UFU says plan to slash CO2 pollution would ‘ruin’ farming in Northern Ireland

'Charolais heifer and herd' by JPC24M'Charolais heifer and herd' by JPC24M
'Charolais heifer and herd' by JPC24M
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has said that an ambitious programme to effectively end CO2 pollution by 2045 would stand to ruin Northern Ireland’s farming sector.

It was reacting to a report from accountancy and consulting firm KPMG, which the UFU had commissioned (alongside other agricultural lobbyists).

The report looks at what the economic fallout would be of trying to cut out all CO2 from the economy – and basically concludes that there could be 13,000 or so job losses in the livestock sector if Northern Ireland attempts to go “net-zero carbon” by 2045.

The aim of fully de-carbonising the economy is supported by the London government, which is legally bound to ensure the UK hits “net-zero” CO2 emissions by 2050.

In Northern Ireland, the Green Party has put forward a bill that aims to accomplish this five years sooner, by 2045.

This target was chosen because the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that if mankind reaches “net zero” by 2050, it stands a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C higher than it was before the industrial revolution – thus avoiding some of the more extreme scenarios around freak storms, rising seas, and species extinctions.

The UFU said that in Northern Ireland the 2045 target would “wipe out traditional grass-based family farming” and be “the ruination of the agriculture industry”.


The deal which saw the DUP and Sinn Fein return to powersharing in January 2020 (New Decade New Approach) contained a climate clause.

It promised that “the Executive will introduce legislation and targets for reducing carbon emissions”.

The Greens’ bill for “net zero by 2045” is now making its way through the Assembly.

It calls for the setting up of a Climate Commissioner, and for detailed “action plans” to be drawn up every three-to-five years, saying how “net zero” will ultimately be achieved.

KPMG has said that the bill does not spell out “the scale and magnitude of actions required”, and so its report seeks to do so – with particular focus on livestock farming.

It states:

>> Smaller family farms may try to stay afloat by “consolidating” together “to try and achieve economies of scale”
>> Pig and poultry herd numbers would drop by 11%

>> Beef, dairy and sheep herd numbers would fall by 86%

>> The beef sector’s “total direct and indirect economic output would fall from £583m in 2021 to £210m” (a drop of 64%)

>> A similar analysis of output in the dairy sector envisages a fall from £748m in 2021 to £252m (a drop of 66%)

>> The output of the sheep sector would fall from £113m in 2021 to £50m (a drop of 56%) – with much more limited drops in output from pig (–16%) and poultry (–8%) farming

>> Translating all of this into job losses, KPMG says across poultry, pigs, beef, dairy and sheep combined, job losses could be around 13,000 – a drop of 54%

>> From 2021 to 2045, the total aggregate ‘lost’ economic output would be around £11bn, if the target advocated by the Greens were pursued.


Whilst CO2 exists naturally in the atmosphere, the amount of it has been skyrocketing in recent decades, driven by the burning of coal, oil and gas (among other things).

At the same time, places that absorb CO2 like the Amazon are being destroyed.

This all means the extra CO2 being pumped into the air by humans (CO2 pollution) is changing the make-up of the world’s air, trapping more heat than usual and having unpredictable effects on climate.

According to the UK government, in 2019 agriculture made up 10% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions (of which by far the greatest component was CO2).

Transport meanwhile made up about 27%, and power supply made up about 21%.

The dangers of climate change were reinforced last week when the UN issued its biggest report into the matter for several years.

For example, it found a sea rise of around two metres (6.6ft) by 2100 could not be ruled out – nor could up to five metres (16.4ft) by 2150.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said “we can avert climate catastrophe [but] there is no time for delay and no room for excuses”.


The UFU today issued a dire warning about what the future may hold.

It said the “net zero by 2045” idea would “be the ruination of the agriculture industry”.

UFU president Victor Chestnutt said: “Climate change legislation is necessary to tackle emissions from NI; farmers and the agri-food sector are willing and must play their part in tackling global warming.”

But, he added, the Greens’ bill would not “combat emissions appropriately”, whilst also casing “devastation for rural families and communities, and the NI economy as a whole”.

Dairy Council for NI chief executive Dr Mike Johnston said “wiping out these farming businesses” in Northern Ireland for the sake of contributing only a fraction to the UK’s intended “net zero” target was “in no way rational”.

“It would reduce our highly successful dairy sector to a cottage industry, creating widespread job losses across farms, processing and ancillary industries, taking us back to levels of milk production last seen in 1946,” he said.

The UFU had commissioned the KPMG report alongside the Livestock and Meat Commission, NI Meat Exporters’ Association, Dairy Council NI, NI Pork and Bacon Forum, and the NI Grain Trade Association.


KPMG itself has pledged that it wants to become “carbon neutral” by 2030.

Last November, the CEO of KPMG International Bill Thomas said: “Our carbon reduction plan will aid not only our own progress towards reducing the effects of the climate on tomorrow’s world, but it will also contribute to our clients’ efforts to reduce their end-to-end carbon footprint...

“I’m confident we are making the right decisions today to make a difference tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, Richard Threlfall, global head of KPMG IMPACT, said: “KPMG shares the same responsibility as the clients we serve, to rapidly reduce and eventually reverse our contribution to global warming.”

In 2019, the Office for National Statistics found that financial, insurance, professional, scientific and technical activities combined made up just 0.38% of the UK’s greenhouse gases.

This is far, far below the main culprits: power, manufacturing, transport, and farming.


The DUP’s 2019 manifesto said that, beside keeping the NHS going, battling climate change is “the greatest long-term policy and financial challenge for all levels of government for decades to come”.

It described the UK as “a world leader on climate action”, but warned against “poorly planned” efforts to combat global warming.

In a debate on the Green Party’s “net zero by 2045” bill earlier this year, DUP MLA William Irwin (himself a farmer) insisted that the bill must be voted down.

He said that “its insistence on reaching net zero by 2045 would require a reduction in the output of Northern Ireland farms that would mean the decimation of Northern Ireland agriculture”.

Meanwhile the Ulster Unionist Party – whose 2019 manifesto speaks of a “climate emergency” – was broadly supportive of the bill.

Steve Aiken MLA told the Assembly he had seen global warming first hand as a Royal Navy submariner.

He had operated under “1,000 year old ice” in the Arcticin 1987, he told MLAs.

But when he returned to that region in 2010, that ancient ice had simply gone.

He added: “I do not want to be somebody who spends my time going around being a doom merchant.

“However, let us be very clear about this: this climate emergency is happening, and it is happening a lot faster than people think.

“If we think that, in 2050, we will still be arguing about various parts of agriculture here or, indeed, whether beef will be coming from Brazil – which may, in fact, be a desert by that stage – we need to wake up to the fact that we are in a very, very dangerous situation.”


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