Five of the country's largest farming organisations have come together to issue an agreed joint set of principles on the issue of climate action.

The five groups have committed to play a positive contribution to the reduction of greenhouse house emissions from agriculture and the dairy sector.

However the statement from Dairy Industry Ireland, Irish Co-operative Organisation Society, Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, Irish Farmers’ Association and Macra na Feirme also defends farmers’ rights to make a living from dairy production.

"We vigourously defend the legitimate rights of farm families to profitably pursue milk production in a sustainable manner and warn against the unintended consequences of actions that will undermine the cost competitiveness of the Irish dairy sector," the groups said.

"Restricting milk production from Ireland will increase global emissions; the introduction of polices that facilitate this to happen will increase climate change," they added.

The groups call for an end to the "divisive, unhelpful and damaging" public debate on climate change and agriculture and say the dairy industry should be given time and opportunity to address the climate challenge.

The bodies point out that the dairy sector makes a significant contribution to the rural and national economy here and to international exports and the provision of employment.

They say it supports 17,000 farms, 60,000 jobs and has an output worth €11.3 billion, with exports valued at €5.2 billion.

The principles state that while dairy is the most profitable sector in agriculture, this is only relative to "unacceptably low" income levels elsewhere in farming.

"No business sector, however successful, can sustain static or constrained revenues along with increased costs of production. Irish dairy farming is no different," they stated.

"Policy makers need to be able to facilitate pathways for new entrants into dairy farming, to support a vibrant and sustainable sector," they added.

Significant support for farmers to transition to a low carbon future will be needed from the EU's Common Agriculture Policy, the state and industry, they claim.

The groups are also seeking an "urgent review" of the planning system to support sustainable economic growth in the rural economy.

The grass-based production system used by Irish farmers is also pointed to by the organisations as giving a competitive advantage and they also emphasise that the dairy sector here has a low carbon footprint compared to others internationally.

"Mindful of the existing low carbon footprint of the Irish dairy sector, we support an approach to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture and dairy sector based on the world class research and advice provided by Teagasc," the bodies state.

They also point to the "considerable actions" they claim have been taken by the dairy sector to show leadership in the area of environmental sustainability.

"We highlight that climate change is a global issue and warn against the risk of carbon leakage, given that international demand for dairy products and ingredients are increasing year on year due to a growing global population and socio-economic factors," they also said in their statement.