There will be no transition unless it is a just transition

By Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan

In its current form, I cannot support the proposed EU Nature Restoration Regulation. Climate change is before our eyes – to deny this is to do a disservice to farmers and society as a whole.

Our biological diversity – upon which we depend – is in crisis as species and habitats continue to decline. The Nature Restoration Law, which was put forward as a vehicle to address the ‘crisis’, is utterly inadequate. We need a transition to a more sustainable form of agriculture, a ‘just transition’ where all sectors contribute and in particular, adequate long-term funding is in place to support this into the future.

The report on the Citizens Assembly on biodiversity loss was very clear in March 2023. It must be funded and it must be long-term. To quote the report: “Sufficient funding and resources to meet the challenges of biodiversity loss must be allocated to all relevant bodies to sufficiently protect and enhance biodiversity, and implement and enforce related national and EU laws, directives and policies. This must be guaranteed in the short and longer term”.

On this Tuesday, February 27th in Strasbourg, MEPs will vote on the Nature Restoration Regulation. According to the proposed regulation, the European Union will by 2028 make up its mind what resources are required, two years after the law comes into effect. In the past two months I have attempted to establish what sort of funding Ireland will be making available. I have twice contacted Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue but he hasn’t even had the courtesy to reply.

I have however met with Minister Malcolm Noonan and his officials. I have also met with DG ENVI (Environment Commission). I spoke to Minister Noonan about the Government’s announcement of a €3.15 billion climate and nature fund. When I initially heard this announcement I thought maybe this fund would be there for the Nature Restoration Law. However, when one drills down into the detail of the much trumpeted fund, I discovered that hardly any of this money will be used to facilitate a just transition for farmers. After a long meeting with Minister Noonan and a series of follow-up written questions, I am anything but reassured. It’s now clear to me that this money will be used mainly for capital projects, with nothing ring-fenced for biodiversity. Nothing.

So the Government are basically ignoring the recommendations of the Citizens Assembly. Even if the money announced was totally dedicated to the implementation of the Nature Restoration Regulation it still doesn’t deal with the issue of long-term funding. This isn’t something that needed a commitment until 2030. It needs a perpetual long-term fund beyond 2030 which farmers can trust and rely on as they plan for the decades ahead. How can we expect people to commit if they aren’t given certainty on policy?

The answer to this problem is the establishment of a third pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy. While not perfect, the CAP has been there for almost two-thirds of a century. In an ever-changing world it has been a constant source of funding for rural areas. However, in real terms this fund is constantly dwindling. In 1991 the total CAP funding received by Ireland was €1.87 billion. That equates to €3.81 billion in 2023. Yet this year, farmers’ CAP payment from the EU only amounts to €1.8 billion. Over a 50% cut in real terms.

If the fund was only brought back in real terms to what it was in 1991, it would be a game-changer. Farmers have demonstrated in the past that they are not afraid of change if they are treated with respect and their livelihood-related needs are recognised.

Without adequate funding, the Government and the Commission’s only way of convincing people to go along with it is to say it’s not compulsory. That it’s only certain areas that will have to do anything until 2030. Areas that currently are the most economically disadvantaged. Areas which already receive less in CAP money than anywhere else. A double injustice.

The intensive farmer down south will continue to get away with poisoning our water supply while the sustainable extensive suckler farmer in the west of Ireland and those along the western seaboard from Donegal to Kerry takes a kicking. Once again these counties will be required to do the heavy lifting.

As things stand, I won’t be voting for the Nature Restoration Regulation on February 27th in Strasbourg. I’ve always been clear. There will be no transition unless it is a just transition. This is anything but that.

 

*Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan is an Independent MEP in the Midlands-North-West constituency