A new European Union (EU) study has urged Ireland to focus on encouraging climate adaptation in its agricultural sector. The study, which was published by the European Parliament, analysed the impact of extreme weather events on agricultural production and examined Ireland’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) strategic plans in the context of solutions to address climate challenges. The report called for systemic approaches to be fostered by CAP interventions to improve the resilience of EU farming systems to severe climate events. According to the study, losses in the EU agricultural sector account for over 60% of drought-linked losses, costing approximately €5 billion annually. The report identified specific vulnerable sub-sectors in Ireland, including non-irrigated cereals, tubers grown in regions with heavy precipitation, and livestock for its dependence on green fodder. Extreme weather events will continue to occur, with cascading consequences on agriculture, the study warned. It suggested adaptation options for farmers, such as risk management tools, early warning systems, income stabilisation, improvements to soil health, and investment equipment. The report also recommended that synergies between water management policies, agricultural policies, and climate policies need to be strengthened. CAP funding should be employed to address flood and drought risk management, the report said.
The study contained a recommendation that Ireland should focus on encouraging farm diversification to improve the resilience of the agri-food sector. It also called for increasing awareness of risk management tools, encouraging financial planning, and improving soil health. However, Irish MEP Luke Ming Flanagan, who attended the launch of the report at the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, criticised the report for not mentioning agroforestry in adaptations put forward. Flanagan argued that insurance schemes would not solve climate change problems, but good policy and innovative solutions, such as agroforestry and paludiculture, would. He warned that relying on money alone would lead to a future with a lot of cash but no food.
The study’s findings are particularly relevant in light of recent extreme weather events in Ireland. In August 2020, heavy rainfall caused widespread flooding in the country, damaging crops and disrupting transport. The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) estimated that the flooding caused €10 million worth of damage to crops, with some farmers losing up to 50% of their harvests. The IFA called on the government to provide emergency funding to affected farmers. In response, the Irish government announced a €1 million support scheme for affected farmers.
The flooding highlighted the need for greater climate adaptation measures in Ireland’s agricultural sector. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as flooding and droughts, which will have significant impacts on agricultural production. The Irish government has acknowledged the need for climate action and has set a target of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, critics have argued that the government’s climate action plan does not go far enough to address the scale of the climate challenge.
Ireland’s agricultural sector is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for approximately 30% of the country’s emissions. The sector is heavily reliant on beef and dairy production, which are both emissions-intensive activities. The government has faced pressure to reduce the country’s reliance on beef and dairy and to support the transition to more sustainable farming practices. In 2019, the government launched a €10 million pilot agri-environmental scheme to support farmers in adopting more sustainable practices. The scheme aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve water quality, and enhance biodiversity.
The EU study’s recommendations provide further impetus for Ireland to accelerate its transition to more sustainable and climate-resilient farming practices. The study’s call for systemic approaches to be fostered by CAP interventions is particularly relevant, as the CAP is currently being reformed for the period 2021-2027. The new CAP aims to be more environmentally and climate-friendly, with a greater focus on supporting sustainable farming practices. However, there are concerns that the new CAP may not go far enough to address the climate challenge, and that more ambitious action will be needed to ensure the long-term sustainability of the agricultural sector.
In conclusion, the EU study’s recommendations provide a timely reminder of the urgent need for Ireland to accelerate its transition to more sustainable and climate-resilient farming practices. The study’s call for systemic approaches to be fostered by CAP interventions is particularly relevant, as the new CAP is being reformed for the period 2021-2027. The Irish government must take bold action to address the scale of the climate challenge and to support farmers in adopting more sustainable practices. Failure to do so risks significant damage to Ireland’s agricultural sector and the wider economy.