The Government has reached a moment of truth, and it doesn't like it.
The climate targets it merrily agreed to put into law turn out to have actually meant something. And the Green Party's leader and Minister responsible for making them happen doesn't seem willing to sell the pass. He seems to actually want to reduce Ireland's emissions by 51% by 2030, so that it can meet the committment to hit net zero emissions by 2050.
To do that, Ireland needs to revolutionise most of society all at once (as the government agreed to do). Transport going away from internal combustion, the entire energy network shifting hugely to renewables, hundreds of thousands of refits on homes up and down the country. The scale of this project is staggering. The challenge of the change it will bring about, in every part of life, dwarfs anything since Ireland was electrified.
Except, it turns out, for Agriculture. Fine Gael (and more quietly, Fianna Fáil) are demanding that The Sacred Cow should not be interfered with. Or at least, not to the extent that is required. A range of 22% - 30% reduction of emissions was agreed between the government parties for the Agriculture sector. Now it is time to set the specific figure within that range which is needed in order for Ireland to meet that overall 51% target.
The EPA has already said that, given the amount of the carbon budget which Agriculture has used up since 1990, a 22% cut in Agriculture emissions won't do the job. Even if every one of the massive changes in the rest of society were completed (house retrofitting, mass electric vehicle takeup, wholescale conversion to renewable electricity generation etc) a 22% level of Agriculture emissions cuts would only deliver about half of Ireland's overall required emissions reduction.
An emissions reduction of 28% in 2030 vs 2018 is projected in the With Additional Measures scenario, this is compared to the 51% target, despite an assumption that the lower end of the agriculture target (22% reduction compared to 2018) is met." - EPA
Fine Gael faces one of the worst things that can happen to a political party. Something they do not want something to happen has become something which must happen. There is no room for fudging or debate. The facts are clear, even if they are unwanted.
Unless, that is, you're willing to abandon relying on facts and true statements to make your case. Which is what some of the FG proponants of keeping emission cuts at the lower end of the range have resorted to.
The Agriculture lobby has been adopting the tactics of harmful but profitable industries (oil, tobacco and so on). It has created talking points intended to counter the scientific consensus, or sometimes just to deny reality. Those talking points are then relayed down to individual farmers as well as spokepeople and political proxies.
This has a duel purpose. The farmers, like Trump supporters, are given a grounds for feeling aggrieved at their opponants, instead of seeing their own actions as harmful. And the media, because of a widespread glitch, typically presents disputes on matters of fact as though they were debates on matters of opinion.
Facts? We don't agree with them
A head to head debate between someone with a fringe view on climate science and someone representing the consensus view of qualified experts will appear to the audience as a matter of disagreement between equally valid positions. As FF TD Jackie Cahill said to UCC Professor Hannah Daly at the end of their appearance on RTE Radio "I disagree with your facts." (At 23:40 in this file)
Other facts have been disagreed with too.
On Monday FG TDs John Paul Phelan, David Stanton, Charlie Flanagan, Paul Kehoe and Senators John Cummins and Garret Ahearn issued a joint statement, including this false claim;
In fact, Agriculture is, by far and away, the largest source of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions. I mean it’s 37% of all Irish emissions. The 2nd placed sector (Transport) is at 17%. It's not even close. Source: EPA
While both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have led governments since 1990 which saw rises in Agriculture emissions, it is Fine Gael who have been in power when the steepest and least forgivable year-on-year rises have happened, since 2011. To make 22% reductions from now a viable option, Fine Gael would have had to ensure that lost decade had been spent delivering incremental cuts in emissions.
As stewards of Ireland's climate policy, Fine Gael have proved themselves Lords of Misrule.
It is time for Ireland to stop arguing about what the science says must be done (a cut in Agriculture emissions at the upper end of the agreed range, as a minimum) and to start planning how to achieve it. The longer we wait, the harder that project gets.
Time to start.