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Ministers Martin Heydon, Charlie McConalogue, Eamon Ryan and Pippa Hackett launching the sectoral emissions targets this evening Sam Boal

Challenging but achievable: Govt announces 25% emission reduction target for agriculture sector

Weeks of negotiations were not completed before yesterday’s final Cabinet meeting of the summer.

LAST UPDATE | 28 Jul 2022

SECTORAL EMISSIONS TARGETS have been agreed by the Government this evening, with farmers being asked to cut their emissions by 25% by 2030.

It comes after days of tense talks within the Government, with negotiations finishing last night without a result before being completed earlier this afternoon.

The agreement reached will see multiple sectors being asked to cut their emissions, including the electricity, transport, buildings, industry and agriculture sectors.

The agreement itself was signed off this evening by an incorporeal meeting of the Cabinet.

Speaking during the announcement this evening, Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said it was a “hugely significant and important day” in the Government’s efforts to battle climate change.

“We have to be ambitious. We have to be bold. We have to take action now. We cannot delay and that’s what this government is committed to,” said Ryan.

“This will not work if it’s divisive, this will not work if we’re pointing the finger or blaming one sector or the other. This is only going to work when it’s good for every section of our society.

“I’m convinced we can do that. Today is a significant step in the right direction.”

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue said that while it would be challenging for farmers to reach the targets set by the Government, he said that it was achievable.

“I believe that this target reflects a very challenging, but ultimately achievable ambition for the sector,” said McConalogue.

“The sector has been on a journey regarding emissions reduction for the last number of years and while this marks a further step up and ambition, we can be comfortable in the knowledge that the sector will deliver and will continue to produce world class products.”

When asked whether or not the 25% target was far enough, McConalogue said that it was a “balanced” approach.

“I think it represents a really balanced approach, and represents one I think, which stretches all sectors of the economy in relation to delivery and that’s our job across the board, to do the most we can because it’s an imperative that we do reduce our emissions nationally.”

To the same question, Ryan said that he understands the people who says the targets don’t go far enough.

“There can never be enough, the scale of the challenge is so great that we do have to go to the max,” said Ryan.

It’s such a critical time. There’s so little time left, but in this we will start and make a really good strong start.

“As we learn by doing, we could speed up.”

While the Government have said that there will be financial incentives announced in Budget 2023, it also says that the targets for the agriculture sector will be voluntary.

Under the plan, the electricity sector will be expected to cut emissions by 75% while transport will have to cut emissions by 50%. Industry will need to drop their greenhouse gas emissions by 35%.

Commercial and public buildings will be expected to reduce emissions by 45%, while residential buildings will cut their emissions by 40%.

All of these targets need to be reached by 2030.

Agriculture reaction

Agricultural lobby groups have characterised the targets as a threat to family farms and rural Ireland as a whole, but climate campaigners have said 25% is not enough.

Campaign group Friends of the Earth said 25% was too low for agriculture and that other sectors would have to make up the difference.

CEO Oisín Coghlan said in a statement: “Now that these binding emissions ceilings are set, we urgently need to get on with transformative action in every sector. The time for talking is finally over, it’s time for a relentless focus now on delivery, delivery, delivery.

We must remember too that Ireland’s overall climate target still falls short of our global fair share of climate action. We’ve been using way more than our fair share of the global carbon budget for years and the climate breakdown we’ve caused is already heaping misery and pain onto the world’s poorest communities

However, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) said the agreement was “potentially devastating”.

IFA President Tim Cullinan accused Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party of prioritising “the survival of the Government rather than survival of rural Ireland.

“The Government has agreed to a target without any pathway to get there or any budget to assist farmers to reduce emissions. They have no idea of the economic and social impact of today’s decision on the farming sector or rural Ireland.

“I want to make it clear that any attempt to undermine farmers livelihoods or the viability of sector, in order to achieve these targets, will be opposed vigorously by the IFA,” he said.

The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) said the target amounted to a “sell-out of the Irish family farm model”.

Opposition parties

Opposition parties moved swiftly to criticise the government on the issue, with Jennifer Whitmore, the Social Democrats’ climate spokesperson, blasting what she called a “shocking lack of leadership.”

She said in a statement: “This deal clearly demonstrates government are not prepared to, or capable of, making the tough decisions required to deal with climate change.

“Unfortunately, it appears, Government ministers and TDs were more interested in protecting their seats rather than protecting the environment and the future of our rural communities.”

Sinn Féin, which has not clarified where it stands on emissions targets, said today that the government “needs to move away from the divisive, punitive approach to climate action to have any hope of achieving emissions reductions.”

The party said during the week that it needs more information before taking a stance on the matter – a position Fine Gael called “staggering”.

The party’s climate spokesperson Darren O’Rourke said in a statement: “Sinn Féin has consistently said the ceilings must reach the 51% national objective and that every sector must do its fair share.

“While there is much focus on targets, we have been here before. Targets have been set and, on every occasion, targets have been missed.

“It is clear that this government’s divisive, punitive approach to climate action is not working. The EPA report last week confirming an almost 5% increase in overall emissions in 2021 is proof positive of that.

“If government does not change its approach, it will continue to fail.”

Lengthy talks

It came hours after Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan failed to approve final sectoral targets at the last Cabinet meeting before the summer break.

Speaking after the Cabinet meeting yesterday, Ryan told reporters that the Coalition was “still working on it”, while Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue gave a thumbs-up through his car window as he left the meeting at Dublin Castle.

Further talks today have seen a compromise figure of 25% agreed that are to be signed off on by an incorporeal Cabinet meeting.  A formal announcement is expected later. 

The Government’s Climate Action Plan 2021 set out a 22-30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions target for the agriculture sector, the lowest target of any sector despite its high emissions. 

Farming representative groups had pushed for a target at the lower end close to 22%, saying that would be “challenging but achievable”. Climate experts said it must be higher if Ireland is to meet its legally-binding climate obligations.   

Speaking before the Cabinet meeting, the Taoiseach said the targets will be challenging for all sectors, but that “all sectors will have to stretch themselves”.

He said climate change is “the existential challenge facing the world, and Ireland clearly has to play its part”.

“The challenges in these ceilings will be very very significant indeed, from transport, to energy, to agriculture. I would have to say in fairness to agriculture, already the targets that have been set are very very challenging, and will be challenging,” he said.

We’re looking at ways as to how in all sectors, including agriculture, we can stretch those targets and ensure a meaningful contribution all round.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) provisional figures for Ireland’s 2021 greenhouse gas emissions show a 4.7% increase compared to the previous year.

Emissions had decreased by 3.6% in 2020 compared to 2019. Much of the drop that year was due to the pandemic but they had also fallen by 4.5% the year before.

- With reporting by Emer Moreau, Rónán Duffy, Tadgh McNally and PA

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