Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has said he is receiving a "very positive response" in Brussels to a joint Irish-German plan, which could introduce a new way of calculating how greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced in the agriculture sector.

The European Union is currently drafting an emissions reduction plan, which will run from 2020 to 2030.

Mr Coveney said his idea had secured support from 15 other EU member states.

Speaking in Brussels, he said he hoped it will be the subject of detailed discussions next month.

Mr Coveney said that he is opposed to the setting of "blunt targets" for emissions reductions in the agricultural sector, even though they may work in the areas of transport and energy generation.  

He said: "If we force targets on the basis, for example, of herd size in European countries that are producing at low carbon intensity levels at the moment, we will simply force increased production in other parts of the world with much higher carbon intensity."

This, Mr Coveney declared, "makes no sense" when food production within the EU was going to have to grow "dramatically" in the coming decades.

The minister said he does believe the EU "should set targets" but when it comes to agriculture, these needed to be applied in a "different way to encourage countries to produce food at a lower [carbon] intensity".

He said that 10% of EU emissions came from the agricultural sector but that it was 30% in Ireland's case.