Despite the vast amounts of EU taxpayers’ cash being poured into agriculture, including over €100 billion earmarked to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the sector in the last seven years, the new report from the European Court of Auditors (ECA) has just confirmed that agricultural emissions have not come down at all since 2010. Indeed, Irish agricultural emissions have actually increased.

This, according to the ECA, “is because most measures supported by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) have a low climate-mitigation potential, and the CAP does not incentivise the use of effective climate-friendly practices”.

Livestock emissions account for around half of emissions from agriculture; they have not decreased since 2010, and have risen sharply in Ireland in this period as a result of national government policy. 

These emissions, the ECA notes, “are directly linked to the size of the livestock herd, and cattle cause two thirds of them. The share of emissions attributable to livestock rises further if the emissions from the production of animal feed (including imports) is taken into account”.

The report also notes that the CAP supports climate-unfriendly practices, such as paying farmers who cultivate drained peatlands, which represent less than 2% of EU farmland but which emit 20% of EU agricultural greenhouse gases. 

Drainage of peaty lands in Ireland to convert them to grass production to feed livestock is a major additional source of GHG emissions in Ireland. Overall, Ireland’s grassland soils are net emitters of approximately 7 million tonnes of CO2 per annum. 

Crucially, the ECA report notes that “EU law does not currently apply a polluter-pays principle to greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.” Were this to change, the highly emissions and pollution-intensive Irish model of concentrating on large-scale dairy and beef production, primarily for export, would be liable to paying for the pollution it creates. 

This would likely render much of this sector unviable and calls into question government policies such as Food Harvest 2020, Food Wise 2025 and the upcoming plan for 2030, all of which are predicated on ever-expanding dairy herd numbers.

Dr. Elaine McGoff, Natural Environment Officer with An Taisce, said:

The Court of Auditors report really highlights the need for leadership from Government that recognises the scale of the challenge of reducing agricultural emissions and that takes serious steps to do this while protecting farmers and their livelihoods.