A comprehensive review of nitrogen limits and voluntary reduction of livestock numbers are among the key measures outlined in the Climate Action Plan 2024. Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan announced that the plan, which was approved by Cabinet on Wednesday, December 20, will be open for public consultation early next year. The plan, accompanied by a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), sets out Ireland’s commitment to “accelerate the action required to respond to the climate crisis”. While progress has been made in reducing emissions in certain sectors of the economy, the document warns that there is still a significant challenge ahead in transitioning to a greener, cleaner future.
Minister Ryan highlighted that despite a booming economy and a growing population, emissions dropped by 1.9% last year. While this is a positive start, he acknowledged that it is far from enough and emphasized the need for exponential reductions in emissions as more programs are implemented. Agriculture is responsible for 34.3% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the sector has a target to reduce annual emissions by 25% by 2023 compared to 2018 levels. In 2022, agricultural emissions decreased by 1.2% due to a reduction in fertilizer use by farmers. However, the Climate Action Plan 2024 states that greater reductions are required to meet the emissions targets set for the first carbon budget.
Minister Ryan praised the agriculture sector for embracing change, citing a decrease in fertilizer use over the past two years and a doubling of organic farming since 2021. However, he also highlighted the risk of a rebound in chemical nitrogen use if prices fall, which can be managed by promoting the use of organic nitrogen sources and improving nitrogen use efficiency at the farm level. The Climate Action Plan 2024 includes 26 specific measures for the agriculture sector in the coming year, with a focus on fertilizers, breeding, and biomethane.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) will fund the establishment of multispecies and clover swards to reduce nitrogen dependence and enhance adaptation. The plan also calls for a review of maximum nitrogen limits as set out in nitrates legislation by the second quarter of 2024, separate from reviewing conditions for granting derogation status. Funding for low emission slurry spreading (LESS) will continue to contribute to nitrogen reductions, and support will be provided for the Protein Aid Scheme to encourage the production of legumes, which can reduce the use of chemical nitrogen fertilizers. The plan also emphasizes the promotion of improved animal breeding to focus on low-methane traits, the development of technologies to reduce methane from stored animal slurries and manures, and financial support for farmers who convert to organic farming.
The plan also addresses land use diversification options such as anaerobic digestion (AD), forestry, and tillage, and calls for the mobilization of recommendations from the Food Vision sectoral groupings regarding voluntary reduction measures for livestock farmers. It also proposes the introduction of an obligation in the heat sector to incentivize the production of indigenously-produced biomethane, and the establishment of a Biomethane Co-ordination Group to oversee the delivery of a 5.7TWh target and the implementation of the National Biomethane Strategy. The plan also highlights the need to incorporate measures from the Teagasc 2023 Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC) that can contribute to reducing emissions from nitrogen fertilizers into the Climate Action Plan.
The Climate Action Plan 2024 sets out a roadmap for Ireland to address the climate crisis and transition to a more sustainable future. With a focus on agriculture and the reduction of nitrogen emissions, the plan aims to ensure that Ireland meets its emissions targets and plays its part in global efforts to combat climate change. The public consultation process will provide an opportunity for stakeholders and the public to contribute to the development of the plan and shape Ireland’s response to the climate crisis.