A plan to apply stringent greenhouse gas emission reduction targets on different parts of the economy will not go to Cabinet next week, as had been planned.
Instead, Environment Minister Eamon Ryan will continue to engage with his Cabinet colleagues on how that burden should be shared – with agricultural emissions the most controversial issue.
Under the Government’s Climate Action Plan. which was published last year, the agriculture sector was told it would be obliged to reduce its emissions by between 22 and 30%.
It is understood Minister Ryan has been pressing for agriculture to accept a reduction target at the higher end of that scale, with Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue seeking a target at the lower end.
Ministers Ryan and McConalogue have held bilateral discussions on the issue in recent weeks and it is likely they’ll have further discussions next week.
Under the Government’s climate plan, Ireland must reduce emissions by 51% by the year 2030, from a baseline of 2018.
However, a recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that even if the Climate Action Plan was fully implemented, emissions here would fall by only 28% by 2030.
In a statement, Mr McConalogue told RTÉ News tonight: “I am determined to ensure that Ireland’s farm families continue to be world class food producers while also working to reduce emissions from the sector – in line with the special status of agriculture as outlined in the Programme for Government.
“The long term sustainability of the agriculture sector and our farm families is my key objective.”
Environmental campaigners maintain that agreeing a robust and plausible greenhouse gas emission reduction target is the most important decision which this Coalition government is going to take.
The Chief Executive of the Friends of the Earth, Oisín Coghlan, said: “If Agriculture only does 22% reductions, rather than 30%, then the burden on motorists, business and households would be neither fair nor feasible. It’s the equivalent of taking a quarter of all cars off the road, closing cement factories or charging every family €5,000.”
He added: “Anyone advocating agriculture only does 22% needs to explain which of those alternatives they support.
“I’m particularly thinking of Government TDs like Jackie Cahill and John Paul Phelan who voted for the pollution limits in climate law, and the carbon budgets, but are effectively now – only months later – saying we should ignore the law.”
Mr Coghlan concluded: “This is why the Greens went into government. It’s crunch time now and their credibility is on the line.”
Minister Ryan had said earlier this year that he wanted to bring a proposal to Cabinet before the Dáil rises for the summer – but that target will now not be achieved and the negotiations continue.