The richest countries must lead the fight against climate change

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland this week is being touted as a final opportunity for the nations of the world to agree on a measurable plan to stop and reverse the calamitous climate emergency. It’s true. We have or are about to run out of time.

he climate emergency is the greatest crisis facing humanity. We have known this for some time because we were warned about it decades ago. Since then, there have been successive action plans laden with objectives, but the crisis has worsened. Much hot air has been spent by world leaders on goals, in the absence of measurable policy.

It was, in climate activist Greta Thunberg’s recent memorable analysis, a lot of: “Blah, bah, blah.” Glasgow will therefore be the ultimate test. What is needed is a credible policy that will pass scrutiny to reduce emissions and lead to a carbon neutral world by 2050.

Ireland has a role to play but cannot act alone. This is a global crisis that requires a global response, and the world’s richest countries must take the lead.

The main objective of COP26 is to move the world as low as possible within an already agreed emission target band: an increase limit of 1.5 ° C is considered the safest climate landing zone that humanity can still reach. According to an accepted analysis, the action of the G20 countries alone could limit warming to 1.7 ° C.

For its part, Ireland is committed to shifting by 2050 to a climate resilient, biodiversity rich, environmentally sustainable and climate neutral economy. Strong, rapid and sustained emission reductions are needed to meet this commitment. To achieve this, legislation has been introduced to provide for the establishment of carbon budgets.

Carbon budgets will require transformational changes for society and the economy, where emissions will be balanced or exceeded by 2050. A 51pc reduction in the total amount of emissions by 2030, compared to 2018, is needed. It is a huge challenge that must be met.

To achieve this, a reduction in emissions from the agricultural sector will be necessary. Across the EU as a whole, agriculture accounts for around 11% of total emissions. But in Ireland, agriculture accounts for over 32% of total emissions. This is mainly due to the number of cattle in relation to the population.

About 93pc of Ireland’s methane emissions come from livestock-based agriculture. The debate should not be limited to the agricultural sector, however. Now is not the time to demonize the farmers, the stewards of the land.

Farm leaders have said agriculture will play its part. It is widely recognized that compensation will be necessary to facilitate what will be a difficult but necessary transition.

In today’s paper, columnist Colm McCarthy also makes a compelling point: emissions from gasoline or diesel consumed in Ireland are not attributed to oil-producing Saudi Arabia; yet Irish dairy consumers in G20 countries can enjoy butter and cheese knowing that emissions are Ireland’s problem.

Irish agriculture has an important role to play, as does global society, especially in the richest countries of the world.

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