PRESS RELEASE: Environmental NGOs slam Minister of State’s climate speech in New York

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The government should focus on its own mitigation efforts instead of offering the false hope of helping poorer countries adapt to climate change through unsustainable agricultural practices, Ireland’s leading environmental coalition has said.

The comments from the Environmental Pillar – a coalition of 26 national environmental organisations – follow a speech from Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, Andrew Doyle, TD in which he offered Ireland’s assistance in helping poorer to adapt to climate change. [1] [2]

Speaking on Wednesday at a high-level meeting in New York to review progress in implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals [3], Mr Doyle also recognised the “far-reaching” impact of climate change in poorer countries.

The Pillar appreciates Mr Doyle’s recognition of the scale of the problem and that we have an obligation to help protect the most vulnerable in developing countries from the devastating impacts of climate change.

However, offering to help developing countries adapt, whilst failing miserably to deal with Ireland’s disproportionate contribution to climate change, is simply the wrong approach to take.

It is well founded that developed countries like Ireland account for the bulk of global greenhouse gas emissions and, as such, we should focus on our own mitigation strategy and play our role in bringing down global emissions levels. [4]

However, as illustrated by the volley of criticism levelled at the National Mitigation Plan launched this week, it is clear that the government is severely lacking in both the ambition and scope to deal with our own problems. [5]

Mr Doyle also indicated in a further meeting with the Wold Food Programme (WFP) that poorer communities can deal with hunger and under-nutrition through sustainable agricultural practices.

The Pillar, however, is of the opinion that Ireland is not in a position to offer advice on sustainable agricultural policy, given that agriculture is directly responsible for around one-third of our total emissions. [6]

In 2016, the Pillar, together with Stop Climate Chaos, put out a report which found Irish cattle to be less climate-efficient than the European average, while methane emissions per head of cattle was also up from 1990 levels. [7]

All in all, the report points out that our model is neither ‘climate-smart’ nor sustainable as the government claim. So, instead of encouraging other countries to follow suit, we should be looking to change our current policy of expanding our livestock sector.

Not only will we fail developing countries by not adequately reducing our emissions, but we will also further steer ourselves away from hitting our own EU and Paris Agreement targets.

Mr Doyle also told the WFP that sustainable agriculture can help “lift people out of poverty”, yet; this is unlikely if Ireland’s current low-income model is followed.

According to the Irish Farmers’ Association, the average farm income was just over €24,000 in 2016, with income on livestock and sheep farms significantly below this. [8]

Charles Stanley-Smith, Spokesperson for the Environmental Pillar, said:

“The Government is talking from both sides of its mouth.

“On the day that it publishes its largely unambitious National Mitigation Plan desperately needed to decarbonise our economy, the Minister of State for Agriculture tells the UN that the best Ireland can do about Climate Change is to help communities to ‘adapt’.

“Helping people to adapt is a far cry from stopping or reversing Climate Change and it shows the real extent of the government’s ambition.

“Also, the fact that Ireland’s livestock agriculture is less efficient than claimed means that we should put to bed the notion that pushing our current model of – quote, unquote – sustainable agriculture can contribute to global food security.

“In reality, by increasing our herd size and encouraging others to follow suit, we are actively contributing to climate pollution and global food insecurity, and may be putting the lives and livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest populations at risk.”

ENDS

[1] Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine: https://goo.gl/BWngFi
[2] UN Web TV. Minister Doyle’s speech begins at 55’00”: https://goo.gl/rH9QZD
[3] The High Level Political Forum for Sustainable Development meets annually to review global progress in implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs, agreed by the UN membership in 2015, cover policy areas such as ending extreme poverty, protection of the environment, gender equality, peaceful societies and human rights. This year’s HLPF is themed around “Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world”.
[4] Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Cente: https://goo.gl/XzKBvu
[5] The Green News, 20 July 2017, Launch of long-awaited National Mitigation Plan met with heavy criticism: https://goo.gl/kS8NcZ
[6] Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.ie/irelandsenvironment/climate/
[7] The report – Not So Green: Debunking the Myths around Irish Agriculture -found Irish cattle to be less climate-efficient than European average in terms of the level of greenhouse gases emitted per calorie of bovine food produced: https://goo.gl/wb5ogj
[8] Irish Farmers’ Association: https://www.ifa.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Budget-Submission-2017_Body.pdf

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