The climate will have to wait while ministers scramble over a deal for farmers

A final deal to halve Ireland’s carbon emissions by the end of the decade is likely to be delayed until September after coalition leaders failed to resolve the ongoing impasse last night.

Ministers continue to bicker over the intricacies of agricultural emissions targets as political deals now wind down for the summer recess.

Environmental groups and the leader of the Greens last night criticized the inability of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to agree higher reductions amid concerns about the impact on Ireland’s agri-food industry.

But Environment Secretary Eamon Ryan and Agriculture Charlie McConalogue remain deadlocked. While talks were still ongoing last night, there was no indication that an agreement would be reached in time for today’s cabinet meeting.

This is the last scheduled meeting before the ministers’ summer break, meaning talks on the climate deal are now likely to move towards the budget in September.

At a meeting of the three party leaders – Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Mr Ryan – it was said more time was needed for further analysis of how targets for agriculture, which accounts for almost 40 per cent of all Ireland’s emissions, might actually be met .

A senior government source today categorically ruled out the possibility of a deal, saying “everyone needs a break”. They signaled there is no clear timeline now, and several insiders said the deal would likely be delayed until at least September.

The delay means the coalition will miss its end-July deadline for agreeing carbon reduction targets for all sectors of the economy as part of its legally binding commitment to cut emissions by 51 percent by 2030.

While Mr Ryan has been pushing for the maximum 30 per cent cut from the farm sector, Mr McConalogue, under pressure from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the farm lobby, wants a lower target. A compromise between 24 per cent and 26 per cent is still being negotiated, with backbenchers from rural Fine Gael signaling they could support it.

An insider said Mr McConalogue agreed to a 25 per cent reduction, although others insisted no final figure had been set. “Every effort is being made to complete it, but gaps remain,” a source said.

Criticizing her coalition partners and Sinn Féin, Green Party leader Senator Pauline O’Reilly said: “It’s time for Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, let alone Sinn Fein, to show their true colors. They all signed a 51 percent reduction in CO2 emissions.

“Are they going to be honest that this means massive emissions cuts across all sectors, including agriculture? Agriculture is the highest emitting of all sectors but has the lowest target range. It takes support to change, but it has to change.”

Friends of the Earth director Oisin Coughlan called for an agreement to be reached ahead of September’s budget. “It can’t be 22 percent for agriculture because then it’s impossible for everyone else, it has to be strong in all sectors. If that takes a few extra weeks, so be it. But we have to keep doing it. We have to start now and reduce emissions quite a bit.”

Emission reduction targets for all other sectors, namely electricity, transport, buildings, industry and land use, are close to being confirmed.

Mr Varadkar said in recent days that the industry would sign off on a 35 per cent cut in CO2 emissions – 2 per cent below the highest target of 37 per cent. It is believed that the energy sector may face a 75 percent reduction in carbon emissions, despite targets for the power sector under the climate action plan being 62 percent to 82 percent.

Meanwhile, backbenchers from Fine Gael, who have criticized the “scapegoats” of farmers and rural Ireland, have signaled they could support an emissions target for agriculture of more than 22 per cent. Over the weekend, Fine Gael TDs John Paul Phelan, David Stanton, Charlie Flanagan and Paul Kehoe, along with Senators John Cummins and Garret Ahearn, criticized the “false narrative” about agriculture and its impact on Ireland’s emissions.

However, Mr Kehoe yesterday said he would “absolutely” support a compromise in the 24-26 per cent range, provided farmer organizations were consulted and a significant finance package made available. Former Agriculture Secretary Barry Cowen has called for a new stakeholder forum to oversee and advise on initiatives to reduce agricultural emissions over the next 18 months to two years.

Sinn Féin has declined to disclose what percentage of emissions reductions it supports for the agricultural sector. Environment spokesman Darren O’Rourke said this is a matter for government and he cannot “pick a number out of thin air”.

Social Democrats and People Before Profit both backed 30 percent, while Labor leader Ivana Bacik said cuts for the sector needed to be “closer to 30 percent than 22 percent”. The climate will have to wait while ministers scramble over a deal for farmers

Fry Electronics Team

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