Job losses of up to 75,000 in the agriculture sector and a 47% cut to the national cattle herd are among the most extreme results of greenhouse gas reduction modelling used by the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) when deciding on Ireland’s carbon budgets for the coming years.

The CCAC has recommended to Government that the country should impose a ceiling of 295mt CO2 equivalent for the period 2021-2025, followed by a lower 200mt CO2e in 2026-2030 and 151mt CO2e in 2031-2035.

While the CCAC will not decide the sectoral targets – that is the Government’s job – it has modelled several scenarios for greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions in the agricultural sector.

Documents seen by the Irish Farmers Journal include forecasts of the implications of each scenario on the Irish cattle herd, the economic impact and the jobs losses which they would result in.

The most extreme greenhouse gas reductions imposed on the agricultural sector would effectively cut the national herd in half by 2030 and cost between 33,000 and 75,000 jobs. The CCAC has examined five scenarios.

Scenario A: business as usual

Under the ‘business as usual’ scenario, the national cattle herd would be 7.1m cattle in 2030, just 2% lower than it was in 2018. The herd would include 2.43m cows (both beef and dairy) and would emit 20.62mt of CO2 equivalent.

Scenario C: 20% GHG reduction

A 20% reduction in GHG emissions would see the national cattle herd cut to 6.43m cattle in 2030 – some 11% lower than it was in 2018. The herd would include 2.11m cows, a cut of 13%, and would emit 16.1mt CO2e.

Scenario D: 33% GHG reduction

A 33% cut in greenhouse gas emissions would see the national cattle herd fall to 5.88m cattle in 2030, 19% lower than it was in 2018. The herd would include 1.84m cows, a cut of 24%. The herd would emit 14.97mt C02e.

Scenario E: 40% GHG reduction

A 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions would see the national cattle herd cut to 4.66m cattle, a drop of 36% on 2018 levels. Cow numbers would fall to 1.23m, just half of the 2018 cow numbers. The herd would emit 12.18mt CO2e.

Scenario F: 55% GHG reduction

A 55% cut in greenhouse gas emissions would see the national cattle herd cut by 47% to 3.84m cattle. Cow numbers would be cut by 65% to 850,000. The herd would emit 9.51mt CO2e.

Effect on agricultural output and jobs

Reductions in GHG emissions, mainly through the herd changes, would have a direct effect on the economic output of the agri sector.

Teagasc modelling shows that reductions of 20%, 33%, 40% and 55% in greenhouse gas emissions would result in drops of €719m, €1.894bn, €2.451bn and €3.687bn respectively in the combined value of milk and cattle.

The modelling points to a hit of between €301m and €1.887bn to the agriculture sector’s operating surplus.

The CCAC report says that “with reductions in beef and dairy activity levels, unless other income streams are developed, agricultural output value and agricultural sector income are also reduced.

“The more ambitious the agricultural GHG emissions reductions scenarios considered, the larger the negative impact on agricultural output value and on agricultural sector income.”

Teagasc is quoted in the CCAC report as warning that large reductions in bovine agricultural activity have progressively larger negative impacts on agricultural output value and agricultural sector income.

“Large changes in bovine agricultural output volume will have large knock-on consequences for economic activity levels and employment in the food processing sector and for the wider Irish economy,” it says.

Job losses

The agri-food sector is highlighted as being one of the sectors most affected by job losses in the transition to a low-carbon economy, the CCAC technical report says.

Job losses in the agri sector associated with imposing an equal GHG reduction on both agriculture and the energy sector would be so high that the CCAC has dismissed that scenario as “unfeasible”.

A scenario of 55% emissions cuts in agriculture was estimated by Teagasc to lead to between 33,000 and 75,000 jobs losses in the sector.

Even at lower GHG reductions, predicted job losses in the sector are high.

Teagasc analysis shows that a 20% GHG reduction would, without intervention, result in potential job losses in the agri-food sector of between 6,000 and 13,000.

Between 21,000 and 45,000 job losses would result from a scenario of 40% emissions cuts in agricultural emissions.

What scenario is most likely?

The political decision on what GHG emissions cuts should apply to individual sectors of the economy is yet to be formally made.

However last week, Government sources indicated that the likely GHG emissions cut that would be imposed on the agriculture sector would be between 21% and 30%.

In this week’s Irish Farmers Journal (Thursday, 28 October) we will reveal how reductions in agricultural emissions of 13%, 18%, 21%, 30% and 50% will impact employment levels (direct and indirect), economic output and farm incomes.