Thursday, 14 July 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Climate Action Plan
I am sure the Minister has seen the news about the evidence of climate catastrophe all around us. In Europe, significant numbers of people are going to die in the coming weeks as a consequence of the heatwave we are seeing. Yet, in Ireland we are already off track on our already inadequate targets. The Minister is widely reported to be lobbying within the Government on behalf of big agribusiness to have the lowest possible emissions cuts within the biggest emitting sector. I ask the Minister to tell me how that makes sense.
I thank Deputy Paul Murphy for his question. As he will be aware, the Government will soon establish and publish our sectoral emission ceilings. The Climate Action Plan 2021 set out a reduction range of between 22% and 30% for the agricultural sector from an emissions baseline of 23 MT CO2 equivalent in 2018. The achievement of this target will take a whole-of-government and whole-of-sector approach. I am committed to working with the sector on achieving emissions reductions.
Earlier this year, I established the Food Vision Dairy 2030 group. The objective of this group is to propose measures that will reduce emissions in the dairy sector. The group is currently working on the final report, having submitted an interim report to me a number of weeks ago. A similar group was more recently established for the beef and sheepmeat sectors focused on the climate challenges facing these important sectors.
These groups were not starting with a blank page. We have a roadmap for the sector to reduce emissions over the course of the decade. The climate action plan set out a number of core measures that the sector will need to implement over the coming years. These measures include a significant reduction in chemical nitrogen fertiliser use, which is a key objective of the EU farm to fork strategy. Other important measures include changing the type of fertiliser N we apply, increasing the level of organic farming and reducing the finishing ages of our prime beef animals.
The Teagasc signpost farms initiative, along with many public and private advisors, will play a key role in upskilling farmers in the years ahead. The new CAP strategic plan contains a number of measures that will support a transition to a more sustainable agriculture sector, including increased financial supports for organic farming. Clearly, incentivisation from industry, in addition to regulation where appropriate, will be acquired to achieve our climate objectives. By implementing the measures contained within the climate action plan, I am confident that we can transition the sector to a more long-term sustainable platform with co-benefits for air and water quality and biodiversity, while at all times maintaining productivity in this sector. Strong progress has already been made. We will build on this in the time ahead.
Will the Minister outline why he is arguing for the lowest possible emissions cuts for the biggest emitting sector of the economy? Even if agriculture does 30%, the rest of society still has to do 60% to meet the inadequate target of a 51% reduction, on which we are already off track. If, as the Minister is widely reported as arguing for, we choose a reduction of 22%, the rest of society has to do 68%. If, for example, we do that through energy, that is an extra cost per household of €5,000 each. Will the Minister tell me how it makes sense to do this from the points of view of the climate, small farmers and households as a whole? Why should big agri-business basically take an extremely minimal approach to doing what is necessary, considering the extent of its emissions?
I know agriculture and the day-to-day lives of farm families would not occupy Deputy Paul Murphy’s daily workload or time very much. We have to consider the important role that agriculture plays in food production in this country. It is also important to know and understand that because we do not have the industrial base that other developed countries have, agriculture makes up a bigger proportion of our national emissions. Reaching the 22% part of the range would see transformational change in our agriculture systems. Our starting point is that we are one of the most efficient food producers in the world in terms of carbon emissions. Our food production is grass- and pasture-based and we have a very good system from an animal welfare point of view, as well as from an emissions point of view. We have to build on and improve that even further, as must all other sectors of society, and in a way that continues to produce food. As the Deputy will know, across the world it is becoming increasingly hard to produce food given the climate challenge we are all facing. It is important that we continue to play an important role for our farm families-----
The Minister’s industrialised farming system does not work for ordinary farm families. Almost half of farms in this country have an income of less than €10,000. The Minister’s industrialised farming system works for Greencore, Kerry Group, Goodman and the big dairy farmers, but it does not work for others. The figures are there in Teagasc. Instead of incentivising and pushing farmers to engage in industrialised farming that does not work for small farmers, is extremely damaging for the environment and does not work for society as a whole, why do we not instead have a farming policy that is based on food sovereignty, the principles of regenerative farming and paying farmers for the carbon sequestration services they provide? Instead of subsidising farmers to engage in industrialised farming that is damaging for all of us, why not instead pay farmers for the important services they provide in terms of our environment? Who would win from that and who would lose from that? Big agri-business would lose from it and the vast majority of small farmers and ordinary people would win from it.
It is Deputy Paul Murphy’s industrialised farming model. He is the only one who uses that language. We have a family farming model in this country which, frankly and thankfully, the Deputy does not really have a bull’s notion about or an understanding of. It is based on work that farm families do right across the country. People throughout the food supply chain try to maximise the value of that. We ensure that farm families are supported. It is important that this work continues.
As I said our starting point for agriculture in this country is that we are one of the most efficient food producers in the world from a carbon and climate point of view. That is something we need to build on and improve, which we are determined to do, as are farm families and those right across the food sector.
In terms of my engagement at Government level, I am seeking to strike the appropriate balance between doing everything we possibly can to reduce the emissions footprint of how we produce food and continuing the important work of producing sustainable, healthy and nutritious food in this country.