The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine’s report “Climate change and sustainability in the agri-food sector” fails to understand either climate change or sustainability. The Committee sought to identify policy solutions for the sector which is responsible for 47% of Ireland’s EU target greenhouse gas emissions. However, the report’s emphasis on continued expansion and so-called “efficiency” in the dairy sector fails to hold to account the industries which have the greatest responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture.

The only significant measure of any sector’s climate change impact is its total emissions. To meet our Paris Agreement commitments total emissions in all sectors must fall year on year: efficiency savings do NOT count if total emissions do not go down.

But today, yet another seriously misleading Oireachtas Committee report on reducing emissions entirely fails to spell out this basic reality. In the Irish agriculture sector the only measures that count as substantial near-term action are reducing cattle and sheep numbers, and limiting artificial fertiliser use on pastures.

The agri-food industry was given the most time in the Committee hearings and the Irish public and Irish farmers are ill-served by a deeply flawed report that will maintain emissions at the new much increased level. Given our strongly claimed commitments to climate action, this report exposes the shallowness of those claims.

While the report acknowledges the work of Citizens’ Assembly on “How the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change” and its recommendations relating to agriculture, the first recommendation in the report specifically excuses the sector’s impacts by seeking to “emphasise the absence of heavy industry” in Ireland as if this provides Ireland with a licence to pollute. The report states that the scope to reduce emissions appears limited in Ireland’s “largest indigenous industry”, citing €13 billion in exports from the agri-food sector, ignoring the large amount of subsidies flowing from the EU to support Ireland’s emissions-intensive agriculture. The contribution of agriculture to the Irish economy in 2016 was only 1.5% of GDP, which is close to the EU average [1]. This plea for special treatment of the sector undermines the report’s credibility.

The ‘efficiency’ myth:
Misleadingly, efficiency is emphasised heavily “as key to addressing emissions” and the report states that Committee believe there is evidence that the livestock sector is making “substantial efforts”. Incredibly, the report states that with the planned increase in output from FoodWise 2025, “the level of emissions appear to have been contained”, referring to the evidence from DAFM to the committee. This is utter nonsense: the only measure of sectoral impact is total emissions which in Irish agriculture is simply related to the number of cattle and how much they are fed. Cattle numbers and fertiliser use to boost grass growth have gone up dramatically since 2011 - especially in dairy - so emissions are also skyrocketing. EPA data indicates dairy CO₂e emissions went up 24% from 2012 to 2016 [2]. There has been little if any change in dairy efficiency between 2012-2016 – indeed there has been little change in efficiency since 2009, the year before the dairy expansion plan was announced [2].

The ‘decoupling’ myth:
The report persists in providing oxygen to another distraction technique employed extensively by DAFM officials and the Minister and recently exposed by An Taisce [2]. By conflating the escalating dairy production figures and the somewhat reduced overall agriculture emissions figures it is claimed that ‘decoupling of production from emissions has been achieved. This is deceptive and should not be entertained. In reality emissions from dairy are closely matching production [2].

The report concludes that emissions from the agri-food sector could have “significant long-term consequences” and An Taisce welcomes the recommendation that an immediate impact assessment of climate change and sustainability targets in FoodWise 2025 be undertaken. This must focus on reducing total sector emissions, which is almost certainly impossible without reducing cattle numbers. Furthermore, An Taisce agrees wholeheartedly with the committee’s stated view that the objective of new strategies for the sector should be “mitigating climate change and introducing new production efficiencies aimed at producing more from less”. However, this would mean reversing the current trajectory of ever rising emissions.

The continued expansion in the beef and dairy sectors is sabotaging Ireland’s ability to meet our targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This report fails farmers and simply supports the agri-food industry making more profits from the farm subsidies supplying them with cheap inputs. Business-as-usual agri-food production is given a green light by this report for further expansion resulting inevitably in a huge increase in emissions. Once again, a political report is favouring industry over farmers.

An Taisce calls for existing subsidies to be redirected to support farmers and rural communities in a transition to a less emissions-intensive and more climate-resilient agriculture, including permanent agroforestry and natural woodland for carbon storage and biodiversity. Every sector has a global responsibility to reduce its total emissions impact, yet this report fails to face up to this reality. This report is another failed opportunity to chart a more secure future for farming and rural Ireland.


For further information, contact:
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: [email protected]
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland


[1] Agriculture in Ireland - Teagasc

[2] An Taisce has called on Minister Creed to retract misleading Dáil statements on rising dairy emissions

About An Taisce

An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.