It seems likely that agriculture will come under some pressure as talks intensify around defining more specific sectoral carbon reduction targets.
While direct face-to-face meetings between Eamon Ryan and his cabinet colleagues are on hold as the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) Minister battles COVID-19, progress at civil servant level is continuing.
The official word from the DECC is “the Department is continuing to engage with all relevant Departments on the sectoral emissions ceilings for the purpose of preparing recommendations, which will go to Government for approval. It is expected that the recommendations will go to Government in the coming weeks.” So the timescale is quite short.
That said, Minister Ryan can still engage in negotiations with the line ministers of two of the key portfolios. Not on Teams or Zoom, either, but in the mirror. For electricity, one of the main sectors, falls within Minister Ryan’s remit, so he gets to set the limit himself. And he is also the Minister for Transport, another one of the six sectors with targets to negotiate. It seems pretty inevitable that both those sectors will be set with a target towards the upper end of their range.
For that is the target that Minister Ryan himself set back in October, and it’s the mood music around much of what has been coming from DECC since.
Of course, farming has the ambition that the minimum 22% will turn out to be the target, one that isn’t too far north of what the Marginal Abatement Cost Curve measures can achieve.
This leaves Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue being pulled in opposite directions on the landing zone for farming. It’s a position he’s found himself in throughout his tenure in Agriculture House, with CAP seeing special pleading from all sides.
The aim will be to achieve a compromise that mightn’t please anyone, but that everyone can, perhaps grudgingly, live with.
And what of the other sectors? Well, there’s the buildings sector, tasked with reducing its carbon footprint by 44-56%. Darragh O’Brien, the Housing Minister, has missed every target he’s set so far. Housing has become the new health, the department no one can survive.
Will he be that exercised about agreeing to a target of 50% reduction or more? I’m not so sure it would loom large on his list of problems. New builds routinely have much better energy ratings, and retrofit schemes will be delivered by the SEAI, which is closely linked to Minister Ryan and the DECC.
That leaves two sectors. The first is industry/enterprise, which falls under Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s remit. The Tánaiste, with one eye on returning to the Taoiseach’s office at the end of the year, is hardly likely to fight the Green Party leader too strenuously on the sectoral target.
There are enough fault lines in this Government as it is, and he won’t be around to have to deliver the necessary measures to reach that target.
That leaves Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF).This sector again falls within agriculture , with both Minister of State Pippa Hackett, as the competent minister of state for this specific area, and the Environment Minister, one Eamon Ryan, flanking Charlie McConalogue as he wrestles with, along with transport, the highest sectoral target of all.
This won’t be simple.