July 25, 2017, by Kieran Cooke
Ireland plans a big expansion of its national beef and dairy herds.
Image: By Dafydd Humphreys via Wikimedia Commons
There’s no shortage of good intentions in Ireland’s climate plan, but they are too vague to cut emissions significantly.
COUNTY MAYO, IRELAND, 25 July, 2017 – Big on targets, but offering little in the way of achieving them is the verdict on Ireland’s climate plan. After considerable delays, the government has published its National Mitigation Plan, designed to bring down the country’s emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases and meet its obligations under the terms of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The plan – described by government as “a hugely important first step in enabling transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally-sustainable economy by 2050” – does lay out some specific goals.
It says the aim is to electrify the transport sector by 2030, meaning the two million cars and trucks on Ireland’s roads will have to switch from diesel and petrol to being electrically driven. At present only approximately 2,000 electric-powered vehicles are being used in Ireland.
New technology, says Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s Taoiseach, or prime minister, will help achieve what will be a “fundamental societal transformation.”
The plan – the first comprehensive climate change strategy in ten years – also envisages increasing the country’s forest cover from the present 11% of the total land area to 18%. Forests act as carbon sinks, storing and processing greenhouse gases.
The government says the increase in tree cover will help mitigate carbon emissions in other sectors.
Denis Naughton, the Minister for Climate Action, says the mitigation plan represents an “initial step to set Ireland on the pathway to achieve deep decarbonisation.”
The problem is that at present Ireland is increasing, rather than decreasing, its carbon emissions.
Agriculture forms a key part of the Irish economy: the food sector as a whole accounts for about 8% of gross national product. But agriculture is also one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for about a third of the country’s total. A large portion of those gas emissions come from the flatulence of Ireland’s seven million-strong cattle herd.
Nitrogen-based fertilisers spread on Ireland’s grasslands are also a significant source of climate-changing emissions.
“Plans for the continued expansion of food output and increasingly stringent emissions reductions suggest a growing contradiction between Ireland’s climate and agriculture policy objectives”
As part of its overall economy growth strategy, the government aims to nearly double Ireland’s food and agriculture exports over the next eight years.
A key ingredient of that strategy is to substantially increase the size of the country’s beef and dairy herd – creating more bovine flatulence and more greenhouse gas emissions.
While this latest plan talks of the need to move to what it calls carbon-neutral farming and stresses the climate-related advantages of recycling in the agricultural sector and producing more energy from agricultural residues, it fails to tackle the apparent conflict between economic growth targets and achieving goals on climate change.
A report published last year by policy analysts warned of a clash between the government’s economic aspirations and its aims on emissions reduction.
“Plans for the continued expansion of food output, focused in particular on the dairy sector, and increasingly stringent emissions reductions suggest a growing contradiction between Ireland’s climate and agriculture policy objectives”, said the report. – Climate News Network
Kieran Cooke, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former foreign correspondent for the BBC and Financial Times. He now focuses on environmental issues