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Minister Creed Opening Speech, European Biomethane Conference, Clontarf Castle, 20 September 2018

Introduction

  • All – I am pleased to be here today as the Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine at the 4th European Biomethane Conference.  I believe that this is the first time the conference will be held outside of Germany and it is a great privilege to welcome you all to Ireland and to speak to you about how Ireland is engaging to meet the challenge of climate change. 
  • Over the course of the last year, we have experienced first-hand what a changed climate might look like in Ireland and indeed across Europe, with the country experiencing extreme flooding, snow and drought. This has had an effect on all citizens and sectors of the country, and none more so than the agriculture sector.
  • Ireland’s National Policy Position establishes the fundamental national objective of achieving transition to a competitive, low carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050. Specifically, the National Policy Position envisages that policy development will be guided by a long-term vision based on:
    • an aggregate reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of at least 80% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2050 across the electricity generation, built environment and transport sectors
    • in parallel, an approach to carbon neutrality in the agriculture and land-use sector, including forestry, which does not compromise capacity for sustainable food production.
  • However, achieving this objective will not be easy. The latest figures from our Environmental Protection Agency indicate that emissions for all these sectors are in fact increasing.
  • Across Government we are not complacent; we take combating climate change very seriously and clearly recognise the need for further focus, increased action and investment. Climate action is a top priority for this Government; our National Development Plan demonstrates the Government’s commitment to climate action and has prioritised an investment of €21.8 billion on a series of measures that will support Ireland’s transition to a low-carbon economy by 2050.

What the Agriculture Sector Is Doing

  • As mentioned previously, the long term vision for the agriculture sector is approach to carbon neutrality which does not compromise the capacity for sustainable food production. 
  • Carbon neutrality aims to balance agricultural emissions by increasing carbon-sequestration, reducing emissions and increasing fossil fuel and energy intensive materials displacement. 
  • In practice, this means we are working to promote efficiency of food production, afforestation, sustainable forest management and enhancement of soil sequestration. In addition, we are encouraging mobilisation of biomaterials and residues to displace fossil fuel and other energy intensive materials, such as promoting a wider use of wood products in the built environment and elsewhere. 
  • We are also engaging on the topic of climate change with our stakeholders. For example, in June of this year, my Department hosted an Environmental Sustainability Dialogue to highlight the challenges facing the agricultural sector regarding GHG emissions.
  • In terms of emission abatement, my Department are examining new measures which can be introduced to tackle the climate change issue. One of my Departments agencies, Teagasc, recently published a report which gives an Analysis of Abatement Potential of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Irish Agriculture for the years 2021-2030. The report highlights the potential for Greenhouse Gas abatement to limit the emissions from the agriculture sector over the period based on current scientific knowledge against the likely level of future greenhouse gas emissions if no action is taken.
  • Under the Rural Development Programme in 2018 €203 million has been allocated for agri-environmental schemes, including the Green, Low Carbon, Agri-environment Scheme (GLAS) and Organic Farming measures. In addition, funding of €70m has been allocated to the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Schemes (TAMS II). These programmes drive climate efficiency improvements.
  • In terms of increasing carbon sequestration through afforestation, My Department operates the Forestry Programme 2014-2020, with €106 million been made available for forestry measures in 2018 alone.
  • The overall target is to expand Ireland’s forest estate from 11% to 18% by mid-century.  My Department has supported the establishment of over 300,000 hectares of forests since 1990 and over 9,000 km of forest roads.
  • My Department recently reviewed our Forestry Programme and the review has seen substantial increases in the grants and premiums paid for growing trees suitable for fibre and biomass. The duration of the premium has also increased from 10 to 15 years.
  • Agriculture also has a critical role to play in helping meet Ireland’s renewable energy targets with Bioenergy having an important part to play in the renewable energy mix for Ireland and in displacing fossil fuel usage. To date, this has involved provision of bioenergy feedstock including forest thinning and animal by-products (ABPs) such as residues from the meat processing, slurries and other agricultural by- products.
  • Given the renewed interest in the production of biogas and biomethane the Department is also collaborating closely with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment to consider further the potential for the agriculture sector to contribute to Ireland’s significant renewable energy and Greenhouse Gas targets, and promote the development of Ireland’s bioeconomy.

AD and Biomethane

  • The Anaerobic Digestion industry in Ireland is at a nascent stage of development compared to the more established industry in many European countries.  Potential for the growth of the AD sector in Ireland is strong but it should be seen as a long term development.   A recent report from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland highlights the potential and in fact if available resources are maximised then biogas / biomethane could potentially contribute to 28% of gas supply by 2025.
  • My Department plays a regulatory function in terms of Anaerobic Digestion plants that use animal by-products as feedstock. We have, over many years, agreed a detailed and functional approval process for new plants that wish to construct here in Ireland.
  • My Department actively encourages the use and recovery of such feed stocks in a safe and protected manner and DAFM looks forward to the expansion of this sector and to the opportunities it can provide for rural Ireland, for renewable energy and carbon and emission targets.
  • Last December, the Government approved the Support Scheme for Renewable Heat. This scheme which is operated by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland comprises of supports to heat users in the non-domestic, non-ETS sector.  
  • The first phase of Support Scheme for Renewable Heat will provide support for the installation for heat pump systems is now open for applications. 
  • The scheme will also provide an operational support for the heat output of biomass and anaerobic digestion heating systems. This phase of the scheme is planned to open later this year, subject to state aid clearance from the EU Commission.
  • In addition, the Department of Communication, Climate Action and Environment in conjunction with my Department continues to examine potential options to support biomethane grid injection.
  • In my own constituency of North Cork the Agri-Gas-Grid Project will be a showcase project which aims to design, develop and implement a demonstrator micro-farm AD plant for biogas suitable for grid injection. This project will act as a learning tool for raising awareness, knowledge and expansion of on-farm AD and biogas upgrading plants.
  • This design model gives maximum benefit to farmers in monetising their waste and residue streams by diversifying their income streams, and thereby contributing to decarbonisation of the agriculture sector and gas grid. The project is based on a collaborative, multi-stakeholder approach, with strong representation from agricultural, industry, community, statutory and academic sectors.

Conclusions

  • We have a thriving agri-food sector - one that is efficient and environmentally conscious – am I am very proud that the Irish agriculture sector is one of the most efficient in the European Union and has one of the lowest carbon footprints globally.  
  • Collaboration, co-operation and collective responsibility is necessary to meet the challenges that are facing us and we will continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure that the sector continues to play its part in meeting our climate obligations and challenges.
  • To conclude I would like to wish you every success and I look forward to the proceedings from today’s event.