The whole carbon credits debate seems to be escalating pretty fast. A week ago, Minister McConalogue bluntly stated that the carbon credits for existing forestry are owned by the State, citing the financial supports for forestry as the reason. It’s not news – this has long been the case.
Sometimes, though, a tipping point is reached. The realisation that a carbon budget for farming is looming may have concentrated minds. The carbon tax on fuels, rebatable for agri-diesel used by farmers, but not agri-contractors, is another reminder that carbon counts, and is being counted.
But it’s only being counted out, not in, and this seems unjust. The message seems to be that farmers own all the carbon they produce in the course of food production, and must take ownership of that carbon and its environmental cost, but have no ownership rights over the carbon that is stored in the soils they farm, or the trees and plants in the hedgerows and habitats on their land. It all seems a bit one-way.
The IFA responded on Tuesday, and raised the pertinent point of replanted forestry land, where no subvention is provided. The fact that carbon credits were never mentioned in the contracts signed was highlighted, and the supports were explained as being for income foregone by the farmers who planted their land, and then had to wait up to 40 years for any net income from that investment of land and finance.
Perhaps everyone owes a debt of gratitude to Limerick dairy farmer and forestry owner John Hourigan. When he went public on his successful leasing out of carbon credits, it crystallised in farmers’ minds the fact that credits are worth money.
Of course, for many farmers, the primary use of carbon credits may be as offsets for the carbon generated in food production.
In that regard, Tim Cullinan’s assertion at Tuesday night’s farm leaders debate that it was the IFA who pursued an amendment to last year’s climate change bill looking for recognition of farm offsets is significant.
He said they initially pushed for recognition through an amendment within the Dáil, but the bill passed through that chamber with no amendments.
The IFA then lobbied senators, and it was Tim Lombard, the Cork farmer and Fine Gael senator, who successfully attached an amendment while the bill passed through the Upper House of the Oireachtas. That amendment is one piece of a jigsaw that needs to be pieced together pretty quickly.