The implementation of the Climate Change Act will have a “profound and wide-ranging impact” on all dairy, beef and sheep farmers in Northern Ireland, AgriSearch chair Prof. Gerry Boyle has said.
The independent charity made a submission to a consultation from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) on Northern Ireland’s emissions reduction targets.
A 48% emissions reduction by 2030 and a 77% reduction by 2040 are considered by DAERA as required under the act, based on advice by the Climate Change Committee.
Agriculture is “uniquely placed” to capture the major greenhouse gas (GHG) carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and turn it into a wide range of food, fibres and fuels, Prof. Boyle said and added:
“Local farmers can and must be part of the climate change solution and with the right policy framework and support farmers can rise to the climate and food production challenges.”
In its submission AgriSearch highlighted the need for a balanced and scientific approach, and that DAERA needs to consider the consequences of its intended policy actions.
This includes ensuring the economic and social sustainability of farm businesses, the wider agri-food sector, and the rural economy in addition to the consideration of environmental issues.
Emissions reduction targets
AgriSearch said it is “exceptionally difficult” to assess the realism of the proposed reduction targets without an analysis of the technical measures to achieve these targets, which is yet to be published.
The government is obliged to treat sectors such as agriculture, land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF), energy, transport, and waste separately for purposes of the GHG inventory, he said.
However, farmers as land users operate across three sectors – agriculture, LULUCF and energy – and it makes “no sense” to segment their activities as it is required, according to the chair.
He said it is important that credits for above and below-ground carbon sequestration can be applied to agricultural emissions which, as a biological system, “can never reach net zero”.
In its submission AgriSearch also highlighted the need for further investment in science, including social science, as farmers will be asked to make “significant changes” to their businesses.
Prof. Boyle said that one of the main metrics used in the national GHG inventory, GWP100 is “flawed” as it does not fully consider the shorter-term impacts of methane in the atmosphere.
This, he said, leads to an “overestimation” of methane’s contribution to global warming patterns, and thus DAERA should apply GWP* which considers the shorter lifespan of methane.
“Alternatively, DAERA should consider the adoption of a twin-gas approach and establish a lower target for methane relative to other GHGs,” according to AgriSearch.