Blog | 5 steps towards net zero agriculture

Energy & Climate Change, Natural Environment

5 steps towards net zero agriculture

The recently published Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report highlighted that if the 2015 Paris Agreement commitments, to limit global warming to 2 (or ideally 1.5) degrees Celsius this century, are to be met it will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

Alongside this there has been a flurry of domestic activity; the Climate Change Committee published their report Land use: Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology held a panel discussion on the carbon footprint of agriculture, and today the updated UK Climate Projections were released, accompanied by a speech from Secretary of State Michael Gove.

Gove set out Defra’s priorities for addressing climate change, amongst which were supporting several farming initiatives on climate change mitigation.

Currently agriculture contributes 10% of the UK’s emissions, through methane (5.6%), nitrous oxide (3.1%) and carbon dioxide (1.2%). It is also one of the industries most exposed to the impacts of climate change; increasingly dry summers, like the one we had this year, and more unpredictable and extreme rainfall, with associated flood risks. These weather patterns have significant impacts on land and therefore farming enterprises.

Here are five changes that farmers and consumers can make to help lower emissions associated with agriculture:

1. Increase sustainable soil management

Knowledge about soils is increasing all the time. We understand better than ever; what healthy soils look like, their ability to sequester carbon, that good soils can support greater biodiversity and improve resilience for production, and how management choices affect soils. Increasing uptake of sustainable soil practices, such as those promoted by the Soil Association, will see better protection of natural capital and increased carbon sequestration.

2. Choose more sustainable meat production methods

Livestock produce a lot of Green House Gas emissions. Improvements in animals' diets, housing and slurry storage and spreading can all help reduce the impacts of livestock enterprises. Advice on ammonia reduction is being provided by Catchment Sensitive Farming.

With GHG emissions being a global issue, we should also carefully consider whether imports have been produced to reasonable environmental standards.

3. Diversify in to carbon negative enterprises

Forestry and renewable energy are good examples of this but as we move into recognising natural capital values, options and funding streams seem likely to increase. The Agriculture Bill shows an intention to pay farmers for public goods and recognises that these include mitigating climate change.

4. Reduce food waste

Crazy amounts of food get wasted whilst the use of food banks grows. This is a big issue both environmentally and socially. Waste at all levels, retail, catering and domestic, needs addressing so that we can stop wasting water, labour, chemicals and carbon budget allocations.

Earlier this year Gove announced £15 million for addressing food waste generated by retailers and manufacturers. Supermarkets are also considering this issue and looking at how cosmetically imperfect produce can be marketed and sold instead of wasted.

5. Buy less and better, cutting meat consumption

A contentious one because it requires widespread social change and could impact our landscapes. But decreasing meat consumption, cutting back on the highest emitters first and buying sustainably produced meat, will create market and so farming changes.

There is a lot of positive work going on already, with many farmers and consumers highly aware of this issue. To mitigate climate change and keep warming well below two degrees Celsius we need to turn this good practice into the norm.


Written by Sarah Anderton

November 2018

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