Introducing a second carbon tax on farming cannot be seriously considered. This proposal by retired Professor Alan Matthews, which was endorsed by the Citizens’ Assembly at the weekend, would be costly, impractical and unlikely to make any real environmental difference.
This is demonstrated by the fact that since the current carbon tax was introduced, overall national greenhouse gas emissions have actually increased by 4%.
This is because emissions from the transport sector are out of control, growing by 130% since 1990.
The proposal ignores the economic and social implications of imposing a further cost on farmers and the agri-food sector.
A sector that has reduced emissions by 6% since 1990. It also ignores the sustainability credentials of Ireland’s agriculture sector; we are the only country in the world that monitors, measures and manages carbon from farm to fork.
We are the most carbon efficient milk producers in the world and the fifth most efficient beef producers in Europe.
If a carbon tax were to be introduced in Ireland, where our grass-based production methods allow us to produce carbon efficiently, and where our policy focus on reducing emissions is having a real impact, it would actually lead to increased international greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
At a time of increasing demand for dairy and beef, carbon efficient food produced in Ireland would be displaced by less environmentally sustainable food produced in regions such as the former Amazonian rainforests areas of South America.
It make no practical sense to impose a tax on a sector that is already playing its part in addressing the climate challenge
It is clear that what is needed is not a punitive approach, but one that considers the broader context and is based on incentivising positive action.
Future approaches to addressing climate change in the agriculture sector must involve a stimulus package. IFA is seeking:
The announcement of an indigenous biomass development programme, which would displace electricity generated from peat and coal.
This would eliminate 64% of greenhouse gasses created when generating electricity.
The re-opening of the GLAS Scheme. This would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an additional 65,000 tonnes each year.
The announcement of a zero carbon electricity tariff for community based and roof-top renewable projects.
This should be used over time to displace electricity production from gas, which accounts for 35% of greenhouse gasses emitted when generating electricity.
The scaling up of on-farm emission reduction programmes identified in the National Mitigation Plan, such as Smart Farming, Origin Green and the Carbon Navigator.
A full review by the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Services division of the new forestry programme and a commitment to remove all barriers, as planting is down 14% year on year.
Farmers can and will do more. However this will not be at the expense of our national herd or the competitiveness of the agri-food sector.
It is much better to work with farmers to continue on our path of sustainability through programmes such as Smart Farming, BETTER Farm and Origin Green and credible farm scale renewables measures rather than imposing additional cost burdens, with no environmental benefits.