Ireland could remain a net exporter of beef and dairy while still offsetting enough emissions to be carbon-neutral, Dr David Styles, co-author of a new study on biogenic methane targets, has said.
The University of Limerick study looked at four different methods to determine separate national targets for biogenic methane, with a particular focus on national food production and climate neutrality objectives for 2050 and beyond.
Ireland would have to reduce its methane emissions by between 30% and 79% by 2050, it found.
“A 30% reduction in methane would imply a cut of 30% in animal numbers. However, through the implementation of the marginal abatement cost curve (MACC) and increased animal productivity, a smaller reduction in numbers would be possible.
“You could have fewer animals but they could be more productive and total output wouldn’t decrease, this is especially the case for milk,” Dr Styles told the Irish Farmers Journal.
Ireland has a land bank which could be planted with trees, Styles said, and while he said this is simplistic, it would be the most effective way of offsetting emissions.
“Ireland, with a modest [methane] reduction of up to 30%, could be climate-neutral. It’s technically possible to reduce emissions and offset nitrous oxide and CO2 to be carbon-neutral.
There is no point in setting targets and leading farmers down a path and the international community coming back in five years’ time saying it doesn’t agree with it
“The challenge is, if we set separate methane quotas, we’re opening a can of worms by looking at different accounting practices for emissions and it all comes back to the allowable level of methane.
“There is no point in setting targets and leading farmers down a path and the international community coming back in five years’ time saying it doesn’t agree with it.”
The authors applied four methods to determine methane quotas: grandparenting (an equal percentage reduction across countries), equity (per head of population emissions), ability (emission reductions proportionate to GDP) and animal protein security (emissions proportionate to animal protein production in 2010).
Each method resulted in a different cut in emissions for Ireland.
Irrespective of the method or global warming potential (GWP) accounting method (GWP100 or GWP), livestock production “will need to be significantly reduced in most countries in order to achieve climate stabilisation,” it said.
“This is not just to reduce GHG emissions from livestock production, but to spare the land required for carbon sequestration to offset residual GHG emissions,” it said.
It said that while big cuts in Ireland’s methane emissions may be ethically desirable in terms of international methane quotas, it could lead to a 90% reduction in livestock production that, via export, feeds millions of people living in other countries, and could lead to the unemployment of many Irish farmers.
The authors used 2010 as a baseline for their study and pointed out that if 2018 was taken as the baseline instead, the scale of the cut in livestock numbers required for Ireland would “be considerably greater”.