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Cop26 and Climate Change - Focus for Farmers

COP 26 took place in Glasgow recently. COP - Conference of Parties comprises the governments signed up to the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC). Participating countries are tasked with their own emission reduction targets to implement. Drystock Advisor John Galvin gives some insight

Coinciding with COP26 Ireland launched Climate Action 21 plan. 

This the 26th COP (postponed in 2020 due to Covid – 19), it has been held annually since 1995. The Paris Agreement reached at COP 21 in 2015 is being heralded as being a watershed event for climate change. It provided the structure and pathway for countries to commit to their own targets at reducing emissions thus plotting the pathway globally towards reducing the increase in temperatures to 1.5C above preindustrial era. According to scientists this is essential to avoid devastating heat waves, droughts, severe weather events jeopardising hundreds of millions of people, whole ecosystems and plant and animal species as we know it.

What do we associate with the term ‘Climate Change’?

Extreme weather, drought, rising sea levels, wildfires, rising costs, flooding, higher temperatures and people like Greta Thunberg of course. Unfortunately Irish Agriculture is a major Green House Gas (GHG) emitter accounting for 35% of Irelands GHG’s which is 23 million tonnes CO2e (Total of 57.7 million tonnes CO2e across all sectors nationally). This is composed mainly of methane emitted by cattle and sheep, animal manure management, fertilisers, forage/feed production and other inputs such as fuels. As part of Irelands Climate Action Plan 21, an emission ceiling of 16-18 Mt CO2e has been set which is a reduction of 22-30%.

How will a reduction of 22 - 30% be achieved?

The initial plan to achieve the reduction, is to incrementally reduce by 2.5% annually until 2025. Currently there are a suite of technologies that can be used as building blocks to reduce farm emissions. Some of these technologies save money and reduce emissions whilst others do incur a cost. They include:

  • improving animal breeding & productivity
  • grassland management
  • soil fertility
  • manure management
  • fertiliser management
  • increasing biodiversity
  • considerations of mixed swards/clover.

Central to the implementation of these technologies is cost and practicality.  However it must be noted that these technologies give quite varying returns in terms of GHG reduction depending on the farm and more importantly the farm type they are implemented on.

GHGs in context

To put it in context 89% of the GHG’s on a suckler beef farm are animal related - animal digestion and manure management. The remaining 11% comes from inputs. On a dairy farm 65% of GHG’s are animal related with 35% coming from inputs - feed, fertiliser, diesel. 

Currently it is far more challenging for a suckler beef farmer to reduce its carbon footprint because inputs comprise so little of the overall carbon emissions.  There are trials at advanced stages to reduce methane being produced during animal digestion and a lot of research into breeding animals with lower methane but currently no solutions in use at farm level. The challenges will vary depending on the farming system and most importantly the willingness and/or ability to adopt these technologies.

Actions for 2022

For 2022 the advice is simply focus on the basics:

  • Address soil fertility
  • Increase herd fertility and productivity
  • Improve grassland management
  • Talk to your supplier about protected urea
  • Use low emission slurry spreading early in the year
  • Use fertiliser efficiently
  • Divest of non-productive animals
  • Most importantly for suckler farmers, calve heifers at 2 years

Teagasc Signpost Programme

The Teagasc Signpost Programme is a collaboration with a large group of farmers and industry stakeholders. It was launched to lead and support the transition of Irish farming to more sustainable systems to reduce emissions, improve water quality and reduce costs thus improving margins from farming.  The focus will be farming sustainably at an economic, social and environmental level, employing a high number of the mitigating tools outlined above to future proof farming systems. Sustainability is going to be front and centre of all Teagasc advisory activities between now and 2030.

‘It is clear it is a climate emergency’

To echo the words of Antonio Guterres UN Secretary General ‘it is clear it is a climate emergency’. Everyone has a role to play and a united approach is required to achieve positive results. The rhetoric of other countries not pulling their weight does not justify us doing nothing. There needs to transformational change in how we all live – otherwise the consequences are unthinkable, and the next generation will suffer in our hands.

 Read more about the Teagasc Signpost Programme here

Read CLIMATE ACTION PLAN 2021 Securing Our Future here (PDF)