• Pippa Hackett

My address to ISCRAES 2022

Updated: Sep 9


Introduction

I am delighted to join you today, and I would like to express my appreciation to the organisers for providing me with the opportunity to contribute to this symposium.

As Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity, I am acutely aware of the threat of climate change and environmental degradation.


The effects of climate change are clear, and recent studies have shown that Ireland is increasingly at risk to more extreme weather events, wetter winters and drier summers- these are changes that will fundamentally affect our way of life.


Today, due to the effects of climate change on our agricultural systems, and the recent geopolitical events in Eastern Europe, it is more important than ever support our agri-food sector in its role in contributing to global food security.


It is critical that our focus on food supply takes a long-term view that works with our environment to build resilience in our food systems, rather than against it.


International Policy Context

From an international perspective, the objective is clear: The goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. To achieve this long-term temperature goal, all countries must endeavour to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to achieve a climate neutral world by mid-century.


The European Union is at the forefront of this effort, with the ambitious Green Deal set to transform the EU into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy.

The EU has committed to making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, with its core aim being the reduction of net greenhouse gas emissions in the EU to at least 55% by 2030, in comparison to 1990 levels.


Ireland has a key role to play in delivering on this target: our focus has been on ensuring that decision making is informed by comprehensive impact assessments and tailored to national strengths.


National Policy Context

Under Ireland’s Climate Act, the Government has recently agreed ceilings for emissions from each sector of the economy. These set the maximum limits on greenhouse gas emissions from each sector up until the end of this decade.


As its contribution to the overall 51% cut in emissions, the agriculture sector will be required to cut its emissions by 25% by 2030, compared to 2018 levels; this is an ambitious target for emissions reduction, but also one which recognises the importance of sustainable food production.


I believe that the path to achieving food security is through maximising on the environmental and ecosystem benefits within our food production systems.


The ambitious vision for a sustainable EU food system is outlined in the Farm to Fork Strategy. It recognises the inextricable links between healthy people, healthy societies and a healthy planet, and aligns very well with the direction of travel of Irish agricultural policy. This direction is reflective in our own Food Vision Strategy for the Agricultural sector and our National Climate Action Plan.


Diversification Opportunities

One innovation that highlights the synergy between food production and our environment has been the growing interest amongst farmers and land managers in the area of carbon farming and nature-based solutions.


Carbon Storage and Carbon Farming have been highlighted in the Green Deal, the Farm to Fork Strategy and within the Fit for 55 Package and are seen as key activities in stepping up Europe’s climate ambition.


Carbon Farming overall is a relatively new concept, with pilots and business models evolving across Europe, including peatland restoration, management of carbon in soils and both forestry and agroforestry activities.


The many beneficial roles of soil carbon are well known. Soil carbon increases resistance to soil erosion, improves water retention and fertility while also acting as a reservoir for biodiversity. These are all essential ecosystem services that we rely on for our overall health and wellbeing.


The current Government has recognised the importance of being a leader in this area and has included commitments within the updated Climate Action Plan 2021 to “develop an enabling framework to facilitate the roll out of carbon farming”, and established a Department of Agriculture led working group to progress this work and assess the potential for an Irish based Carbon Farming market offering, keeping in line with EU activity in this area.


The adoption of carbon farming practices into mainstream agricultural and forestry will have additional positive implications for our land managers by offering them an alternative land use and income diversification opportunity, allowing them to consider moving at least a part of their business away from the traditional livestock systems towards a more resilient nature-based and future-proofed system.


My Government has announced a number of new research projects and pilot studies, in order to build the knowledge and evidence base to support a carbon farming initiative. In doing so, it has stressed the importance of monitoring, reporting and verification of data so as to enable the proper functioning of a carbon accreditation scheme.


The establishment of a National Agricultural Soil Carbon Observatory with supporting technology will provide measurement of greenhouse gas (GHG) and ammonia emissions, as well as fluctuations in carbon levels from a range of different soil types under different farm management approaches.


The formation of a national soil moisture monitoring network that will gather data will be necessary for our understanding of the fluctuations in soil carbon.


Teagasc, the semi-state authority in Ireland responsible for research and development, training and advisory services in the agri-food sector has also commenced a research project called “Farm-Carbon”. This project will provide a deeper understanding of hedgerows and non-forest woodland as carbon stocks in agricultural landscapes and will allow researchers to identify approaches to maintain and enhance this contribution.


Land Use Review

We produce food from the land, and the land is a finite resource that needs protection and nourishment. Land use policy is therefore critical to any consideration of our future food systems.


The current Government committed at the beginning of its term to carrying out a National Land Use Review, and this is something on which my department has been working closely with the Department of the Environment, Climate Change and Communication to progress.


This major piece of work is being conducted in two phases, with the first phase now almost complete. Phase 2, where we will lay out the land use options for the future, balancing the environmental, social, economic and biodiversity needs for our nation is just beginning, and will be a key tool in helping us achieve our environmental ambitions for the future.


How we manage land use in the future will be a complex challenge and will require input from all sectors of society - not just farming, but it also holds much promise. I am confident that it can provide us with a positive, evidence-based framework through which we can make future policy decisions in areas that are impacted by land constraints, and in areas that will impact on land constraints.


Forestry

Forests and forest products will play an increasingly important role in both adaptation to and mitigation of the impacts of climate change.


My Department is currently developing a new Forest Strategy which will provide the strategic direction for our forests into the future. Over that last 12 months we have carried out extensive stakeholder consultations and will publish a Forest Strategy later this year. This strategy will be grounded in the principles of the right tree, in the right place for the right reasons, with the right management.


Sustainably managed forests provide opportunities to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. They also have the capacity to produce sustainable wood products for use in construction. These products provide long term carbon storage and have a substitution effect by replacing conventional carbon-heavy construction materials such as steel and concrete.


We must continue to inform the public about best practice in the use of sustainable timber construction and its associated benefits. This includes the promotion of wood and examining the whole life cycle of buildings when it comes to carbon assessments.

In our Climate Action Plan, we will continue to afforest in pursuit of climate, water, biodiversity and commercial objectives, by increasing the area of our new forests.


The Climate Action Plan also seeks to address forest adaptation measures through continued support for the conservation and sustainable use of forest genetic resources.

Going forward, our forest resources will provide many opportunities across Ireland to encourage a just transition to a green economy.


Biodiversity

With two thirds of our landmass in agricultural use, farmers have to be to the forefront of national biodiversity policy; we will not restore and enhance biodiversity without the support of our farmers, and so it is essential that we support our farmers to support our ecosystems.


We do this through a variety of schemes, measures and programmes at national and local level. Under the outgoing Common Agricultural Policy, the Green, Low-Carbon, Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS) had just under 40% of all farmers participating for a five-year period. It includes agricultural actions that promote and preserve biodiversity both directly and indirectly.


For the next CAP, through our CAP Strategic Plan we intend to build on this through a combination of enhanced conditionality; an eco-scheme that will hopefully attract participation from almost all farmers; and a combination of high ambition interventions under Pillar II of the CAP including the recently launched ACRES, which is shorthand for the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme.


This scheme, with a proposed budget of €1.5bn over the next five years, will facilitate a new approach to delivery of national agri-environmental climate measures, with the introduction of landscape-level measures through local co-operation project teams to guide and tailor farm measures in dedicated high priority geographical areas.


Eco - Scheme

The Eco-Scheme will be introduced for the first time in 2023 under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) 2023 – 2027, and will reward farmers for undertaking actions beneficial to climate, biodiversity, water quality and the environment.

25% of Ireland’s Direct Payments envelope will be ringfenced for the Eco-Scheme annually, which equates to approximately €297 million per annum.


The scheme will be implemented through targeting of relevant agricultural practices[1] and will provide the opportunity for as many farmers as possible to take up the most appropriate actions on their farm.


There will also be an increased focus on adopting Results-Based Payments Models at national level. These Results-Based Payments will inform and encourage farmers to farm in a more environmentally friendly manner and will ultimately assist in achieving results from the right action, in the right place.


In addition, for the years 2023 – 2027 an allocation of €256 million is proposed under the new CAP Strategic Plan to continue the development and growth of the Irish organic sector.


The Irish organic sector is experiencing considerable growth at present with the area of land under organic production now at approximately 110,000ha.

The implementation of the National Organic Strategy 2019-2025 continues apace. This Strategy sets out ambitious growth targets for the sector by aligning it closely with the market opportunities.


In addition to attracting new farmers into the Organic Farming Scheme through our enhanced participation rates, it is critical that we work to secure markets for the increased organic produce that will come on stream.


Earlier this year, I reconvened the Organic Strategy Forum, where stakeholders from across the sector have been examining how best we can grow the market for Irish organic produce, and in July, I travelled to Germany to lead Ireland’s first organic trade mission to explore the potential for Irish organic produce abroad.


We also continue to engage with our colleagues in Europe through the National Organic Ambassadors Forum to ensure we can both contribute to the pan- European discourse and share ideas to advance the Organic Sector further.


Research

In recent years my Department has also identified and funded key research and demonstration activities that will further influence our policy direction in the coming years.


For example, the National Soil Sampling Programme is developing a baseline national dataset at farm level for macro and micronutrients as well as a soil pathogen assessment. This Programme is also examining soil carbon levels which will guide future actions and could support carbon farming.


The Pilot Farm Environment Survey is providing farmers with information about habitats and the levels of biodiversity on their own farms. This information will be given to each participating farmer in order to teach and allow the farmer to farm in a way that is sensitive to nature on the individual farm.


At a macro level, the Farm Environmental Survey will also allow us to establish a baseline biodiversity database for agricultural land. This baseline data will be used to inform and guide policy development at a high level and potentially for future targeting of schemes and actions.


Positive measures at local level are also being taken to address our biodiversity challenges. These include locally-led schemes and innovative pilot projects exploring how we can blend biodiversity-awareness and our economic sectors, including agriculture.


Since 2018, in Ireland there have been 57 European Innovation Partnerships, or EIP projects, many of which are focussed on improving our biodiversity and climate conditions. Many of these EIPs target the restoration, preservation and enhancement of biodiversity in farmland habitats and a shift towards more sustainable agricultural management practices which will have a positive impact for biodiversity.


Conclusions

In Conclusion, support for and engagement with farmers will be critical factors in achieving our goals across climate, biodiversity and the broader circular economy.


The Irish Government will work to ensure that we have a sustainable food production system that contributes in a positive way to climate action and biodiversity, while at the same time producing high quality and safe food for local, regional and global markets.


I would like to thank the organisers once again for inviting me to speak at this event; I look forward to hearing from my fellow speakers this morning and I hope attendees will come away from the symposium both informed and energised about the challenges ahead.