The EU climate action commissioner Miguel Arias Canete has said separating forestry and farming would ensure total emissions were cut.
"Our intention is to keep land use and forestry as a separate pillar," he said. The Commission is expected to propose legislation next month outlining how each country must tackle climate change until 2030.
The climate commissioner told the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament that he would allow “limited” use of carbon credits from forestry to offset farm emissions.
He also said he had "been working closely with Commissioner Hogan and with the stakeholders to come up with a legal proposal which provides some flexibility whilst safeguarding its environmental integrity."
The EU plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030. Within this, a separate goal of 30% has been set for sectors outside the Emissions Trading Scheme, which includes agricultural non-CO2 emissions, such as methane emitted by livestock.
To reach these targets, Ireland had been in favour of combining agriculture and forestry into one sector. Planting trees that absorb greenhouse gases could then have compensated for farming emissions.
As revealed in a Eurostat report in April, Ireland's share of greenhouse gases from agriculture is the highest in the EU. This makes the task of reducing emissions from agriculture a more difficult task here than in other countries.
Irish MEP and vice president of the European Parliament Mairead McGuiness was present for the debate and asked the climate commissioner whether there would be an allowance for those member states that have a high agricultural production base, and how this would be balanced.
Commissioner Canete replied: "The message from the Commission is that all the sectors should contribute. It’s up to the member state to establish the balance according to the possibilities and the mitigation potential of each sector."
However, he acknowledged that EU member states with a very high share of agricultural non-CO2 emissions could face “disproportionate pressure” to achieve targets.
"As flagged by the European Council, the Commission recognises member states with a very high percentage of agricultural non-CO2 emissions would face disproportionate pressure to achieve their targets. Allowing credits to offset emissions should help alleviate those challenges," he said.
Credits would be allocated according to various factors, including the importance of farming to the economy in the member state, its historical farm emission levels and the costs of meeting its target. This is likely to make the details surrounding access to such credits the focus of intense negotiations.
Only credits which fulfil accounting standards of high environmental integrity should be allowed and access cannot be unlimited, Canete said.
Agriculture is very much part of the solution
He added that "the counting of emissions and removals for land use and forestry should be simplified. We can build on the rules we already have in place.
"While they are all to easily labelled as part of the problem of climate change, the agricultural, land use and forestry sectors are... very much part of the solution. In order to fight climate change for sure agriculture is one of the elements that must be taken into account."
Environmental organisations have opposed allowing countries to combine agriculture and forestry, arguing that it would allow countries to get away with smaller efforts in cutting emissions from farmers.
Agriculture emitting more than industry
In April this year, statistics from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) revealed that greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture have surpassed emissions from industry.
The latest figures, which are for 2013, show that greenhouse gas emission by the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector constituted 33.7% of total greenhouse gas emissions, while emissions by the industry sector were 32.7% of the total.
From 2012, greenhouse gases from agriculture increased by 0.7%, while industry decreased by 0.6%.
Ireland bets on forestry to meet climate change targets
Graph: Ireland's share of greenhouse gases from agriculture highest in EU
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