A leading Irish climate scientist has expressed “grave misgivings” about the EU’s carbon farming model which was floated earlier this year.

Professor Gary Lanigan of Teagasc and Cambridge University claimed that the current carbon sequestration measurements were not sufficiently robust to form the basis for a trading mechanism.

“I’d have grave misgivings on the carbon farming model as the EU wants to define it,” Prof Lanigan told the Uplands Symposium in Westport.

“Mainly because our measurement systems on how carbon is sequestered or released is rather immature,” he explained.

Lanigan questioned the wisdom of putting a trading mechanism in place until scientists have an accurate “handle” on sequestration levels.

The Teagasc scientist also warned that Ireland will struggle to meet its emissions targets from the land use sector over the coming seven years.

Lanigan pointed out that Ireland’s reduction target under the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) category is just 600,000t of CO2 by 2030.

However, he explained that Ireland’s LULUCF emissions were projected to grow by 30% between now and 2030. Meeting the targets was going to be “incredibly challenging” as a consequence.

Lanigan echoed the comments of fellow Westport panellist Dr Florence Renou-Wilson of UCD that the management focus for Ireland’s uplands has to be on retaining the carbon that is held in these peatlands.

Key actions

Water table management and the avoidance of vegetation loss resulting in the exposure of bare peat, are the two key actions that farmers should be encouraged to adopt in order to retain carbon level in the soils, Renou-Wilson said.

Staying on the topic of water, Cormac McConigley, catchment manager in the western region with the Local Authority Water Programme (LAWPRO), said that the uplands have 75% of what were deemed high status rivers.

Although potential pressures associated with agriculture and forestry do persist in the uplands, McConigley explained that water bodies with higher proportions of their catchment within upland areas tend to have higher overall quality than those in lowland areas. Protecting the environment, while also delivering an income for farmers was the subject of the final session of the symposium.

Teagasc’s Declan Byrne said the sustainability of upland grazing systems is dependent on the right type and numbers of livestock, at the right time of year and in the right areas of the uplands.

Outlining his experiences of the Sustainable Uplands Agri-environment Scheme (SUAS) EIP project in Wicklow, Byrne said the initiative illustrated that farmers were willing to deliver for the environment but they had to be paid for these actions as they did not view this work as core farming activity.