The director general of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Laura Burke, has warned that transformational emission reductions are needed across energy, transport, agriculture, and land use to meet Ireland’s national and international environmental commitments by 2030 and 2050. Speaking at the EPA’s Climate Change Conference 2023, Burke explained that the land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector accounts for 11% of the country’s total emissions and has been a net source of emissions since 1990. She highlighted the importance of protecting and restoring the country’s life support system, which is demonstrated by negative trends in greenhouse gas (GHG) and ammonia emissions, water quality, and biodiversity indicators.
Burke emphasised the cultural, social, and economic interdependency that Ireland has with its land and agriculture, which shapes and changes the country’s past and current land use. She noted that Ireland came late to industrialisation and urbanisation, and as a society, it maintains a strong connection with the land. Burke stated that land and the agriculture sector are valuable national assets that provide secure food supply and economic resources supporting rural communities and national economic growth. As Ireland looks towards its “carbon-neutral future”, land will play a key role in delivering green energy, opportunities for a more sustainable bioeconomy, and in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Burke outlined that there are high levels of ambition for the use of land both at the EU and national level, including the role of land as a carbon sink and as an opportunity for agricultural diversification actions such as rewetting, afforestation, increased organics, and increased tillage. These actions are referenced across different plans and strategies, whether that be the Climate Action Plan, Food Vision, or the proposed Nature Restoration Law and the findings of the recent Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity. However, Burke warned that there was a real need to “understand the impacts and implications” of all of the various plans and strategies and to see “how they’re going to work together in the context of land”.
Burke stated that the discussion about Ireland’s land use in the future should be based on the “best available science” and should be inclusive to avoid polarization. She recognised that change is difficult and that Ireland is in uncharted territory, but it’s important to work together to understand the challenges so that they can be overcome. Burke added that there is much work underway in Ireland to inform the understanding of land and how it is currently used and can be used in the context of changing climate, both in terms of mitigation and adaptation.