Last December the UK Climate Change Committee published its 6th edition of an annual report which outlines how the UK can lower its carbon emissions. In 2021 the focus is on how the UK is to achieve the Government’s target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The main headline of the report is that lowering emissions is obtainable, particularly financially. With the authors concluding less than 1% of national wealth could be spent to cut up to 78% of total emissions by 2035.
This can only be achieved through significant changes within all sectors of the UK economy, from transport, which is the largest emitter, right through to land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) which is the only net carbon absorber.
As well as industry change, consumer change is also addressed, with the report stating, “it will require public to reduce their demand for high carbon activities such flying, driving cars and eating red meat with every meal.” The UK government is likely to announce a tax on high carbon activities this year. Many are also calling for such taxes to apply to imported goods in the form of a carbon border tax[AF1] in a post BREXIT world, to ensure there is parity of standards for imported products.
UK agriculture has a unique opportunity as an industry to not only reduce our sector’s carbon emissions but also to absorb or offset carbon for other UK sectors via Land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF).
UK agriculture is fortunate enough to have several decades worth of industry-wide environmental data. The data provides our sector with a solid base for understanding what the focus areas need to be, and they aren’t revolutionary. Improving production efficiency, effective nutrient management, improving the efficient use of livestock feeds, and lastly wider land management for carbon sequestration (capture) and storage[AF2] and in conjunction with .biodiversity net gain.
The latter will involve large scale tree planting, restoring peat lands, planting perennial energy crops and short-rotational coppice such as willow. This inevitably raises apprehension with many producers as there is undoubtedly cost involved. However, significant opportunities for revenue streams will arise from new farm support policies such as Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) in England, as farmers will be paid for public goods and services.
The first step for all farmers and growers is to understand their business now and where easy wins lie in terms of cost and carbon savings, after all they go hand in hand. However, this is no mean feat, measuring on-farm carbon emissions is both difficult,expensive and the use of proxy measures. Plus, successfully linking actions to reduce emissions and real on-farm benefits can prove challenging. Many farmers also have concerns about the quality and reliability of the on-farm tools, especially where they are required to secure future income streams or inform the consumer of environmental or sustainability credentials.
These concerns are not unfounded. A study in 2019 found that of 64 potential tools on the market, only four could be recommended for use in Scotland and the rest of the UK. However, despite the limitations of the tools, the consistent use of a tool (even where its consistently wrong in absolute terms) can be beneficial in identifying emission hotspots. Allowing informed business decisions to reduce emissions, or to establish a baseline ahead of the new support policies for UK agriculture.
A healthy debate about food choices and climate change in agriculture is welcomed by the industry, providing due focus is made on overall environmental performance as opposed to carbon alone. UK agriculture is seeking to increase the rate at which it can use innovation to achieve net zero whilst delivering more environmental benefits. All whilst providing consumers with safe, sustainable, and affordable food – the very purpose of agriculture.
Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of the individual contributing member, and are not necessarily representative of the views of IEMA or any professional institutions with which IEMA is associated.
Posted on 16th March 2021
Written by Jon Foot
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