Irish co-op sector reacts to government’s climate plan

Jerry Long, president of national sector body ICOS, says farmers will need help to hit the target of a 22% emissions cut by 2030

The Irish government has released its Climate Action Plan 2021, which the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS) says will transform the agriculture sector.

The 200-page document commits the country to reducing its climate emissions by 51% by the year 2030, at a cost of €125bn (£107bn) in public and private sector investment.

Coal and peat-fired electricity generation will be phased out with the goal of 80% of Ireland’s energy supply to come from wind and solar by the end of the decade. Homeowners, farmers, businesses and communities will be offered support schemes to generate their own electricity and sell any surplus to the grid.

There is also a target range for the agricultural sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 22% to 30% by 2030.

The plan calls for an improvement in animal breeding and feeding practices, as well as big reductions in the use of chemical nitrogen fertilisers.

Asked about the issue of animal herd sizes on farms, Taoiseach Michéal Martin said: “The government will work with farmers to secure even more efficiencies. The key objective is reducing emissions – not counting cattle.”

ICOS president Jerry Long said: “Nobody should be in any doubt but that the target range is deeply challenging.

“A more specific target will be established in time and should only be agreed following genuine consultation with all stakeholders in the sector and the Department of Agriculture needs to initiate this process as soon as possible.”

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He urged the government to properly plan, fund and support the actions in the plan to give co-ops and farmers the certainty they need. And he wants measures to strengthen the family farm model, making them economically and environmentally sustainable.

“This must include a pathway to facilitate sustainable growth, family farm succession and new entrants into the sector, as no industry can be sustainable if it is constrained into the future in the context of constantly increasing costs of production,” he said.

“For all other sectors of the economy, their carbon emissions are driven by burning fossil fuels in one form or another and there are technical and engineering solutions to almost completely eliminate those emissions.

“That is not the case for agriculture as we are dealing with biological systems which are necessary to the production of food and for food security.”

Mr Long cited the introduction of new methods to reduce climate impact, including low emission slurry spreading, low nitrogen fertilisers, the use of clover to feed livestock and lower methane emissions, improved breeding and grassland management.

The co-op sector is committed to supporting farmers “along this very challenging journey”, he added.

“There is also a real potential to move forward with an indigenous biogas industry based on co-operative ownership, if appropriate supports can be provided by government,” he said.

“Farmers and their families are very proud to be guardians of the environment and they provide an enormous public good to society by supplying traceable, nutritious and safe food. The Climate Action Plan represents a very challenging journey for everyone and every sector in society.

“I fully agree with the comments by An Taoiseach, following the publication of the Climate Action Plan, that the framing of the current debate on climate change must avoid the specific targeting of the agricultural sector and an undue focus on the national herd. This element of the debate to date has been extremely unfair, unbalanced and detrimental towards any reasonable progress around the issues at hand.”