The extent to which agricultural growth can take place while at the same time reducing agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is much debated. There is a widespread view, reflected in the agricultural mitigation chapter of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report in 2014, that changes in food consumption patterns will be necessary if GHG emissions from global agricultural production are to fall sufficiently to help to stabilise the climate by 2050. The diet changes proposed, including a shift away from meat and dairy product consumption, would deliver emissions reductions by reducing agricultural production. Others point instead to the potential of technological advances to reconcile increased agricultural output with lower emissions, effectively allowing the decoupling of emissions growth from agricultural growth.
Agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU-28 have flat-lined since 2005 (see chart below). They fell slightly between 2005 and 2012 and have been increasing since then. In 2016, the agricultural sector was responsible for 430 million tonnes of GHG emissions in CO2 equivalents (CO2eq) compared to 434 million tonnes in 2005. This relative stability is due, I suspect, to a slow improvement in emissions intensity per unit of output offset by increased levels of output. The increase since 2012 is likely mainly associated with the removal of dairy quotas in 2015 which has allowed an expansion in the dairy herd in some countries, though these speculative hypotheses should be subject to more rigorous analysis.
Ireland faces a huge challenge in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years. Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Enda Kenny got into hot water last week for apparently saying one thing in his official speech to the Paris COP21 climate conference and another thing in unscripted remarks to journalists afterwards. Much of the subsequent controversy during the week revolved around the Irish government’s attitude to agricultural emissions and whether it was seeking special favours for the Irish agricultural sector in the current negotiations on setting national emissions targets for the period to 2030 in the framework of the EU’s 2030 Climate and Energy Package.
Today, Thursday 18 June, is the closing date for the Commission’s consultation on addressing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) in the context of the 2030 EU climate and energy framework. The consultation will be followed by a Commission proposal in the course of next year (2016). This proposal will be a very significant initiative, and will have large implications for land use within the EU, as well as determining the severity of member state mitigation targets under the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) to 2030.
In 2012, agricultural non-CO2 emissions amounted to 10.3% of total emissions in the EU.
The Commission’s assessment is that the policies and measures implemented and envisaged by member states in relation to their current obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, if continued after 2020 and fully effective, would deliver a 32% reduction relative to emissions in 1990.