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Opportunities and challenges in reducing GHG emissions from Agriculture

A range of technologies can reduce the carbon footprint of Irish agriculture, but achieving reductions in total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the sector will not be easy. This was a key finding in a newly released report produced by Teagasc and submitted to government.

The report, prepared by the Teagasc greenhouse gas working group, identifies a number of cost-effective approaches to reducing GHG emissions from the agriculture sector, but notes that the growth in Irish agriculture as set out in Food Harvest 2020, is likely to leave overall sectoral emissions close to current levels.

The study represents the Teagasc submission to the public consultation on national climate policy and legislation initiated by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, TD. It indicates that if current farming practices remain unchanged, GHG emissions from agriculture could rise as the growth targets for the dairy and meat sectors set out in Food Harvest 2020 materialise. However, the report also details how Teagasc research has identified changes in farming practices which, if adopted, could allow the sector to grow in the period to 2020 without increasing its GHG emissions. The measures identified can improve the production efficiency of Irish farming, while simultaneously reducing the carbon footprint of agricultural produce.

In addition, the report specifies a range of additional measures which farmers could take to reduce GHG emissions at farm level even further. However, the GHG reductions that could be secured through the cultivation of biofuel and bioenergy crops, and farm afforestation cannot be credited to the agricultural sector under current regulations.

Commenting on the submission, Teagasc Director of Research, Dr Frank O’Mara, said: ”Irish agriculture could increase its contribution to the economy by about one third in the period to 2020. Given that Irish agriculture is already among the most carbon efficient globally, further steep reductions in emissions from the sector present a huge challenge in the short to medium term.”

Further opportunities to reduce GHG emissions from agriculture do exist, but the process of researching and validating the efficacy of each new technology takes several years to complete. These measures must then undergo a rigorous international verification process before they can be accepted and included into the National GHG Emission Inventory.

As part of the EU Burden Sharing agreement, Ireland is committed to a 20% reduction in GHG emissions produced by sectors outside the EU Emissions Trading Scheme by 2020.