National flock halved and enough trees to cover Dublin five times – what we need to do to meet climate targets

Ireland needs to halve its dairy and beef herds, plant enough trees to cover County Dublin five times over and rewett almost all of its drained meadows to meet its legally binding “net zero” carbon target by 2050.

According to scientists from the University of Limerick and the University of Galway, published in the journal Nature Sustainability,

“There is no easy way out,” says Dr. David Styles, Associate Professor of Agricultural Sustainability at Galway University.

“If we are serious about achieving carbon neutrality, huge savings need to be made in agriculture.

“It is very difficult to completely eliminate methane (greenhouse gas) emissions from animals.”

according to dr Colm Duffy, a University of Limerick scientist who led the modeling research, the only way to reduce the magnitude of such changes would be through new technology that can limit agricultural emissions.

The government’s climate change plan calls for Ireland to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest and that a 51 per cent reduction is required by 2030.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 37 per cent of Ireland’s emissions in 2021 came from the agricultural sector.

dr duffy and dr Styles assessed the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from 850 possible land-use combinations to identify the options capable of meeting Ireland’s 2050 net-zero target.

Of the 850 random scenarios they examined, only 38, or 4.4 percent, have successfully helped the agricultural sector to reach net-zero and – as farming will require – to continue acting as a carbon sink.

“The successful scenarios required significant reductions in cattle herds, dramatic increases in afforestation rates, and rewetting of most drained organic soils,” says Dr. duffy

“In the best-case scenario, milk yield remained at 87 percent of 2015 levels when beef yield was significantly reduced.”

A high rate of tree planting of up to 500,000 hectares or 5,000 km2 – equivalent to an area about five times the size of County Dublin on mineral-rich soils – such as that used by dairy farmers would also be required, Styles says.

But even if high levels of tree planting are achieved, at the same time, roughly halving the national dairy and cattle herd will be required. Researchers accept that herd reduction will be politically difficult.

“The current high milk prices are putting upward pressure on the number of dairy herds, so making the necessary land use changes will not be easy and I do not envy the decision makers,” says Dr. styles. National flock halved and enough trees to cover Dublin five times – what we need to do to meet climate targets

Fry Electronics Team

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