Massive challenges exist for livestock numbers and for grassland area, if we are to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, an EPA-commissioned report has confirmed.

The report, Land Use Review, Fluxes, Scenarios and Capacity, generated huge publicity when it was first reported on.

Conducted by a team of researchers in the Atlantic Technological University Galway, the full report has now been released.

The report looked at what changes in land use would be needed to meet a binding target for carbon neutrality from the agriculture, forestry and other land use sector (AFOLU) by 2050.

The 420,000ha envisaged as necessary for ‘‘space for nature” will have to come from existing grassland. That alone would see grassland area shrink by 10%.

The report notes that permanent grassland acreage has been steady in Ireland in recent decades, compared to a loss of 5.9m hectares across Europe since 1970.

It envisages a 30% reduction in livestock numbers as being essential to meet that target. In terms of bioenergy, the 420,000ha target set out as needed would take a further 10% of current grassland away from livestock farming.

The report outlines a number of policy options. It references the need for alignment between current policies and the targets needed to achieve carbon neutral land use by 2050. In almost every case, there is a huge gap between current policies and targets and those envisaged as necessary by the report’s authors.

Forestry stands as a classic example of this pattern. The report cites a 35,000ha annual planting requirement, with a total of 875,000ha of additional forestry by 2050.

That target is set against a number of current policies, including Food Vision 2030’s 8,000ha annual planting target, and the similar target in Ag-Climatise.

It references the lack of a planting target in the 2021 Climate Action Plan, but highlights the commitment to double biomass supply in Ireland, largely through forestry. Current grassland area would again be challenged by such a planting target.

Change already

The report highlights that Ireland itself has already been affected by climate change, with average temperatures almost 10C higher than in 1900. Rainfall levels have increased in winter, but fallen in summer, which has brought flooding and drought at different times for farmers.