Ireland’s Climate Action Plan proposes a comprehensive and wide-ranging set of measures for agriculture, forestry and land use. In this article, we provide a helpful summary of the most significant aspects relating to these industries.
1. Reducing emissions on our farms
- Achieve 16.5-18.5 MtCO2eq. cumulative methane and nitrous oxide emissions abatement between 2021 and 2030, including through implementing the full suite of cost-effective, on-farm abatement measures identified by Teagasc in 2018
- Ensure the future CAP (2021 – 2027) supports prioritising the protection and enhancement of carbon sinks on farms
- With the help of the agri-food sector, further mainstream and strengthen the verifiability of Origin Green to promote low-emissions intensity production at both the farm and processing levels, which will help farmers earn a market premium
- Design effective knowledge-transfer interventions that reduce barriers to rapid deployment, by farmers, of new technologies and changes to farming practices and land use and enhance the transfer of knowledge between farmers and other stakeholders, including the prioritisation of agricultural advisory services (both Teagasc and private) so as to focus on providing tailored assistance on low-carbon farming
- Build on the online nutrient management planning to immediately progress more efficient nitrogen use through enhancement of soil fertility
- Accelerate the assessment of feed additives (that are at an advanced stage of development) to mitigate methane emissions from enteric fermentation, including identification of their abatement potential in grazing-based systems and the perceived risks to food safety
2. Forestry and land use
- Under their six regional strategic plans for 2016-2020, Coillte is committed to replanting or restocking a total of 34,770 hectares between 2016 and 2020
- Bord na Móna’s estate extends to a little under 80,000 hectares. To date a little over 18,000 ha of the cut-away and cut-over peatland has been rehabilitated and the target for 2019 is to complete a further 3,000 ha
- Hedgerows are estimated to cover 3.9% of the Irish landscape or 660,000 km length. The total area of hedgerow and non-forest woodland patches across the landscape could represent a significant carbon sink and could be used as a mitigation option
3. Promoting diversification of land use
- Increase afforestation rates from their current levels to an average of 8,000 hectares per year, in order to reach the forestry land-cover target of 18% by the second half of this century, through engaging with a range of landowners, from farmers through to State Bodies and Local Authorities
- Supplement the attractive financial incentives already in place (for faster afforestation, sustainable forest management, and wood mobilisation), with knowledge transfer programmes to raise awareness of the benefits of forestry and ecosystem services
- Enable increased access into forests to allow the efficient and timely harvesting of timber for delivery to the market
4. Opportunities in the bioeconomy
- Optimising the use of domestic harvested wood in longer lived products, resulting in the double climate benefit of enhancing the storage of carbon in these products, as well as substituting wood for materials of higher carbon intensity
- Support the development of blue bioeconomy through such projects as the Clean Oceans Initiative and support the realisation of the value-add from processed marine biological resources
- Promote the transition to a circular bioeconomy at the regional level through Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies
5. Cost-effective energy substitutes
- Support biomass mobilisation, by mapping through the Regional Authorities, rural and urban biomass, feedstock loss and waste, and current biomass mobilisation, to help industry develop new value chains and business models
- Adopt a whole-of-Government approach to reviewing the potential of anaerobic digestion to supply biogas and biomethane, including opportunities in indigenous grass silage and slurry
- Set a target for biogas and biomethane development in Ireland
- Develop and stabilise the indigenous supply of biomass for renewable heat and CHP
- Stimulate market demand through the SSRH. The second phase of the scheme will provide multi-year support payments to anaerobic digestion and biomass heating systems
6. Better management of peatlands and soils
Ireland will develop and better manage our carbon sinks with the following measures:
- Restore/rewet all raised bogs designated as Special Areas of Conservation and Natural Heritage Areas within three cycles of the National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation Management Plan 2017-2022. Such restoration measures and hydrological management of our protected peatlands will halt and reduce peat oxidation and carbon loss
- Realise the emissions reduction potential of at least 40,000 ha of grasslands on drained organic soils, yielding up to an additional 0.44 Mt in sequestered carbon dioxide annually between 2021 and 2030. Priority actions include identifying precisely which areas of carbon-rich and drained organic agricultural soils are suitable for water-table-management techniques to reduce carbon losses
- Upgrade land-use and habitat mapping systems to establish the baseline condition of wetlands and inform the development of best-practice guidelines for wetland management, including the management of degraded sites and peatlands currently exploited for energy peat extraction
- Create additional incentives to adopt carbon-positive, post-production management options on Bord na Móna lands, and similar options on other commercial and private peat extraction sites
7. Developing clusters of exemplar practice
- Establish an industry group to promote new “environmentally friendly” branding and standards on low-emissions fertilisers to improve awareness
- Establish an Animal Feed Network Stakeholder group to review the environmental standards in all livestock rations, and to engage the whole industry in using feed supplements and altered crude protein levels to reduce methane and ammonia emissions
- Increase the number of new Knowledge Transfer Groups, which promote sustainable forest management and mobilisation of timber amongst forest owners
- Encourage existing forestry producer groups in timber mobilisation and forest management
- Establish exemplar “sign-post” networks and communities within the agricultural sector to be leaders in adopting best practice to improve soil fertility and optimise fertiliser use, reduce N2O emissions, and enhance carbon sequestration in soil/biomass
Ireland is committed to promoting diversification of activity at farm level and in the wider rural economy towards low-carbon opportunities. It is necessary to restructure agriculture to ensure sustainable land uses that will yield secure family farm income in the longer term.
Realising the potential of bioenergy supply opportunities, including biomass mobilisation and biogas/biomethane supplied from anaerobic digestion, will require sustained attention over the coming period.
The emerging bioeconomy sector affords the opportunity to leverage Ireland’s natural resources and comparative advantages and to build on our enterprise strengths and innovative capacity to enable the creation of highly productive and sustainable jobs in the emerging low carbon economy.
For more information on the potential impact of these measures in your industry, contact a member of our Energy & Utilities team.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.