09 July 2019

Ben Underwood looks ahead to 2019

Much of the media attention in recent weeks has been focused on the final furlong of the Conservative leadership race, where candidates have not only been battling to be the new party leader, but also our next Prime Minister. The alliances formed continue to demonstrate how deeply divided and polarised the competing camps are.

Time will tell whether there will be any movement on the likelihood of a Brexit agreement in Parliament or whether, to coin a phrase from our soon-to-be-former Prime Minister “nothing has changed”.  I fear it will go down to the wire again.

Away from Brexit, the CLA hosted a Climate Change Summit in Central London last week attended by farmers, landowners and rural professionals, all there to find out how we as a sector are going to tackle climate change head-on.

Climate change is now widely accepted as fact, backed by a mass of scientific data. Organisations such as the United Nations predict we have just 12 years to ensure average global temperatures do not rise by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. If they do, the effects could be catastrophic.

However, we are already seeing real and tangible impacts. Our weather patterns have changed dramatically over the last 20 years, with extremes of temperature for lengthy periods, the increased risk of flooding and drought and the arrival of new pests and diseases for crops, trees and livestock. All of these have significant impacts on farmers, landowners and rural businesses. Those business owners that build climate change resilience into their business models, will be the ones best placed to tackle the challenges climate change will present for business stability and profitability.

Speaking at our Summit, Lord Deben, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, made it clear that UK targets for net zero emissions cannot be met without the land use sector getting involved in tree planting, soil carbon management and peatland restoration. He envisions a nation that is “increasingly proud of our land and the way it is managed” and praised the CLA for having a long-term focus and engaging on climate change issues for more than 20 years.

There are some big challenges ahead, and farmers and landowners will have to make some transformational changes to adapt to warmer temperatures. Dr Rebecca Wheeler, Research Fellow at the Centre for Rural Policy Research, University of Exeter, also spoke at our Summit and gave a sense of the changes coming down the line, with ‘hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters’.  A key point that stuck out was that by 2050, the chance of hot summers like 2018 will be around 50%.

The government’s ambitious targets for net zero emissions should be welcomed and will help to focus minds on the challenge ahead. Now comes the difficult job of creating workable policies which will ensure the UK leads by example in delivery too.

Net zero targets are simply unachievable without the support and input of landowners and farmers who will be crucial in the strategy’s delivery. The successful introduction of environmental land management schemes will be key, creating the platform that will, for example, deliver the billions of trees to offset emissions.  

It is important to also recognise that work has to continue on the international stage to ensure a global response. We should avoid implementing policies which simply exports our carbon to countries with less of an environmental conscience.