Carthy discusses role of farmers in tackling Climate Change with An Taisce
Sinn Féin Agriculture Spokesperson, Matt Carthy, engaged with the Environmental organisation An Taisce in the Oireachtas last week on the role of farming in tackling Climate Change on a global level.
During a meeting of the Oireachtas Agriculture committee, Deputy Carthy told the An Taisce representatives that no country that had higher agricultural standards than Ireland.
An Taisce were before the Committee to discuss the development of the Climate Action Plan. The Sinn Féin Deputy has repeatedly said that the proposition of reducing Irish product for less sustainable imports is non-sensical and hypocritical.
The exchange went as follows:
Deputy Matt Carthy:
“Can Mr. Lumley name the countries that enforce higher agricultural standards than Ireland?”
Mr. Ian Lumley:
“Yes. I can refer to the report of the European Court of Auditors published in May 2020 which took an overview of Europe. It was not good news. It shows a number of countries, including Poland, Germany and Ireland—–”
“We take it that the standards Irish farmers are expected to adhere to are set at EU level. What countries have higher agricultural standards for their farmers than Ireland?”
“When we look at standards, we need to look at outcomes. Overall, Europe is really not doing well on outcomes. One must look at different outcomes in different countries. Some countries will be doing better on climate and others on biodiversity.”
“Can Mr. Lumley name countries that have higher standards in terms of environmental obligations for their farmers than Ireland?”
“Europe has standards. The difficulty is that Europe has set an ammonia emissions ceiling threshold but that has been breached in Ireland since 2016.”
“Can Mr. Lumley name the countries that have higher agricultural standards for their farmers than Ireland?”
“Could I ask my colleague to come in on this?”
Mr. Ruaidhrí O’Boyle:
“Hopefully, I will be able to give some sort of answer. A few years ago, the Dutch Government insisted that there would be a reduction in its bovine number because of the fact it was exceeding its emissions targets at that point.”
“I am sorry for interrupting. There may be different levels of production. However, the question I am asking is about the standards to which farmers are expected to adhere. In what countries are those standards higher than in Ireland?”
“I do not understand. What does the Deputy mean by standards?”
“The rules under which they are obliged to farm.”
“We are all obliged under European law because we have the same targets. The difference in Ireland is that we have not insisted that those targets be met.”
“That point is a debatable. I take it that the highest standards in place anywhere internationally for farmers to adhere to are in Ireland. The enforcement of those standards may be a separate point.
“I want to go back to the point on carbon leakage. Earlier, it was argued that if we reduce beef and dairy production in Ireland, it would be met somewhere else. An Taisce said that this is being rebuffed by the Farm to Fork strategy, which states that we cannot make a change unless we take the rest of the world with us. In its response to the climate Bill, An Taisce stated that references to carbon leakage should be removed entirely because such leakage would need to be resolved at EU level.
“Am I to take it that An Taisce’s argument is that we need to reduce our suckler herd because we are going to take the rest of the world with us when it comes to environmental standards but we cannot address carbon leakage because that would require action at EU level?”
“Taking the world with us is us taking a lead and setting an example for the world. In terms of carbon leakage, the principle is that we should not cut our agricultural emissions because to do so would cause increased emissions somewhere else. If that is an accepted idea, it will be for the Oireachtas to decide what other sectors should increase their emissions reductions this decade in order to meet the targets in the climate Bill. Polluting Irish waterways on the basis that someone else might do it if we do not do it is not a road we should go down.”
“This committee is agreed that we should protect our waterways and go to significant lengths in order to do so.
“Many in the beef sector will have been concerned by what happened with the horticultural peat sector. From Mr. Lumley’s stated position, is it the case that An Taisce thinks it is okay to import horticultural peat in order to facilitate the likes of the mushroom sector and others?
“Is An Taisce suggesting that those sectors should essentially be wound up and that we should just lose the mushroom sector because we cannot produce horticultural peat?”
“Ten years ago, the EPA published an important report, Bogland, on the need to ensure that the continued loss of biodiversity and carbon from the peatlands through power generation, domestic burning and horticulture needed an exit strategy. Bord na Móna adopted one for 2030 that was subject to legal actions. Now Bord na Móna has adopted a more immediate exit strategy which is supported under the just transition initiative. The horticultural peat industry, over the past decade, has deliberately resisted regulation and legal enforcement of—–”
“I want to bring our guests back to the original question. What is the solution, in the here and now, for the mushroom sector, for example? As I see it, if we cannot extract horticultural peat in Ireland, the two options that are available to us are to import peat or export the mushroom sector. Which one of these options should we choose?”
“The Deputy will be pleased to hear about what is happening today. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has set up a working group, which is mainly composed of industry representatives, including representatives of the mushroom industry and the IFA. The working group has a chair with a background in public research. As we speak, it is preparing a report to the Minister on dealing with the immediate issue, as recognised, that we need to protect Irish horticulture.”
“I asked for An Taisce’s position. I take from Mr. Lumley’s answer that he will not set out its position. I have one final question and I will be as brief as possible.”
“We have endorsed that document. We need to take action.”
“An Taisce’s opening statement is comprehensive. I note that the concept of a just transition is mentioned just once, on the second last page. I have seen a number of An Taisce’s other submissions in which just transition is not mentioned at all.
“For An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, where does the maintenance and development of rural communities fit into its objectives? Where should they feature in the objectives of this committee as we prepare a response to the climate action Bill? In its submissions to various Departments, what documents has An Taisce produced aimed at promoting development and enhancing rural communities as they exist in Ireland?”
“I am pleased to say that this is something on which we are at one with Deputy Carthy and other rural public representatives. That is a major part of the consensus document produced by 72 coalition organisations that was published last week and circulated to the committee. That document, in its second half in particular, sets out constructive recommendations on public health, sustainable contribution, meaningful food and nutrition security, and the need for a dialogue and participation structure. We have a good precedent with the Citizens’ Assembly and the major input that had to advancing consideration of climate action in Ireland. We welcome the potential for similar dialogue.
“If Deputy Carthy closely reads a number of sections of this document, which we have endorsed and circulated to the committee, he will see constructive recommendations for the future of rural Ireland, including recommendations that are applicable to his area. We had a much more complex and diversified food and land use system in the past. Across the Border, we produced apples in Armagh and there was a great flax growing area in Ulster, as well as around Dublin. We produced grain and more fruit and vegetables than we do now. We have an opportunity to diversify and that has the potential to be of enormous benefit to rural communities. The farm to fork strategy, the European biodiversity targets and consumer trends such as the increasing interest in organic goods offer enormous potential for areas such as the Border countries. We are already actively involved, through the landholding which we have been bequeathed, in advancing high-nature value farming with local communities. Outside of this committee, I would welcome the opportunity to engage with the Deputy on issues to do with his local area.”