The existence of an excessive amount of paperwork that makes it “impossible” for farmers to switch easily from growing or raising livestock to planting trees has been described as “the biggest failure” of the government.
Trinity College economics professor John Fitzgerald, a member of the Climate Change Advisory Board, told the Magill online summer school on Thursday that farmers would have no choice but to cut by one a third of agricultural emissions over the next decade, during which the Irish herd size would be significantly reduced.
However, he stressed that there could still be a “huge victory for landowners” through a recalibration of some of the central pillars of Irish agriculture.
Professor Fitzgerald said the shift to forestry, which could remove 100 to 200 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by 2050, would be a major benefit.
However, he highlighted the licensing requirements that make it difficult for farmers to switch.
“The biggest failure of this government is that it did not abolish the forestry permit system. You can switch from barley to wheat and as long as you follow the regulations nobody will say ‘boo’, but if you want to switch from barley to trees you have to go through a legal process which is impossible for farmers ”he said.
Not only did the rules prevent farmers from planting forests that would remove carbon from the atmosphere, he said, but they also prevent farmers from seizing a profitable opportunity.
The session also heard that the narrative around the climate crisis would need to be reshaped in Ireland if more people were to become advocates to address the challenges in any meaningful way.
Dr Tara Shine, director of Change by Degrees and an environment and development consultant, said farmers would do well to look at measures to tackle climate change from a self-interest perspective.
She pointed out that “agriculture is the sector most exposed to climate impacts… extreme weather conditions have direct impacts on agriculture, so even if you take the emission factor away, agriculture is going to have to change and it will have to change. will have to diversify in order to be more resilient to the impacts of climate change ”.
More generally, she suggested that there should be less emphasis on the “sacrifices” people will have to make and more accepting of the reality that “the cost of inaction is greater than the cost of action”.
She said key players in shaping the debate should “communicate better so that our citizens are more willing to be a part of this collective effort” and to get the message across that “hang around and do nothing and wait for a climate catastrophe. will hurt humanity and cost us much more than to act.
She urged people to think about the crisis “in a spirit of enlightened self-interest, where we will literally act now to protect and preserve our own species.”
Speaking at the same session, Professor Peter Thorn of the Icarus Climate Research Center at NUI Maynooth said the media had also played a role in reshaping the conversation around the climate crisis. It is, he said, “not just like a story that happens when it is very hot, very humid or very dry, whether it is here or somewhere in the world.” He said climate should be integrated into the many facets of reporting so that “the implications of our climate choices are made clear to people.”