The recently published Ag Climatise roadmap by the Department of Agriculture perpetuates business-as-usual practices that will continue to wreak havoc on our environment and prevent us from meeting our climate targets.
This is the warning from the Environmental Pillar, Ireland’s leading coalition of environmental groups, who are calling for a transformative, ambitious, and synchronised agricultural policy in line with recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommendations. 
While the Pillar welcomes certain points within the roadmap itself, including the promotion of organic farming, commitments to improve national food security and to increase farm-led carbon sequestration, it is completely insufficient to meet the task at hand.
Agriculture is our largest emitting sector and is now responsible for over a third of our emissions. Its climate footprint has increased by 11 per cent over the past decade, and its emissions are projected to balloon even further due to growing cattle numbers. 
Left unchecked, the sector will seriously limit our ability to meet our binding 2030 emissions reduction targets and will jeopardise our longer term net-zero objective for 2050. 
Yet despite these deeply worrying realities, the Ag Climatise roadmap is calling for the stabilisation of methane emissions rather than the necessary outright reductions and puts forward actions that are insufficient for the sector to play its part in mitigation.
Simply stabilising methane emissions is contrary to our Paris Agreement obligations. If Ireland is to pay its equitable fair-share, our methane emissions have to be reduced immediately and consistently, alongside CO2 emission reductions and sustained land-based carbon removals.
While Ag Climatise does include a welcome nod to the interlinked nature of agriculture’s impact on climate and water quality, it fails to commit to fulfilling our legally binding Water Framework Directive obligations. Over half of our waters are polluted, and agriculture is the main cause of this. 
Ireland has been in breach of its ammonia limits under the National Emission Ceiling Directive since 2016, and is projected to continue to do so beyond 2030. Ammonia is a toxic gas that is a major by-product of animal-based agriculture and is one of the most deadly forms of air pollution. 
This gas also poses a serious threat to nature, with well-established links between elevated ammonia and biodiversity loss.
Ultimately, without a decrease in cattle numbers, Ireland will continue to be in breach of EU law.
The strategy also recognises the role agriculture can play in restoring populations of wild birds and other biodiversity, however there is no evidence of joined up thinking to meet national biodiversity restoration targets in line with the EU Biodiversity Strategy.
The Pillar is also concerned by the proposed doubling of forestry harvesting for biomass in the face of ongoing deforestation. The lack of planting measures of linear native forests along our farm rivers and streams to address water quality issues is also a missed opportunity to deploy a nature-based solution.
As acknowledged by the Department itself, the strategy will have to be revised due to the ramped up climate ambition in the Programme for Government, which committed the State to achieving a 7 per cent per annum emissions reduction over the next decade. 
Therefore, the Pillar is urging both the Department of Agriculture and the Government to do the following as it moves forward:
- Provide clear pathways to sustained methane emissions reductions that are in line with our international climate commitments and a Just Transition
- Ensure agricultural policy aligns with national and EU biodiversity targets
- Create and stick to a credible plan to reduce agricultural ammonia in line with EU legal requirements. This must include mandatory measures, with funding to implement them and a reduction in the number of cattle.
Karen Ciesielski, co-ordinator of the Environmental Pillar, said:
“As our biggest emitting sector, agriculture must play its part in reducing, not merely stabilising, its impact.
Methane emissions must quickly and steadily decline if we are to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius, and these reductions must take place in a way that protects both people and planet.
As these measures will be updated in line with the Programme for Government, we are urging the government to ensure our agricultural policy is in line with climate and biodiversity targets, both at home and abroad”
Dr. Elaine McGoff, An Taisce and Environmental Pillar spokesperson, said:
“This is no longer just an issue of environmental damage by agriculture, it is also a serious risk to people’s health. Ammonia pollution is an issue few are aware of, but it’s quickly becoming a major health and environmental threat in Ireland.
Ireland has no credible strategy for effectively combating our increasing ammonia emissions. We simply have too many animals producing too much slurry. Herd reduction is one obvious solution, but one which the Department of Agriculture is apparently unwilling to seriously consider.”
Notes: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its State of the Environment 2020 Report last month and called for an overarching environmental policy that incorporates climate, biodiversity and water and air quality.
The full report can be found at https://bit.ly/39gDCxO These statistics and more can be found in our submission on Ag Climatise from January 2020: https://bit.ly/2JSavX3  These statistics and more can be found in our submission on Ag Climatise from January 2020: https://bit.ly/2JSavX3  The EPA Water Quality in Ireland Report can be found at: https://bit.ly/2S9xMVf  Lelieveld, et. al. (2015) “The contribution of outdoor air pollution sources to premature mortality on a global scale,” Nature, 525: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature15371  The Ag Climatise roadmap reads as follows on p. 7: “This roadmap has been developed to deliver the 2030 climate ambition as set out in the 2019 Climate Action Plan, and will be updated as the Climate Action Plan is revisited to reflect the stronger climate ambition in the Programme for Government”.
The full document is available at: https://bit.ly/370rM9r