Irish climate chief reassures farmers ahead of carbon cuts announcement

FILE PHOTO: Eamon Ryan, the leader of the Irish Green Party and environment minister
FILE PHOTO: Eamon Ryan, Irish environment minister and leader of the Green Party, is seen during a television interview during the build-up to Ireland's national election in Dublin, Ireland, February 5, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble/File Photo

October 28, 2021

By Conor Humphries

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland will order sharp cuts to agricultural carbon output next week, but warnings it will cost tens of thousands of job losses miss the major opportunities the green agenda will create, Environment Minister Eamon Ryan told Reuters on Thursday.

The government will announce a politically divisive climate plan, setting out which sectors of the economy will take on most of the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 51% by 2030.

Speaking ahead of next week’s United Nations COP26 climate summit, Ryan said reports that agriculture would face cuts of 21-30% were “not far away” from what would be announced and that he expected the national livestock herd to fall over the decade.

But he disputed an economic impact report commissioned by the Irish Farmers Journal which said a 30% emissions cut would result in 56,000 job losses and a decline in farmer income of 25-31%.

That does not take account new sources of state funding to encourage farmers to keep carbon in the ground and the inevitable shift to organic output that can command higher prices.

“You’ll see a natural diversification and less intense system but also less costs and a higher premium. I think that’s the only way it’s going to work,” the Green Party leader said in an interview in his Dublin office.

“You have to look at ways in which it actually works for Irish agriculture, and I think it can.”

Other sectors are set for far higher cuts, with transport facing a reduction of around 50%.

Carbon output in electricity production and heavy industry will be in “the sort of range” reported by the Sunday Business Post last week of 70-80% and 40-50% respectively, Ryan said.

Electricity output will benefit from a major shift to wind energy, with 35 gigawatts of offshore wind planned, compared to just over 4 gigawatts of total wind capacity now. Offshore floating wind on Ireland’s Atlantic coast should begin to come online later in the decade, he said.

Ryan, who also holds the transport portfolio, said it was unclear if Irish aviation would shrink between now and 2030, saying much of the industry’s focus would be on ramping up the use of sustainable aviation fuel.

The volume of electricity used by data centres has become a politically charged issue in Ireland, with advocates of foreign direct investment saying they are key to retaining the European headquarters of U.S. technology giants.

Ryan said the location of data centres helps and strengthens the country, but that the current growth rates, which he said will lead to data centres using 23% of the country’s electrify output by 2030, cannot continue.

(Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Padraic Halpin and Mike Harrison)