Irish agriculture must “bite the bullet” to enact and enforce “immediate policy change” to reduce methane production, according to a climate change expert.

Maynooth professor John Sweeney has suggested that if the dairy and beef sector can’t reduce the level of bovine methane they produce, other farm sectors will be impacted.

Prof Sweeney said that if agricultural emissions were to reduce by 33%, and as part of that, methane emissions were to reduce by “only” 10%, the reality is that the rest of agriculture will have to face a 77% reduction.

Prof Sweeney described the 10% methane reduction as one which “corresponds to what has been offered in Food Vision 2030”.


He described how “a very significant amount of agriculture” will suffer due to what he termed as these “intersectoral divisions” and called on policymakers to act immediately to increase the ambition for reducing agriculture’s overall environmental impact.

Prof Sweeney, a member of the Geography Department at Maynooth University, was speaking to members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action on Wednesday as part of the committee’s three-day consideration of Ireland’s first carbon budgets.

Heavier burden

Prof Sweeney said the ambition to reduce carbon emissions by 51% “across the board” is “very unlikely in agriculture”.

Outlining a lower emissions reduction target, he said: “If we go for, let's say, 33% of a reduction in agriculture, it means that the rest of society, those millions of households, they will be expected to bear a heavier burden of around 60% reduction.”

He said such a 60% reduction is “quite a considerable reduction to anticipate” over the course of 10 years.

“If we get 15% reduction in agriculture, the rest of society will have to burden itself with an 80% reduction.”

He warned that his figures are “not theoretical” but instead “legally enforceable” targets that “we have to face up to”.

Food Vision

Prof Sweeney criticised some of the “Food Vision-type documents” and current plans by policymakers to reduce agriculture’s environmental impact.

“If we went down to 10% [reduction target], which is quite close to what we're seeing in some of the Food Vision-type documents at the moment, then the burden becomes very, very heavy and really impractical for the rest of society.”

He said agriculture policymakers must ensure “significant near term and ongoing reductions” in order to protect livestock and other forms of agriculture from more restrictive measures at a later stage and warned that such action “can’t wait until the next carbon budget”.

Read more

Farmers will cull cows if there are incentives – Teagasc

Herd cuts and job losses inevitable under carbon targets