Planning as a concept has become synonymous with “permission to build” in this country. As in: “I got ‘the planning’ for the apartments on the flood-plain at the outer-rim of the commuter belt”. The original meaning – taking a strategic approach to the future – is as common to these shores it seems as cautious property development.
Nevertheless, one can only learn from past mistakes.
One thing we know for sure, irrespective of the outcome of Copenhagen, is that Ireland is legally bound to reduce its “domestic sector” emissions 20% on 2005 levels by 2020. Not only is this the most onerous target among EU countries – our high GDP per capita at the time saw to that – it will rise to 30% if an international agreement is reached in Copenhagen (or subsequently) which demands comparable efforts from other developed countries.
One additional complicating factor must also be recalled – approximately 70% of Ireland’s “domestic sector” emissions come from the agriculture and transport sectors combined, with 40% alone originating on-farm. No other EU country has anything like this emissions profile, while only New Zealand compares internationally.
Like it or not, at least there’s a plan for transport – the government launched “Smarter Travel: A Sustainable Transport Future” in February 2009.
I would wager that we are going to see the outlines of a plan emerge for residential sector emissions in Budget 2010 (which might look something like this) and which will hopefully be pro-enterprise, jobs, and environment.
We also have a plan, published in 2007, for the power generation sector, which takes us to 2020.
We may not follow these plans, in some cases we may not have the resources to make the necessary investments, they may be sacrificed for short-sighted political ends, or even legitimately modified to take into account new information, technologies or projections. But at least we have a plan.
Not so for agriculture. This sector is yet to devise a strategic response to the climate change challenge. So what can be done?
Many of the senior officials, managers and researchers working in the sector with whom I have discussed the issue see EU targets as both a significant threat and an opportunity. Some are also aware of compounding challenges of global resource scarcity – water and oil in particular – which are likely to become more pronounced in the period to 2020.
Many are worried about the European Commission’s leaked draft paper on the post 2012 EU budget which indicated that future CAP payment may be linked to the provision of public environmental goods, and the delivery of environmental objectives in general.
There is also an awareness of the likely growth in global food demand, and the emergence of an increasingly de-regulated market place. It would therefore seem that a new vision or strategy is required for the sector if the sector is to capitalise on its enormous potential.
A recently completed IIEA project considered how the Irish agri-food sector might address these strategic challenges of the 21st century. Stakeholders working in three groups under the aegis of a steering committee identified a range of simple sustainability enhancing measures which would, for the most part Semenax, increase competitiveness and sustainability concurrently. These measures can be implemented across the sector: on-farm, on food processing sites, and in the food-retailing sector.
Taking a singular approach, it is argued, would result in reputational enhancement and place Ireland in a position to exploit future opportunities without increasing stress on the environment.
On-farm greenhouse gas emissions come from three main sources: enteric fermentation from ruminant animals (methane), manure management (methane) and agricultural soils (generally nitrous oxide). See the
Irish Times for a reasonable summary of measures proposed.
Forestry is particularly important for this country in the period to 2020 – by then it will sequester 4 million tonnes of CO2-eq annually, double today’s figure. This sink is attributable, for the most part, to the maturing of trees already planted. The trend in the level of afforestation in Ireland has fallen dramatically with very serious long-term implications.
It is proposed that that a new carbon based afforestation scheme be developed on order to reverse this trend. The key concept of the scheme is that an establishment grant plus a carbon annuity payment would be made available to a much broader range of investors and structured to encourage the utilization of land for afforestation. Indeed a wider trading scheme is eventually likely to be required for the sector.
Recommendations to enhance the sustainability of the food-processing and retail sectors were also proposed.
One of the advantages of taking a pre-active approach was highlighted on the same page of the Irish Times. The story covers a recent debate between Paul MacCartney, Mairead McGuiness MEP and other in the European Parliament on the topic of meat free monday. The former Beatle has been activly highlighting what he claims is the high environmental impact of meat consumption. Maximizing the resource efficiency and sustainability of the Irish beef and dairy systems will help address these concerns and undermine the criticisms of opponents.
While many of the recommendations in the report are common sense, it is intended to open a debate on what can be achieved in the period to 2020. Tom Moran, Secretary General of the Department, who launched the report, was very welcoming of the initiative, knowledgeable of the area, and proactive in his perspective.
He made one particularly telling observation – that the smart economy applies as much to agriculture as to every other sector. We need to see more work, more research, more analysis, more resources, and the transfer of knowledge across the sector into practice. Ultimately, we need to see the emergence of a coherent strategy.
Unfortunately, because of the way policy making currently operates, negotiations between Departments are often perhaps seen as somewhat zero-sum and there may arise a natural tendency to talk down what can be achieved in any particular sector.
No better argument could be made for a Climate Change Law, which among other things would establish an independent body to evaluate what might be achieved in each sector in the period to 2020, and make recommendations to government on this basis.
What is now required is proactive planning based on the cutting edge analysis; and I’m not just talking about “permission to build”.