A report for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calls for better land management and a reduction in livestock emissions, if the effects of rising global temperatures on the planet are to be mitigated.
The Climate Change and Land report, addressing greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes in land-based ecosystems, was commissioned by the IPPC in 2016 and has involved 103 experts drawn from 52 countries around the world.
Although the full report has yet to be published, a 43 page Summary for Policymakers has been released. This sets out how the rise in global temperatures is leading to more drought, soil erosion, wildfires and a reduction in crop yields in tropical regions. All these factors have implications for global food security.
The Summary says mitigation actions should include a reduction in food waste; cutting meat and dairy consumption as they are closely associated with GHG emissions; seeking to store more carbon in soils and forestry; and an end to the burning of fossil fuels. It also advises that the environmental cost of food production should be factored into food prices.
While the meat reduction message is leading national media reports, the summary emphasises that land must remain productive to maintain food security as the population increases and the negative impacts of climate change on vegetation increase. The authors note that there will be tension between the need to feed people, grow energy crops and switch land to afforestation. The report adds that it takes time for trees and soils to store carbon effectively.
“Bioenergy needs to be carefully managed to avoid risks to food security, biodiversity and land degradation,” states the summary. “Desirable outcomes will depend on locally appropriate policies and governance systems.”
The NFU agrees with this local approach. “We need to look at the report through a local lens,” advises NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts. “We won’t stop climate change by downsizing sustainable British production and exporting our production to countries that don’t have the same climate aspirations.” He adds that UK livestock production is already far lower than the global average in GHG emissions.
NFU president Minette Batters stresses that the report shows that the IPCC recognises the important role animal products play in a balanced diet, and when produced in sustainably low greenhouse gas emission systems, are actually part of the solution to climate change.
“It is therefore incredibly frustrating to see this inflated within some part of the media to recommending a reduction of meat consumption in the UK. I reiterate that our aspiration to become net zero – reducing our greenhouse gas footprint and offsetting emissions – by 2040 does not mean downsizing agricultural production. This would only export our production to countries which may not have the same standards of environmental protection.
“Our plan for achieving net zero depends on making the most of our natural resources. With 65% of UK farmland best suited to growing grass, this means using our grasslands, which are also a huge store of carbon, to produce high quality beef and lamb.
“British farmers are determined to continue reducing methane emissions through a variety of methods, including dietary changes and breeding techniques. Alongside this, we are also looking for ways to continue to improve soil health and increase organic matter within our soils, which is one of our greatest assets,” she concludes.
CLA president Tim Breitmeyer agrees that while climate change is among the biggest threats to agricultural businesses, farmers and landowners can be a major part of the solution. He says that 95% of CLA members are already incorporating climate change mitigation measures into their business plans.
“There is no silver bullet to dealing with climate change,” he continues. “Farmers are keen and ready to farm in the most sustainable way but the tax, planning and future agriculture policies must allow them to do so. For example, engaging in agroforestry, mixed farming systems, permanent pasture, restoring peatland, new woodland planting and improving productivity.
“One thing is clear. A global programme of tree planting is necessary, and landowners are up to the task of playing their part. Government should speed up its efforts to create a funding structure that would allow farmers to make appropriate agricultural land available for afforestation.”