Climate change report outlines vital role 'stewards of the land' will play in helping reach net zero

The report by the Committee for Climate Change makes five key recommendations for reaching net zero with farmers and landowners having a vital role to play.
The report by the Committee for Climate Change makes five key recommendations for reaching net zero with farmers and landowners having a vital role to play.
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The Committee for Climate Change  (CCC) has issued its latest report which recommends reducing the amount of meat and dairy we produce and planting more trees to hit the Government’s 2050 net zero target.

Lord Deben, chairman of the Government advisory committee, said changing the way we use our land is critical to delivering the UK’s net zero target.

“The options we are proposing would see farmers and land managers – the stewards of the land – delivering actions to reduce emissions,” Lord Deben said, adding the result would be new revenue opportunities, improved air quality and improved biodiversity.

The report states agriculture currently accounts for 12 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK although it did acknowledge that our grass-fed beef cattle was less damaging than other global systems.

The authors also anticipated a 10 per cent drop in cattle and sheep numbers by 2050, saying there had already been a reduction of around 20 per cent in the past two decades.

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The report went on to outline the five key objectives for a new policy which includes reducing the amount of red meat we eat by 20 per cent per person, encouraging low carbon farming practices, restoring peatlands and expanding bioenergy crops.

NFU president, Minette Batters, said she was pleased the report had acknowledged that British farming produces some of the most sustainable food in the world, highlighting that emissions from UK beef is half that of the global average.

But she warned, when talking about changing diets, plant-based products do not necessarily have a lower impact on the environment.

“It all depends on where and how the ingredients have been produced, the environmental pressures involved in its production, the environmental management associated with that country’s agricultural system and the environmental resources available, as well as how far the product has travelled.

“The report emphasises that we can’t risk importing food with a higher carbon footprint than food which has been produced in the UK,” she said, calling for a comprehensive approach across the whole UK economy.

“When it comes to farming we need to focus on the whole agricultural system. In the NFU’s own plans for net zero agriculture, planting trees and hedgerows to increase carbon stores on farmland play a crucial part, alongside increasing productivity – producing more from less – to deliver low-carbon farming as well as boosting renewable energy and bioenergy production.”

The CLA, which contributed to the report also said it was pleased to see methods outlined which would demonstrate how UK farming can produce the same amount of food but meet net-zero targets.

President of the CLA, Mark Bridgeman, said overall the organisation welcomed the report’s findings and the inclusion of many points made by CLA members on forestry, bioenergy and low carbon farming practices.

“We are particularly pleased to see that, following the last report, the committee has significantly lowered its calls for a reduction of cattle and sheep numbers from 46 per cent to 10 per cent. The livestock sector has a big role to play in tackling climate change, but it is important this role is proportionate to its actual impact on global temperatures.

“Carbon sequestration and storage is a big part of the solution to get to net zero, so it’s also good to see that the CCC has taken on board the CLA’s proposals to make tree planting an attractive option for landowners, encouraging access to multiple funding streams acknowledging both the carbon and non-carbon benefits of new woodland.

Mr Bridgeman did raise the point that the CCC had specifically opted not to look at soil carbon storage which the Agriculture Bill has acknowledged the importance of in sequestering and storing carbon.

“This is an important part of the wider picture and can’t be ignored when looking at climate change action in the land use sector,” he said.

Along with calls to ‘rewet’ peatland, the report also recommends banning the practice of burning heather.

But The Moorland Association warned the government against rushing into an outright ban on controlled heather burning over peatland.

Director Amanda Anderson said: “Grouse moors in England account for around a million acres of the uplands’ peatland and owners and managers are fully in favour of the restoration and protection of peat soils.

Moorland managers are the stewards of these precious places for the benefit of all and are actively engaged in current restoration programmes to reduce emissions.”