their profits from exporting.
I wish to make a small point about the discussion about Food Wise and food production because this is also not just an Irish issue but a global issue. I was quite shocked to see Bord Bia recently spend an awful lot of its time, money and energy on promoting Irish beef and dairy in countries whose populations have never eaten beef or dairy, such as China and the Middle East, countries where there is no tradition of eating these types of food and no health barometer in this regard. Bord Bia is really pushing farmers to grow more cattle here for more exports. This just does not make sense because it is leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions.
I have a couple of questions. On the question of global food production, this conversation is really useful and interesting. I think it was the witness from ICOS, Mr. Spellman, who proposed that we should have a national forum on the future of farming. That is a brilliant idea. I am not as critical of the Citizen's Assembly as some of the witnesses are but I do not think the recommendations on agriculture are sufficient. I would like to know what they think of the idea of a national forum on farming and food production and how it might contribute to this overall plan to help us reduce our national CO2 emissions.
Lastly, I noticed in the submission from the hill farmers that there is a lot of talk of a national forestry policy. Do they believe that the policy as structured and implemented through and by Coillte is sufficient? If not, what must change to make our forestry policy more realistic, more long-term and more sustainable?
Mr. Michael Spellman:
I was responding to Deputy Eamon Ryan, who mentioned this earlier. I agreed with him as I think it would be helpful because we will find it difficult to confront some of the changes that are taking place and the issues we must confront in the medium to long term. For this reason it might be a good time to have a national conversation or a national forum on the future of agriculture, remembering that we are an agricultural country, no matter how we look at it. I think it would be worthwhile exploring that initiative.
Mr. Joe Healy:
While the forum might be a good idea, and I would have no issues with it, it would want to be seen to achieve more than the beef forum, for example. A well-run forum can achieve a lot, as opposed to a forum that becomes a political tick-box exercise.
Regarding the comment to which Deputy Bríd Smith referred about there being no contradiction, we have shown that we have increased output by 40% and actually kept a flatline on the emissions going back to 1990. People might think that the dairy and beef sector is not paying its way back in respect of debt and emissions. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I again highlight that farming is one of the best performers in the country when it comes to repaying debt. The farmers will just do it. They will pay back their debt no matter what. What is crucial, though, and we can never move away from it, is that there is a growing global demand for dairy and beef protein. I keep repeating this.
It is not the Irish Farmers' Association that is saying it. It is the European Commission Joint Research Centre that says Ireland is the most carbon-efficient producer of dairy products. That is the simple truth. Those are the facts. We can deal with facts or we can deal with emotion. We like to deal in facts.
Even though I am not a rural person, I am not being emotive about this. The facts state that our carbon emissions have been driven up in the agricultural sector. The biggest part of that is the growth of the national herd. It may be more efficient than Switzerland or France, but it is still increasing.
Mr. Joe Healy:
The Deputy rightly took up the point we mentioned earlier, namely, that climate change is not just an Irish issue. It is a global issue. If that dairy product, which she accepts we are more efficient in producing, is not produced here in Ireland it will be produced in a country that is less efficient. The beef, for example, will be produced-----
The efficiency of Mr. Healy's sector has not stopped trees from being cut down in the Amazon. They are still at it. Irish farmers being more efficient does not mean they will stop knocking down trees. My point is that we have to work from where we are at.
Mr. Damian McDonald:
The Food and Agriculture Organization figures show that the global population will increase significantly by 2050. The planet will need 70% more food to feed those people. Every country is going to have to play its part in that. It is not Bord Bia that is driving the demand for dairy and beef products all over the planet. It is not even being driven by the western world. It is being driven by newly developing countries that are acquiring new tastes and have a demand for these products. There will be global demand. It is the case that if we do not produce a kilogram of beef in Ireland it will be produced somewhere else. It may well be produced in Brazil through a reduction in rainforest cover. That is the reality. Ireland will not control, decide or stop the march of the global demand for these products. To be fair to the Deputy, we have to realise what has happened in the dairy sector. The context here is that we had a milk quota in this country from 1984 to 2015. There was huge pent-up demand for expansion. Naturally when that was lifted we saw an increase in the number of dairy cows, as was predicted, in 2016, 2017 and 2018. There probably will be further increases in the next few years. It is impossible to predict for how long it will go on.
Mr. Damian McDonald:
The key word in this debate is "balance". There has been a huge focus on the fact that there has been an increase in emissions and it is all negative. The Senator mentioned it earlier. We have to recognise the huge positive the ability to expand into a profitable sector like dairy has been for Irish farm families and the rural economy. Balance is the key issue. The point the president is making is that we have managed to expand from 1990 to now and flat-line our emissions. What Teagasc is proposing today is a clear pathway by which we can grow our agricultural businesses while reducing emissions through adopting the 27 measures it has put forward. The Deputy acknowledges that she is not from rural Ireland. If agriculture is removed there is not much going on outside the M50. We have to recognise that. We must realise that for many families and spin-off businesses there, agriculture is where it is at. We need to find a balanced approach to what we do. In our presentation we did not get to mention the comments made by Professor John Fitzgerald. He stated:
When I was appointed as chairman of the [Climate Change Advisory Council] it was my understanding of the science that I was going to have to tell farmers they would have to get rid of their cows. It turns out, however, that the scientific evidence on this issue is more complicated.
Agriculture needs a more nuanced solution. What the committee heard today from Mr. Trevor Donnellan is the outcome of years and years of scientific research aimed at producing a marginal abatement cost curve. Unfortunately, what we saw in the Citizens' Assembly was four days of fairly superficial argument without any economic or social balance. I wish to point out to the committee members that this committee's recommendations will be massively important for the livelihoods of all of our members and for many more people in agriculture and in rural Ireland. Balance is key. We have a State agency which has set out a very credible pathway. We talk about fora. We have clearly put on the record that we need political leadership to pull together all the Departments. Let us get cracking on achieving this. That will not be easy either.
We are overgrowing the national herd at the cost of increasing our overall CO2 emissions. That is my point. Saying that this is not the problem, that this activity could be carried out in the Amazon forest or New Zealand, is a bit like the Minister opposing my bill which would prevent the issuance of any more exploration licences for fossil fuels by saying that if we do not do it they will do it in Iraq or Saudi Arabia. It is saying the same thing. It is a bit of climate change denial.
The last point I will make is that all of this means the science has settled on climate change. It was not settled previously. Reference was made to the size of the herd in 1990. Most countries did not actually accept the science then. It is accepted now, except by a few oddballs like President Donald Trump. It is mostly accepted. Now that we have acceptance let us look reality in the face. We are emitting too much carbon into the atmosphere. I repeat, the atmosphere, not just Ireland. Therefore we have to deal with it. Dealing with it in the agricultural sector is hugely important. We need a balanced, nuanced and diverse approach to agriculture, but overgrowing the national herd is not balanced, nuanced or diverse. I would welcome a national dialogue on this.
Mr. Thomas Ryan:
I want to clarify something for Deputy Smith. I am looking at the CSO figures from June 216 to June 2018. Total cattle decreased by 0.2%. I will share this with the Deputy at the end of the meeting if it is helpful. There is a narrative, which I understand and which Deputy Smith has articulated several times, that there is a huge glut of extra stock. I am sharing CSO data with the committee here. Since the quotas were lifted, total cattle numbers have decreased by 0.2% from June 2016 to June 2018. The number of dairy cows grew by 3.4%; the number of other cows fell by 3.1% That is what the facts say. I am happy to share that CSO data with the committee.
Ms Bridget Murphy:
I would like to answer this question from a woman's point of view. Yes, perhaps men might see this as more emotional, although there is often a very big difference between getting something done and sitting down and looking at how to get something done. Women generally tend to realise that it is not just a question of feeding the world. We actually have to look at how we do so. The IFA says that we will need 70% more food to feed the world's population. That 70% will escalate over time . We do not have enough land at the moment to provide that extra 70% in the form of beef and milk. That is a reality. There is not enough land on this planet to feed the population we have at the moment with beef and milk. To look to fill 70% more demand with beef and milk-----
Ms Bridget Murphy:
The reality is that unless we find another planet or grow this one bigger, we are stuck.
The second consideration is what we are feeding people. Speaking from a woman's point of view, feeding countries flavoured and condensed milk and telling women to switch from breastfeeding to powdered milk and infant formula does make us emotional.
We are talking about the fact that we are feeding the world. We recently started back sending live exports to Libya. Two women bravely stood up in Dunnes Stores years ago and refused to sell oranges that came from South Africa because they had principles. We are seeing a Bill that is going through to prevent the import of products from the occupied West Bank. Personally, I find it really offensive that we are selling beef to a country that is selling human beings as slaves - that is happening in Libya. I have a problem with how we sell our beef and to where we sell it, especially as we have 75,000 children dying of starvation in Yemen at the moment, but we are not sending any food to them. That is from a woman's point of view. I am sorry if that sounds emotional but I want to challenge the claim that we are feeding the world.
I will go back to answer Deputy Smith's question. She asked whether the Coillte policy was realistic and sustainable. We would like to see Coillte with a new remit. In 1988 when Coillte was set up the remit was to make as much money as possible from the forest estate in any way the company found profitable. We would prefer to see the company being less about making money - there has not been a great deal of money made from the forest estate - and more about providing a national sequestration service and a major biodiversity service. As the Sitka spruce forests come up to felling and get felled I would rather see them replaced with natural forest that is predominately native and broad-leaf. We want to have a look at replacing the Sitka spruce. We want to look at restoring the biodiversity and clean water from it.
Another suggestion is that the Coillte board needs to be reviewed. The board is sitting with a good deal of experience from Glanbia, Kerrygold and so on, but there are no environmental people on the board and no one with change management skills. With all due respect, we are in for something of a bumpy ride and we are going to need as many skills as possible to get through it. One such skill is some experience in change management. We need to get that expertise on the board of Coillte. As a matter of fact, we need it on many boards.
It is a highly interesting conversation. I am a little depressed by the IFA attitude today. It is amazing, to tell the truth. Let us expand on what the IFA representatives have said. The view is that we should do nothing because we are producing the most valuable food in the world. The view is that the Brazilians have to sort out the rain forests. If they do that, our farmers will be grand and we can produce even more and send it on. That is simply not feasible.
I have listened to the IFA representatives saying this for the past couple of years. They are fighting a rear-guard action on behalf of their members. They would be far better to embrace the decisions and go forward positively. That is my personal opinion. It is unbelievable.
The IFA representatives have endorsed the Teagasc figures. That is interesting because it is the first time I have heard them do so, and it is positive. Would the IFA endorse the Teagasc figures if they included a reduction in the beef herd stock by 500,000? If that were achieved, we would be coming near the benchmark and making real change in terms of society.
The IFA representatives made other claims in the presentation to the committee today. I have challenged the Department on this. The IFA website has set out five steps to support climate action. We heard this in the presentation today. Step 4 states that the role of methane should be re-examined and alternative measures created. Can the IFA confirm its views on climate science and the damaging role played by methane? Although the gas has a shorter lifespan than carbon dioxide, it is actually 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide. How can the IFA square that circle? That is set out on the IFA website. I have brought up this matter with the Department as well. I do not blame the IFA necessarily because the Department has said exactly the same thing about methane. That is interesting in itself. The Department has said that methane does not have this effect. That is absolute craziness - it is mental stuff. There is no other way of explaining it. I simply do not know how the IFA can square that. I am sorry for getting annoyed, Chairman, but it is madness.
The only way any of the farm organisations, apart from the Natura farmers, probably, will agree to any changes in terms of how farmers are paid will be through CAP renegotiation. We will have to wait until 2020 before we see any change. Does the IFA support changes that would make farming more environmentally friendly? Does the IFA support changes that would lead to the positions that Teagasc has recommended? Will the IFA take down that rubbish off its website?
Mr. Joe Healy:
If Deputy Pringle was listening today – obviously, he was not – he would have heard about all that farmers have done and all we are doing. Under the rural development programme, nine out of every ten measures have climate mitigating actions. This comprises the rural development fund and schemes for which the IFA has lobbied. We encouraged farmers to participate. It is important that we acknowledge that work has to be done. We have constantly said that. The IFA and other organisations have encouraged farmers to partake in that. This has meant that the figure we have mentioned several times today has been achieved with regard to the increase in the production at no increase over 28 years in emissions. I read out those figures, but if Deputy Pringle did not listen to them earlier he will not listen to them now either, so there is no point in repeating them. It is crucial – this goes back to the last point – that we produce food that is in demand where it is efficiently produced from a carbon point of view. Anyone who is in denial of that is in denial of positive action in climate change.
Mr. Thomas Ryan:
Let us go back to what Trevor Donnellan of Teagasc said earlier. We were in the Gallery at the time. He said that methodologies change. We have been having a discussion on carbon sinks and our frustration at the fact that there is 4.5 million tonnes of CO2 from forestry that is sitting there but not being counted when it comes to landscape, land and agriculture. In the same tone, the lifespan of methane in the atmosphere is being actively discussed right now. When the Department representatives came before the committee they referred to it. The scientific community is referring to it and we are rightly going to refer to it as well. If methane lasts in the atmosphere for 12 years, then, unlike CO2, which lasts in the atmosphere for up to 200 years, of course we are going to bring it to the attention of the committee.
Mr. Thomas Ryan:
Of course we are going to bring it to the attention of the committee. Of course we are going to ask whether it is right that methane, which lasts in the atmosphere for up to 12 years, is benchmarked like-for-like against carbon dioxide, which lasts in the atmosphere for up to 200 years.
One should not be surprised, as Mr. Trevor Donnellan said, that methodologies change; things evolve and with that evolution we will bring to the fore changes around the methodology calculations. I do not know why Members are surprised because in the event of things changing we will continue to highlight them, just as we continue to highlight our frustration at the carbon sinks not being included. We have the largest permanent pastures in Europe and yet we are getting zero carbon credit for the grasslands. All the permanent pasture and the grassland that we are renowned for and despite the fact that there is between 0.5 and 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide being locked into the pastures, we are not getting credit for that.
This is all part of that discussion. It should not be seen in any other light.
Mr. John Enright:
On the methane issue, my understanding is similar to Mr. Ryan's that there is a review of the methodology in relation to methane. What we are saying is that we should wait and see what comes from that review. There may be no change or they may be a change. We have to see what will come from that review of the methodology. That is the point on methane from our perspective.
It is unfair to say we are not looking at measures in respect of climate change. We made our pre budget submission in August and September and I can send the Deputy a copy of it. We proposed a number of measures in our pre budget submission on climate change issues. We are very conscious of climate change and we are putting forward measures to support climate change. I do not want members to go away with the impression that we are not addressing the issue, because we are very conscious of it.
Mr. T.J. Flanagan:
On a point of information, in regard to the fact that methane is 34 times more polluting, that is already counted against us. It is not as if we are comparing methane to carbon dioxide. It is counted that it is 33 times more polluting, so it is not disappearing anywhere. In the sums, it does disappear after 12 years.
The term rancher was used pejoratively and this is not a point against the Deputy but we should put on the record that the average dairy herd is small by global standards. It is 83 or 84 cows and the average beef herd is of the order of 50 animals. It can be corrected by the secretariat. I just want to ensure that members do not have notions that there are enormous herds out there. The average herd is very small by international standards.
Mr. Gerry Loftus:
I want to comment on carbon sequestration on the permanent grassland. The idea that it is not being taken into account is that it counteracts all land that is heavily fertilised. One has to counteract that with something; that is not in the statistics we are being told today.
Let us face facts when it comes to cows. One does not need 800 cows to live. Let us get real. We are pushing out one of the most valuable enterprises this country has ever had, that made the name of Irish agriculture, and that is the suckler cow. To come up with figures for the base year on which to make comparisons, the reality is that the suckler cow herd has dropped by about 250,000 cows in the past two and a half years, to make place for dairy cows. That is not acceptable to the farmers throughout rural Ireland who have reared families and want to continue to see the family, sons and daughters take over the small family farms. That is why we cannot buy into this nonsense that we should all pack up and sit down and do nothing and let the dairy sector take over the country.
The idea that we are promoting the beef genomic scheme is another farce. We are producing the most rubbish cattle at present because of the scheme that is going through our livestock marts. If we talk to any shipper who wants to transport animals, they cannot get suitable cattle to put on a ship because of the idea we have come up with which is to produce a smaller type poor quality cattle.
As I said at the outset, we have to get away from the business-led industrial model of farming we have in this country and the fact that 18,000 or 20,000 farmers think they can run the show and forget about the rest of us. That is not going to happen.
Mr. John Enright:
Mr. Loftus made the point that the dairy farmer is taking over the land of the suckler farmer; that is not the case. The reality is that some suckler farmers have decided to transfer to dairy farming. They have switched their enterprise. That was their personal choice. It is wrong to say that 18,000 to 20,000 farmers are trying to run the whole country for farmers. That is incorrect.