With some light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel, we are starting to move into a phase where we can think about how we can shape the economic recovery to meet our climate change targets. With transport use, electricity demand and industrial activity dropping dramatically, so too have global greenhouse gases (GHGs). Some estimates suggest that emissions will drop by between 5-10% this year (2020), the biggest ever annual fall in emissions, larger than the global financial crisis, second world war and the energy crisis in the 80s put together.
However, preventing climate change is not all that simple. To put it into context, in the Paris Agreement the world committed to keeping global warming to 1.5°C , a target that requires global emissions to fall by 7.6% every year this decade. It’s quite sobering that the massive changes precipitated by Covid-19 may not be enough to meet that goal.
So how does agriculture fit in? While there have been some challenges to the food supply chain, labour and farm practices, Covid-19 has also brought into stark relief just how important food production and domestic food security is.
It’s acknowledged by the Committee on Climate Change, the United Nations and the UK Government that we can meet our climate change targets without agriculture reducing its emissions to zero. The sectors reliant on fossil fuels, like transport and energy, are the priority here, although that’s not to say that agriculture doesn’t have a role to play.
As we transition to a low emissions economy, the agriculture industry is in a good position to demonstrate how businesses can thrive, reduce emissions and promote environmental outcomes. There has been a huge amount of work already going into practices that reduce GHG emissions, alongside a move towards land management schemes that prioritise both food and environmental outcomes. We must continue this momentum.
Top ten tips to reach net zero
1. Measure your carbon footprint
A farm carbon footprint, or carbon account, measures the total amount and source of GHGs emitted on a farm and the amount of carbon absorbed through activities that sequester carbon, removing it from the atmosphere. From this, a land manager can highlight areas where improvements or changes can be made to reduce total emissions or increase sequestration.
2. Look into options for renewable energy
Many farms and rural businesses have installed renewable energy in recent years encouraged by government incentives, rising energy costs and the falling cost of technology. Some do so to cover their own energy supplies and others are able to produce more power than they need and can sell it back to the grid. There may be options on your land to install wind turbines, solar photovoltaic panels, ground source heat pumps, micro-hydro systems or biomass and bioenergy.
3. Plant trees
Large or small scale, trees are a big part of the solution to climate change. For CLA members this could mean planting hedgerows, shelter belts, looking to options for agro- forestry or planting new woodlands. Do you have field margins that could be planted? River banks that could benefit from shrubs or trees?
4. Look into the grant schemes available
There are a number of different grant schemes incentivising agricultural productivity, tree planting, renewable energy solutions and water management options. These can be looked into on the gov.uk website, or contact the CLA for more information.
5. Harness technological solutions
There is a wealth of technological resources available online, for example the carbon calculators already listed, however there are also options to harness new technology on-farm. Innovative programmes using robots or drones alongside precision agriculture smartphone apps all aim to change the way we use inputs, like fertilisers and pesticides, and also help reduce reliance on fossil fuels and use water more efficiently.
6. Investigate regenerative agriculture techniques
Regenerative agriculture, or conservation farming, has been gaining an increasing amount of attention in the UK. The principles of regenerative agriculture include limiting soil disturbance, building biodiversity, keeping soil covered and integrating livestock. These techniques often result in lower emissions and increased carbon storage so incorporating some of these measures across a farm, even just over a couple of fields, can make a big difference.
7. Measure your soil health
Healthy soils have more capacity to store and absorb carbon taking it out of the atmosphere. UK soils store more than 10 billion tonnes of carbon, and it is the biggest terrestrial carbon sink. There are a number of companies that test soil health, but you can also undertake visual evaluation to get a rough estimate. More information on this can be found in the guidance note GN24-19.
8. Retrofit your buildings with insulation
Both farm and residential buildings may be able to be retrofitted with insulation to increase energy efficiency. Alongside this an efficient heating system, renewable energy options and careful energy use can greatly reduce emissions from energy on a farm.
9. Look at your supply chain
When undertaking a carbon footprint, the CLA usually recommends keeping your assessment ‘within the farm gate’ as those are the elements of the operation you have the most control over. However, that’s not to say you can’t look up and down the supply chain, choosing to work with suppliers or customers who have undertaken carbon footprints of their own or are doing work in a sustainable and fair trade way.
10 Read the CLA climate change factsheet
The CLA published a member briefing on climate change earlier this year. Understanding the big picture on climate change and land use can make a big difference in knowing how to tackle the problem. The factsheet goes into detail on some of the trickier issues, including emissions from livestock, tree planting and soil carbon