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Agriculture Sector Helps Reduce Natural Emissions

13 May 2010

IRELAND - The Irish agricultural industry has an important role to play in reducing the impact of climate change, said the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Brendan Smith, addressing the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change and Energy.

While the farmer and the food industry are fully aware of their environmental and climate-related obligations, "reducing livestock numbers, as a solution to achieving emission reductions, makes neither economic sense nor, in global terms, environmental sense, as any shortfall on European or world markets, brought about by a reduction in Irish output, will be filled by produce from far less sustainable farming systems and with a far greater carbon footprint than the Irish produce it displaces," said the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Brendan Smith.

Minister Smith said that with global demand for food due to increase by 70 per cent over the next 40 years, "Ireland is ideally placed to contribute towards meeting this ever increasing demand and its pasture-based farming system is better suited to doing so, in a sustainable way, than others."

However, the Minister stressed that "Ireland's agriculture sector has played a very significant role in reducing national emissions" and confirmed that the sector "will continue to contribute its fair share to the national response." Minister Smith said that , in the period from 2008 - 2012, "emissions from the sector are projected to be 8.5 per cent or 1.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent less per annum compared to 1990 levels."

Notwithstanding the progress made, the Minister cautioned that "compared to other sectors, there are, at present, very few cost effective emissions reduction options available to the agriculture sector" and said that an in-depth analysis of all such options concluded that "with the current product mix, technologies could deliver a reduction of no more than 4 per cent in emissions."

The Minister did, however, emphasise that there are "many positive actions we can take to make some cuts in emissions from the sector" and instanced the need to help the food processing sector to explore options to benefit fully from a wide range of alternative energy sources. The Minister also made reference to initiatives operated by his Department to promote afforestation, the planting of energy crops and various other initiatives, including a target of 5 per cent of land area for organic cultivation by 2012, as measures that contribute to addressing climate change.

Minister Smith stressed the importance of bioenergy and said that, having launched a pilot bioenergy scheme in 2007 to support the planting of miscanthus and willow, his Department had launched a new bioenergy scheme in February 2010 to build on the progress made during the pilot phase and added that a "National Bioenergy Action Plan" is in place to increase deployment of Ireland's bioenergy resources in the transport, heat and electricity markets.

In terms of some of the mitigation measures that could be introduced at farm-level, the Minister described these as a "win-win situation for Irish farmers". Minister Smith said that these measures would "not alone benefit the environment and contribute to addressing climate change but would also reduce costs and improve efficiency at farm level".

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