The newly published Food Vision 2030 Strategy is yet another detrimental blueprint for agriculture which regrettably takes its place amongst a series of failed policies for the sector.
This is the warning from the Environmental Pillar, Ireland’s leading coalition of environmental groups, who reluctantly withdrew from the industry-dominated Strategy (formerly known as the Agri-Food 2030 Strategy) in February due to its multiple shortcomings on climate, biodiversity, water and air quality. 
The Pillar had held the sole environmental NGO seat for over a year and engaged in good faith, but found that its suggestions were largely disregarded despite growing calls for climate and biodiversity action.
The Strategy was noted by the Government and has also recognised that the sector’s emissions will ultimately be determined by the newly passed Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021. 
Commenting on the document, Environmental Pillar co-ordinator and former Environmental Pillar representative on the Agri-Food 2030 Strategy Karen Cielsielski, said:
“Yet again, we have been presented with an industry-led and dominated blueprint for agriculture that fails to address the multiple crises we face.
It relies on a drastically insufficient Ag Climatise roadmap for the sector, which the Department of Agriculture itself has said needs to be updated. 
We also know thanks to the National Biodiversity Forum’s audit of the National Biodiversity Plan that the ongoing conflict between sectoral policies and biodiversity policy is a predominant driver of devastating biodiversity loss. Yet, this Strategy fails to take note of this and instead continues to pursue a destructive business-as-usual approach.
It delays succinct climate, biodiversity, and water and air pollution measures we need to deliver now and flat-out ignores the ever-growing public demand for fast and fair climate action.
Unfortunately, our initial assessment of this Strategy was correct: this roadmap has not met this critical moment for our dual climate and biodiversity crises and it is imperative the Government now steps up to enact the transformative change we need to see for our environment and our rural communities.
Following the historic Climate Bill being signed into law last week, we are soon expecting the first carbon budget to be set by the Climate Change Advisory Council. This heightened ambition will mean that every sector – including agriculture – will have to seriously up its targets and what is outlined in this Strategy falls woefully short.
This Government has repeatedly said it is committed to addressing the scale and scope of the climate crisis, so this will be a landmark opportunity for those in power to back what so far has only been words with tangible action.
We look forward to reviewing what is brought forward and will continue to advocate for far-reaching and just climate action for both nature and local communities.”
Agriculture is our largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for well-over a third of the total. It is also the predominant cause of pollution of our water bodies and emits more than 99% of ammonia air pollution (for which Ireland’s is continuing to exceed its national limit). Its intensification has led to the catastrophic decline of farmland birds who have shown no sign of population recovery. 
Today’s Food Vision 2030 Strategy makes repeated reference to Ag Climatise, a wholly inadequate roadmap for the industry that was published late last year.
Ag Climatise suggested only a need to “stabilise” methane emissions, which both the Environmental Pillar and external experts have warned comes nowhere near being sufficient for reducing emissions in the short-term.
Methane produced from agriculture needs to be reduced swiftly and significantly. We have to see immediate cuts in this potent greenhouse gas, not just avoided increases.
The newly published Strategy is littered with references to far-off action and yet-to-fully-be-materialised innovation, such as abatement technology. This is a gamble that we cannot afford to take, action is needed now not later. The sector as a whole needs to see aforementioned rapid declines in emissions and nitrogen nutrient inputs to meat and dairy in order to preserve the habitability of our environment.
Additional shortcomings of the document include:
- The absence of any strategy to enforce limits on total nitrogen and phosphorus pollution nationally and by water catchment.
- An inadequate target for reducing ammonia emissions, a greenhouse gas which poses serious risks to human health and sensitive ecosystems.
- A lack of any clearly defined targets or indicators for biodiversity or of any clear strategy for strong enforcement of biodiversity and water quality protection measures.
- A wholly insufficient organic farm area target of just 7.5% by 2030.
- The continued reliance on afforestation targets despite the fact that the practice continues to decline year-on-year. There is also no mention of necessary harvesting limitations for our forestry sector to limit the projected reduction in forest carbon sink nor is there mention of increased felling of younger trees which has a number of negative consequences.
We find ourselves at a critical juncture for Irish agriculture and land use – and we know there is a better path we can follow for the climate and our depleted biodiversity, and for a Just Transition.
We need measures such as the phase-out of all environmentally harmful subsidies and consistently rewarded nature-friendly farming. We have to bring an end to draining our natural carbon sinks, like our wetlands and peaty soils. We must reverse dairy expansion and introduce a cap on total nitrogen use to meat and dairy.
There is an appetite for this type of transformation, and now it is up to the Government to ensure these ideas are made a reality as we address the challenge head-on of reducing the impact of our largest emitting sector.
Notes: “Environmentalists withdraw from Government food strategy”, RTE, 25 February 2021: https://bit.ly/3BOVbAB  “President signs Climate Bill, triggering carbon budget process”, The Irish Times, 23 July 2021: https://bit.ly/3f1hvx5  The Environmental Pillar’s response to the AgClimatise Roadmap can be found at: https://bit.ly/2VZ7Xsy  “The impact on 2020 greenhouse gas emissions of Covid-19 restrictions” from the EPA is available at https://bit.ly/377H8rK and EPA data on water quality in Ireland can be found at https://bit.ly/3dHkZVL. More information on the decline of farmland birds is available at: https://bit.ly/3dJZhAp