The Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme needs “more ambitious” funding and targets, according to Trinity College professor of finance Dr Martha O’Hagan.

“ACRES is definitely a good first step in the right direction but it could be a lot more ambitious, more targeted and not capped in terms of how much farmers can gain from taking actions,” she told TDs and senators at the Oireachtas climate committee this week, calling for increased funding to support this ambition.

Dr O’Hagan insisted that there needs to be stronger “financial incentives for farmers and landowners” to restore nature and warned that the private sector must also step up to fulfil its obligation in this regard.

The Trinity professor said that the private sector benefits from the efforts of farmers to restore nature on farms and was critical of its lack of investment to date.

Her comments were made during the climate committee’s discussion on how nature restoration in Ireland should be funded. Dr O’Hagan, who previously worked as a senior banker in America and Ireland, said that public sector funding can’t achieve nature restoration alone.

“We need to crowd in private finance. I think that the private sector could bring rigour to a results-based payment system for ecosystem services provided by [farmers],” she said.

She said that there is “strong demand” from companies to invest in ecosystem services due to the European Green Deal and the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, which she noted is already operational for some companies, is coming down the track for others in January 2024 and for smaller businesses the year after.

She added that the on-farm nature restoration measures need to be “authentic and verifiable” for these businesses to invest.

Committee chair Brian Leddin TD drew further commentary on farmer involvement from the finance professor.

Dr O’Hagan acknowledged that key to all nature restoration asks of farmers is their need to remain profitable, and receive a sufficient income, equivalent to what they could have made through farming the land.