The Government has published it’s climate change bill and has lived up to its commitment not to impose sectoral targets.

The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development bill, delivered by Environment Minister Alan Kelly on Monday, will define Irish policy on climate change for the next 35 years.

Agriculture is hugely affected by any climate change legislation in Ireland. This is primarily because farming is a more significant part of the Irish economy than in other countries.

This is in addition to the reduction in emissions from some other sectors because of the drop in activity in, for example, construction and transport since the downturn. It means farming could be vulnerable to strict slide-rule sectoral targets, as proposed by the previous administration through Environment Minister John Gormley.

Since then, the realisation that food security is vital and that food production must be safeguarded has been articulated by this Government, both at home and internationally, and stitched into policy formulation such as Food Harvest 2020.

It’s an issue that the IFA has long been advocating.

“Policy decisions can’t be taken in isolation,” says IFA Environment chairman Harold Kingston. “The Government’s commitment not to introduce divisive and unachievable sectoral targets has been delivered in this bill and represents a significant move forward from positions taken by previous Governments.”

Sectoral plan

The Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney is responsible for producing a sectoral adaptation plan for the farming and forestry sectors. This plan will specify the policy measures required with regard to the National Adaptation framework, in order to enable our sector to adapt to the effects of climate change.

The ability of land, crops, grass and trees to capture carbon sequestration will be central to how farming frames it’s response. Measurement of the gases produced and consumed by farming activity and land use is also vital. Measuring systems are still relatively new, but are becoming better with every passing year.

Ireland is establishing itself as the innovator and early adopter of international best practice. The Teagasc carbon navigator and IFA’s smart farming initiative are examples of how cutting-edge environmental efficiencies are being widely rolled out on farms. The information and new understanding being gained from Teagasc’s agricultural catchments programme has a different, but equally important perspective. In the six catchments, detailed daily information is being collated over the years to create the fullest picture yet of the complex soil processes involved in nutrient utilisation and efficiency.

In this context, the appointment of Teagasc director Gerry Boyle to the expert advisory council is significant. This body will have eight to 10 members, including the heads of the EPA, the Sustainable Energy Authority and the ESRI. They will have a significant role in supporting Minister Kelly and future environment ministers in developing and implementing national strategy.

“It is essential that the expert advisory council focuses on resource efficiency measures which contribute to long-term emission reductions, such as a well-funded GLAS environmental scheme and the wider roll-out of the voluntary farmer initiative Smart Farming,” says Harold Kingston.

The IFA also called for the completion of full regulatory impact assessment before the new climate law is enacted.

Ireland’s stance on sectoral targets will need to be reinforced when the EU publishes it’s climate legislation, currently being formulated, and for the United Nations climate change conference in Paris in December.