Farmers need to be seen as part of solution rather than problem, according to Taoiseach
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at the ICMSA agm in Limerick. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
The shaming of farmers for climate change has to stop and farmers need to be seen as part of the solution rather than the problem, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told a farmers conference.
Mr Varadkar told more than 300 delegates at the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) agm that while Ireland’s carbon emissions had gone down over the last two years, carbon emissions from the agriculture sector had regrettably gone up in this period.
“But I very much believe and I very much want farmers to be part of the solution when it comes to climate change and climate action rather than being targeted as part of the problem as you so often are,” he said.
“And it’s my belief that the climate shaming of farmers should stop now. But it’s through visible and effective climate action by farmers, supported by government, that we can make sure that it stops.”
Mr Varadkar said that climate action wasn’t just about reducing greenhouse gases, it was also about improving air quality, developing more efficient ways of heating homes and creating new jobs and businesses for the future.
“Just think about what we could achieve with all the money we would save if we didn’t spend billions of euros every year importing oil and gas, and we used our own energy instead,” he said.
Mr Varadkar said there was huge potential for farmers to engage in micro-energy generation, particularly if the model is right to make farms self-sufficient but also able to sell surplus energy into the grid.
“But that has to be done in a fair way. It wouldn’t be reasonable to ask consumers of electricity to pay two or three times as much for micro-generated energy as they would for macro-generated energy.”
He said there was also huge potential in biogas, with Gas Networks Ireland already developing plans to replace natural gas with biogas as part of the solution to make Ireland carbon neutral by 2050.
Forestry can also be part of the solution to tackle Ireland’s carbon emissions, with the Government setting an objective that 440 million trees would be planted over the next 20 years to help absorb carbon.
Mr Varadkar acknowledged that afforestation, particularly of species such as Sitka spruce, had caused controversy in places like Leitrim, but he believes regionally a more balanced approach would work.
“The solution is to try and spread it around a lot more and I’d like to see every landowner in the state plant at least one hectare of their land with broad-leaf native trees and to be paid properly to do so,” he said.
Mr Varadkar said an argument was to be made internationally that food production should be viewed differently to other sectors such as transport, construction, and oil and gas extraction.
“It’s never going to be possible to replace food production. We’re always going to need to produce food, and as the world population rises, we’re going to need to produce more of it.”
However, Mr Varadkar said that it appeared to him that there was “a certain incongruity” between how or where oil and gas emissions and food production emissions are calculated.
He cited the example of how emissions from gas and oil produced in Norway or Qatar are counted where that fuel is consumed, whereas for food producers like Ireland and France the emissions are counted where they are produced.