Ireland must cut farming emissions to be ‘credible’ on Mercosur, says Varadkar

Government will refuse to sign EU-South America trade pact but ‘we need to pull our socks up’

Ireland will oppose ratification of the Mercosur trade deal between the EU and South American countries but to make our stance “credible” we must reduce carbon emissions from agricultural, Leo Varadkar has said.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment said he supported Irish farmers in their criticism of environmental protections in Brazil and said the Government would not be signing the Mercosur deal because of its impact on the environment.

“We’re not alone in that. France are with us, Austria and other countries,” Mr Varadkar said, citing concerns about the destruction of rainforests for grazing.

“But for me to make that argument credibly in Brussels - and I will make that argument… we need to pull our socks up environmentally. We can’t say we’re against ratifying that agreement because we want to protect our own farmers; that won’t wash.


“We have to say we are against ratifying that agreement because the environmental standards in Brazil are not high enough. But we have to do better to be credible,” Mr Varadkar told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland.

He added it was an absurd situation, and it did not make sense, for Ireland to be importing horticultural peat products from abroad when they could be produced here. “We need to find a solution to that issue.”

On the wider issue of climate change, the Tánaiste said that anybody who had ever doubted climate change could now see its impact “all around us.” But he acknowledged that the transition would be difficult.

The public now wanted climate action and they wanted it “quicker” he said. “This is not about coercion, it’s about persuading people.

“Is it going to take a generation to make the changes we need? Yes, but we’re going to do the heavy lifting in the next ten years.”

The planned changes, especially in the area of energy production, made economic sense and would mean a more secure supply at a better price. “We’re halfway to where we need to be” with regard to renewable energy, he said.

When it comes to agriculture and food production, Mr Varadkar said “we need to bring the farmers with us. We believe it is possible to reduce emissions by 22 per cent over the next ten years. We don’t have to reduce food production. There’s a hungry world out there.

“I don’t accept that reducing the herd has to be the case to reach targets.”

Stablisation did not mean a cut, he said. Methane levels could be reduced through other methods but there needed to be certainty for farmers and that’s what the Climate Action Plan offered, he added.

Tackling both the housing crisis and the climate crisis was going to be an enormous challenge, he acknowledged, “but we can’t not try”.