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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Shutterstock/Guna Ludborza File image of sheep.
the road to 2030

‘Particular concern' over agri sector's plan to cut emissions as key details still missing

The sector must give more detail on how it will reduce methane emissions in particular, an EPA report said this week.

A REPORT THIS week said that emissions from Ireland’s agriculture sector will increase by 2030 unless all current planned policies are implemented.

The Environmental Protection Agency report urged the sector to more clearly set out how it will reduce its environmental impact in the years ahead. 

The sector must give greater detail about how it will reduce methane emissions in particular, according to the report on Ireland’s emissions from 2021 to 2040.

The EPA assessment struck a wider warning tone – more work is needed for the government to hit its legally binding target to lower overall greenhouse gas emissions by 51% by 2030. 

“All sectors have work to do, in particular the agriculture sector,” the EPA’s Director General Laura Burke said. 

“More clarity is needed” on how and when the sector will implement actions to reduce methane by 2030. 

Agriculture accounts for around 37% of Ireland’s overall greenhouse gas emissions and about 90% of Ireland’s methane emissions.

Emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, need to reduce by up to 30% for the sector to meet the lower range of its 2030 reduction target, the EPA report said. 

Burke said the EPA is “particularly concerned” with the agriculture sector as things stand at the moment. 

“What we’re now talking with regard to agriculture is how do we transform the sector?” she said on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

How do we move away from either this efficiency argument or the impact because we’re seeing it not only with greenhouse gas emissions but also with water quality and other environmental indicators.

“What we do want is a vibrant rural area, but that needs to be done in a sustainable way.” 

She said Ireland is still only “talking the talk, but we’re not walking the walk”. 

“We need to move from these ideas to actually implementation on the ground.” 

The EPA report looked at two scenarios in its emission projections.

One projected that agriculture emissions will increase by 1.9% from 2020-2030, based on climate measures implemented or committed to by the government at the end of 2020. 

Under this scenario dairy cow numbers are projected to increase but beef cow numbers would decrease. Dairy cows produce more methane than other cows. 

But if the policies in the more recent Climate Action Plan published at the end of last year are implemented, the sector’s emissions would reduce by just over 20%.

The 2021 plan said the agriculture sector must reduce emissions by between 22% and 30% by 2030. 

Measures needed to reach this include low emissions slurry spreading and extending grazing periods to reduce emissions. 


Ireland and more than 100 other countries signed up to a pledge last year to reduce methane emissions globally by 30% by the end of this decade.

However, Ireland’s overall target for methane reduction is at least 10% by 2030. 

This was set out in the government agri-food strategy Food Vision 2030. 

Tom Arnold, Ireland’s special envoy for food systems and former chair of the committee behind Food Vision 2030, maintains the 10% target was “probably the best that could’ve been agreed at the time of our report”.

“But there was a clear acknowledgement that it was going to have to be revised upwards in light of national targets which are enshrined in legislation,” Arnold said, speaking to The Journal for its climate newsletter Temperature Check

“When we were finishing our report, the government hadn’t actually finalised the national targets, including the one for agriculture.

It’s not just methane, of course. There are other issues which I think are hugely important… like the whole issue of water quality.

He said the EPA report this week “puts more pressure” on the agricultural sector to increase plans in place to cut emissions. 

I think we’re just going to be under continuing pressure to do better on how we do our farming.

“The days of rapid production of dairy I think are over, at least for the moment,” he said. 

“I think we’re getting to the point now where, particularly in the dairy sector, probably the best that can be done is to get to a steady state.”

He said it “remains to be seen” if the agriculture sector will sufficiently change and adapt to hit 2030 emissions reduction targets. 

“We’re going to have to judge by results,” Arnold said.

“If we don’t see the beginnings of a move downwards or an improvement working in the direction of targets, there is going to be a greater demand for more serious adjustment measures in farming. I think it’s as simple as that.”

Methane is emitted during the production and transport of fossil fuels and in agriculture through livestock like cattle and sheep. 

The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) outlined that rapid changes in emissions like methane can result in “rapid climate effects”. 

Reducing methane emissions can both reduce warming effects and adverse effects on air quality, IPCC documents outline

Challenges ahead 

John Spink, head of the crops, environment and land use programme at Teagasc, said cutting emissions is a “big challenge” for the agricultural sector.

“I think we have technologies under development or under testing that could go a long way towards that in terms of things like feed additives to reduce methane emissions from livestock,” Spink said, speaking to The Journal at the World Potato Congress in Dublin this week. 

“It’s relatively easy to say to change things in relation to energy, because you have one or two energy suppliers. It’s much harder to change things when you’ve got a very disparate industry.”

Farmers have always been good at responding to policy direction, according to editor of the Irish Farmers Journal Justin McCarthy.

“I’m not here to try and say that we don’t need to reduce the environmental footprint of food production, but we need a just transition,” he said earlier this week on RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne

“And we need to be real on the impact of this on the 135,000 farm families across rural Ireland.” 

Also speaking on this programme, Director of Friends of the Earth Ireland Oisín Coghlan said years of inaction on climate change has put all sectors in a difficult position. 

“We’re now trying to do in 10 years what we could have spent 10, 20 or 30 years doing,” he said.

“There’s no point pretending otherwise – this is going to be disruptive.

We’ve left it so long that the choice is not now between total smoothness and a bit of disruption. It’s between disruption now to make the changes we need, or destruction later on from climate change.

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