Farmers should be allowed to offset their on-farm greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by using ‘removal certificates’ generated by activities such as afforestation or the rewetting of organic soils.

Such a move would be a “game-changer” in terms of Ireland’s forestry programme and would also counteract a forecast increase in GHG emissions under the land use and land use change and forestry (LULUCF) categorisation ahead of 2030, according to Prof Alan Matthews of Trinity College.

Matthews told the annual conference of Agricultural Economics Society of Ireland that a similar level of emissions cuts, between 5m tonnes and 7m tonnes of CO2 equivalent, will be required under both LULUCF and agriculture by the end of the decade.

Forecast emissions under LULUCF have been increased due, in part, to the current low level of afforestation and an anticipated surge in forestry harvesting between now and 2030 when the area of private plantations clear-felled each year is expected to exceed 10,000ha.

Matthews said the best way to incentivise net emissions reductions under LULUCF is a combination of afforestation, rewetting of organic soils and agroforestry.

The Trinity College economist contended that agriculture and land use policy should be treated in unison for the purposes of climate change policy, with the costs of emissions priced into farm produce.

While Matthews accepted that devising a pricing mechanism for GHG emissions will be costly and complex, he said such an approach had obvious advantages.

It would encourage farmers, input suppliers and research agencies to invest resources into finding innovations that can reduce emissions, he said.