Higher emission targets for agriculture are not only crucial for our climate, but for water and air quality, biodiversity, and food security say civil society NGOs

The Environmental Pillar, the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and the Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) have voiced concern that almost no consideration is being given to the water pollution, air pollution, biodiversity loss and food security issues associated with agricultural intensification in the ongoing deliberations on the Sectoral Emissions Ceilings for the Agricultural sector. A 22% target for Agriculture is neither fair nor feasible, as it would mean a 68% reduction in emissions across the rest of society [1]. Furthermore, it will lock in agricultural intensification and the associated negative impacts on water, air, nature, and food security. We are calling on the Government to support farmers to move away from intensive livestock agriculture and reinstate balance through farm diversification, and socially and environmentally friendly farming practices.

Higher emission targets for agriculture are not only crucial for our climate, but for water and air quality, biodiversity, and food security say civil society NGOsSinead O’Brien, Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) Co-ordinator said, “Agriculture is by far the biggest polluter of our water.  While we are rightly disgusted by the discharge of raw and poorly treated sewage into our waters, the truth is that agricultural run-off causes a lot more damage: It’s responsible for degrading five times as many water bodies:  that’s a whopping one thousand polluted waters, up 29% over the last 4 years [2] . Escalating nitrates and phosphate levels in our rivers, estuaries and coasts are clearly linked to  dairy expansion, which is choking our rivers and bays with overgrowths of algae and depriving freshwater species such as salmon and dragonflies of much-needed healthy freshwater habitat.

“Many of the actions needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are also critical to turning the tide on spiralling water pollution. We’re calling for licensing of intensive beef and dairy farms; coupled with measures to cut total imported Nitrogen (fertiliser and feed) in vulnerable catchments and those already super-saturated with nutrient pollution, and herd reductions where necessary.[3] ”

Environmental Pillar Steering Committee Member Dr. Elaine McGoff said, “Agricultural intensification is the leading driver of biodiversity loss as the ongoing pressure to produce more and more is increasing pollution and leaving less space for nature. We know that with targeted support and better regulation farmers can turn the tide on biodiversity loss but current policies continue to reward destructive practices. [4] ”

Dr. McGoff continued, “Around the country, safe levels of ammonia air pollution are being exceeded. The agriculture sector accounts for virtually all of the ammonia emissions in Ireland and the growth in emissions is directly linked to the cattle numbers and increased fertiliser use. Ammonia pollution can kill sensitive plants and habitats and damage human health and should not be ignored in the debate on the future of Irish agriculture.[5] ”

Dr Bríd Walsh, Policy Coordinator, Stop Climate Chaos Coalition said, “If Ireland wants to contribute to global food security, a critical action we can take as a country is to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change is already leading to more frequent and intense droughts and crop failures which undermine food security in the poorest countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. For example, multiple breadbasket failures of maize crops due to acute climate events are expected to take place every 3 years under 1.5 degrees of warming, as compared to every 16 years under current levels of warming [6] . This will place massive strain on grain supplies.”

“Currently, the agricultural sector contributes 37.5% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions, with emissions steadily increasing over the past years. Ireland’s high agricultural emissions from our livestock sector are a key contributing factor to Ireland having the third highest per capita emissions in the EU [7] . The agricultural sector needs to do its fair share of emission cuts. To facilitate this, we urgently need a Just Transition for the farmers which sees them incentivised and supported to protect biodiversity and water quality, and transition towards socially and environmentally friendly farming practices such as agroecology, organic farming and agroforestry. This is crucial for long-term food security, food sovereignty, and the overall sustainability of our food system.”

Now is the time for a critical reassessment of the trajectory of Irish agriculture, followed by brave and decisive leadership to finally bring it in line with environmental law and with the carrying capacity of the land, in a way that supports a transition to a more sustainable and diverse rural economy.

[1] The challenge of allocating Ireland’s carbon budget among sectors


[2] Draft River Basin Management Plan 2022-2027

[3] SWAN Response to 3rd River Basin Management Plan RBMP Consultation

[4] Towards a New Agricultural and Food Policy for Ireland


[5] EPA (2022) Ireland’s Air Pollutant Emissions 2020 (1990-2030)


[6] Increasing risks of multiple breadbasket failure under 1.5 and 2°C global 2 warming


[7]  EPA (2022) Ireland’s Provisional Greenhouse Gas Emissions 1990-2021 


About Stop Climate Chaos

Stop Climate Chaos (SCC) is a coalition of civil society organisations campaigning to ensure Ireland plays its part in preventing runaway climate change. It was launched in 2007 and is the largest network of organisations campaigning for action on climate change in Ireland. Its membership includes development, environmental, youth and faith-based organisations. Its members are: Action Aid, Afri, An Taisce, BirdWatch Ireland, Christian Aid Ireland, Clare PPN , Climate and Health Alliance, Comhlámh, Community Work Ireland, Concern Worldwide, Cultivate, Cyclist.ie, Dublin Friends of the Earth, Eco Congregation Ireland, ECO UNESCO, Feasta, Friends of the Earth, Good Energies Alliance Ireland, Irish Doctors for the Environment, Irish Heart Foundation, Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, Just Forests, National Women’s Council of Ireland, National Youth Council of Ireland, Oxfam Ireland, Trócaire, Union of Students in Ireland, and VOICE.

About SWAN

The Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) is an umbrella network of twenty-five national and local environmental groups working together for the protection and sustainable management of Ireland’s water environment.

SWAN Members: An Taisce, Bat Conservation Ireland, BirdWatch Ireland, Carra/Mask/Corrib Water Protection Group, Cavan Leitrim Environmental Awareness Network, Celebrate Water, Coastal Concern Alliance (Associate), Coastwatch, Coomhola Salmon Trust, Cork Environmental Forum, Cork Nature Network, Dodder Action, ECO-UNESCO, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Irish Environment, Irish Peatland Conservation Council, Irish Seal Sanctuary, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Irish Wildlife Trust, Longford Environmental Alliance, Macroom District Environmental Group, River Shannon Protection Alliance, Save the Swilly, Slaney River Trust, Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment (VOICE).

About the Environmental Pillar

Established in 2009, the Environmental Pillar is comprised of over 30 national, independent environmental NGOs and champions the views of the Irish environmental sector.

Environmental Pillar Members: An Taisce, Bat Conservation Ireland, BirdWatch Ireland, Green Foundation Ireland, CELT, Hedgelaying Association of Ireland, Coastwatch, Irish Peatlands Conservation Council, Coomhola Salmon Trust, Irish Seed Savers Association, Eco-Unesco, Irish Whale & Dolphin Group, Feasta, Irish Wildlife Trust, Forest Friends, Native Woodland Trust, Friends of the Earth, the Rediscovery Centre, Global Action Plan, Sonairte, Glusieacht, Cultivate, Good Energies Alliance, Cloughjordan Eco-Village, the Green Economy Foundation, the Organic Centre, VOICE and the Zero Waste Alliance.

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