Using the GWP* metric to calculate Irish methane emissions compared to GWP100 is not a “get out of jail free card” for Irish agriculture, chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council John Fitzgerald has said.
As reported this week, the global warming impact of methane emissions from Irish livestock is being vastly overestimated under the current accounting system used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Fitzgerald told an Irish Farmers Journal webinar on Friday morning that from day one when the Climate Change Advisory Council started out in January 2016, it was advised of the science around methane and that methane is different to other greenhouse gases.
“From the beginning in formulating our advice for Government we have taken this into account. The world is adapting to take account of the science.
“What’s important is that it doesn’t mean a get out a jail free card. Methane is still a very virulent greenhouse gas.
John Fitzgerald, chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council. \ Barry Cronin
“So what we recommended to Government was that they adopt a split target, a target for long life gases and a different target for methane. We recommended a way of formulating this which takes account of the fact that methane is different.
“Why that was important was, if we were to set carbon budgets which were going be enshrined in law and if you didn’t have a split target and use the current metric you’d have to plan to get rid of all our cattle knowing the science says actually that isn’t the answer,” he said.
Stable herd size
Fitzgerald said that Prof Myles Allen made the point that changes in methane emissions in the size of the herd have a big impact on climate.
“If you’re stable, you’re not adding or subtracting. For that reason, it is a significant concern that the herd is increasing and has increased over the last few years. That’s really serious according to Myles and from our point of view.
“In formulating out recommendation for policy in the agricultural area, we recommended that we should aim to reduce livestock numbers by a significant amount, but we’re not talking about a dramatic reduction, but a significant reduction rather than increasing. Because that would be very valuable in terms of reducing the impact on the climate,” he said.
“What Myles is saying is being gradually accepted by the scientific community and built into the policy making structures,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald also said that incentives need to be put in place for farmers, so that farmers can make money out of less intensive livestock and some land in woodland or hedgerows.
No one is suggesting to farmers ‘this is the number of cattle you’re going to have’,” he said.
The view from the EPA
Phillip O’Brien of the EPA said he was very familiar with Prof Allen’s work.
“He is pointing to an issue that the science has recognised for many years. The GWP* itself gives us very important insight as to really how we methane interacts into the atmosphere.
“As we mitigate and reduce our emissions of methane we see the real and powerful impact that that would have, but we can also see in Ireland the impact it has as emissions themselves increase as has been the case in recent years.
“I suppose as regards the use of GWP100, the standard one, it is not a choice of the EPA to use that. That is what has been agreed at international level.
"This comes with the full weight of an international treaty. We have to use this.
"If at some stage in the future and I am confident science will form decision making in the new context of the Paris Agreement, then we will see a shift in positions and a shift in policy focus,” he said.
However, until that happens, the EPA is committed to using GWP100, particularly to 2030.
In response to O’Brien’s comments, agribusiness editor with the Irish Farmers Journal and webinar host Lorcan Allen said he wanted to stress that “we’re not trying to suggest in this week’s Irish Farmers Journal article that methane isn’t a powerful greenhouse gas.
“It is a very powerful greenhouse gas, it has a major warming effect when emissions are rising sharply.
“What the article is trying to suggest, is that Myles Allen says this is a more accurate metric for measuring the global warming impact of methane and we’re putting the question out there should we not be using the more accurate one as opposed to GWP100,” he said.
Clap on the back
Macra president Thomas Duffy said that herd expansion is rightfully a focus and that emissions from agriculture need to be reduced.
Macra president Thomas Duffy. \ Philip Doyle
“When we talk from a farmer’s point of view, the question over the use of GWP* does seem to be very well supported…but what we have to keep in our mind, is that methane should be seen as a waste.
“Essentially, this is turning something which should be converted into milk or meat, mainly feed, into something which is being released into the environment.”
Director of Teagasc Gerry Boyle said there needs to be far more engagement from farmers on the tools to reduce emissions in the marginal abatement cost curve (MACC).
Gerry Boyle of Teagasc. \ Dave Ruffles
“One measure we’ll be bringing forward shortly is the so-called signpost farms initiative. It’s essentially a large-scale demo project which will illustrate for farmers how these measures can be implemented on their farms."
Prof Boyle said if he was to take out two measures which he thinks farmers should move ahead with immediately, they would be the application of LESS and protected urea.
Warming impact of methane emissions from Irish livestock vastly overestimated
Watch back: Irish Farmers Journal climate change webinar