Suzanne Lynch, Arthur Beesley
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is pressing European leaders to grant special concessions to Ireland as they advance a new climate change deal to curb harmful emissions.
At a summit this evening in Brussels, Mr Kenny will seek to convince his European Union counterparts that the Republic’s heavy dependence on agriculture should be taken into account when long-term emissions targets are set.
Irish negotiators made some headway in pre-summit talks but as yet there is no agreement.
Although the leaders remained divided before the meeting, they hope to agree the parameters of a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 2020 and 2030.
They will also discuss the Ebola epidemic, the standstill in the European economy and Russia’s continued interference in Ukraine.
The 10-year environmental plan is sensitive for the Republic as the adoption of onerous targets to be enforced from 2020 would curtail the long- term drive to build up the agriculture industry.
National herd The Government hopes to capitalise on the elimination of EU milk quotas next year with a significant build-up in the national herd. Irish livestock already accounts for a
third of the State’s methane emissions, the highest proportion in the EU, and the State is in danger of breaching current targets in coming years.
Dependence on agricultural production was not previously recognised in EU climate-change targets.
The Taoiseach will argue that Ireland’s forests, grasslands and bogs should be taken into account when calculating emissions as they absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
Ireland also expects to invest some €3 billion in forestry by 2030 to achieve a big increase in forest cover.
An appreciable agreement to offset forest and bogland “carbon sinks” would allow the gradual expansion of the national herd to proceed without running the risk of EU fines for emission breaches.
Economic crash The Taoiseach is further expected to argue that the impact of the economic crash should be taken into account when setting Irish targets.
The lack of money since recession struck and the bank bailout has greatly curtailed the State’s capacity to make transport and housing investments to offset emissions, as might otherwise have been expected.
Mr Kenny is likely to argue this should be taken into account when setting targets for 2020, meaning the starting point would be less onerous.
In a sign of progress last week, EU agriculture ministers agreed to recognise “a multiplicity of land uses” when calculating emissions. Ireland has also secured a commitment that a reference to agriculture may also be included in the final package.
Mr Kenny is not the only leader seeking concessions. Many of his east European counterparts, whose countries depend heavily on fossil fuels, have lobbied for less ambitious targets than those proposed in January by the European Commission. These states include Poland, which has a heavy reliance on coal.
Amid concern about the European economy, member states traditionally regarded as progressive on climate change have argued the lack of growth should be taken into account when setting targets.
Officials are considering an overall target to cut greenhouse emissions by 40 per cent in the course of the 10-year plan, together with a binding requirement for 27 per cent renewable energy consumption by 2030.