Farmers in NI are set to lose out on a potential new income stream from carbon farming, a leading expert has warned.
Speaking at a soil science conference in Belfast, Professor John Gilliland pointed to a new EU framework which has recently been agreed for certifying carbon removals from the land-based sector.
He suggested farmers in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) could soon be paid for removing carbon from the atmosphere by storing it in soils, trees, and hedgerows, but farmers in NI will not qualify.
“Our near neighbours will have a framework to certify carbon removals. They will get an extra income into their production systems that we won’t be getting,” Gilliland said.
'Boat has sailed'
“I don’t see any of the four regional capitals in the UK looking at this, yet the boat has sailed in Brussels, and it is through the European Parliament,” he added.
Gilliland, who leads the ArcZero carbon farming research project in NI, said the new EU framework should be “a wake-up call” for policymakers across the UK.
“We need to have a conversation about recognising carbon removals from the land-based sector and soil is fundamental for that,” he said.
Concerns have been raised that a new system that pays landowners for carbon farming could lead to large companies buying up farmland to offset their own greenhouse gas emissions. However, Gilliland said clauses to new legislation could be put in place to avoid unintended consequences when paying for land-based carbon removals.
He suggested a clause could be that carbon credits which are generated from farmland can initially only be sold to other businesses within the farming sector.
“We need to get agriculture and the land-based sector’s house in order first, before the likes of aviation or data centres come and take all our carbon credits,” he said.
Gilliland’s advice is that a farm should not sell carbon credits to any type of business until all emissions from its own farming activities have been accurately measured and verified.
“If you go and sell your carbon now, but you still have emissions, you will need to get carbon at some stage. The cheapest carbon is your own carbon,” he said.