The climate bill introduced in the Dáil last week sets out a policy architecture which should worry farmers and all citizens in general. The intention, to be revealed in detail later this year, is to impose sector-by-sector emissions targets, to be delivered by each Government department or agency over five year periods, with the overall intention to cut emissions by about half over the next decade and to achieve net zero 30 years hence. Targets are to be assigned at a local as well as national level, with a role even for county councils.

However laudable the urgency infused into Irish climate policy, the proposed mode of pursuing carbon reduction, namely quantitative targets on a sectoral basis, makes no economic sense and has failed in every context in which it has been attempted. Territorial targets without policies to attain them have been a feature of international climate accords since Kyoto in the mid-1990s and today’s urgency reflects the acceptance that 30 years has been wasted, since this approach has failed. Economists have long argued that the only policy that will deliver is the one which makes it costly for consumers to choose high-carbon products and services, whatever their source at home or abroad, and makes it cheaper to pick the low- or zero-carbon alternatives.