Farmers and the agricultural sector need honesty and must be warned against the “nonsense that miracle solutions” to climate change are near at hand, the Green Party conference has been told.
Campaigner and climate change lecturer in DCU Sadhbh O’Neill said there had been a huge policy shift on transport in the Programme for Government with resources and a “clear and consistent policy”.
She told some 200 delegates, however, that the “same bold policy shift” is needed in agriculture to let farmers “know where they stand”.
A former Green Party councillor, Ms O’Neill pointed to the lower emissions target for agriculture than other sectors at 25 per cent and said the expectation was that it could be achieved “without knock-on effect” and would happen in a “bottom up, voluntary style” with the help of technology.
“We need to be honest about … what needs to be done. And we have to stop this nonsense that miracle solutions are just a year or two away to solve everything,” she said.
“We’re going to have to put limits on the number of dairy cattle in the herd and we’re going to have to stop further expansion.
“And I’m sorry but there’s just no way around that.”
She was speaking as members of the Irish Rural Association protested outside the conference at the Radisson Hotel.
Spokeswoman Jackie Flannery said Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is “very, very heavy-handed on the Irish farmers, on the people of rural Ireland”.
She said: “We believe that the end game is to actually try and stop us cutting turf and to cut our cattle herd. We are totally against the rewetting of our peatlands because it will push people off the farm.”
But Ms O’Neill said she believed farmers did not know where they stood because there was a lot of misinformation undermining their confidence.
“They are hearing one type of scientific information from the pseudoscientists who are brought into [the] agricultural committee of the Oireachtas and the other type of scientific argument presented by the climate change advice council and the EPA.”
She said it was not just for Government and required “a lot more concerted action by State agencies, especially Teagasc and EPA, to communicate the science much more directly and clearly”.
During the debate, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Ireland Oisín Coghlan said government was first advised to get out of burning peat for electricity in 1998.
It could have been done with a “proper orderly just transition” but “we have left it so late that there’s no smooth transition. There’s either disruption now or destruction later.”
Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said he believed that transport is “the hardest, the biggest, most difficult challenge because transport requires political courage at the local level”.
He said the party would “go into the next local elections looking for 100 councillors to make those decisions to improve the local environment”.
The Green Party leader told delegates that while they have to cut emissions in half by 2030, they are “going to grow 10 per cent this year because gridlock is coming back”.
He said, however, that it was in “real, local and physical change”, such as the bridge being built across the Shannon in Athlone, that people would commit to the necessary changes.
Referring to the Cop27 conference and funding for mitigation measures, he said that under current climate finance arrangements, the majority goes to countries such as China, Brazil, India and South Africa, rather than to the poorest, small-island developing states and less developed nations.
“That had to change and did at Cop27,” he said.
The conference also heard by zoom from Austrian Green minister for climate action Leonore Gewessler. She told delegates that her party had gone from zero MPs to being in government.
She said Austria will have a record year for renewable energy this year but is also providing 100 per cent funding for insulation for lower income earners.