Last week, the Sustainable Food Trust submitted written evidence to the Committee on Climate Change’s inquiry into “Building a zero-carbon economy”. The goal of the inquiry was to provide advice to the UK and devolved administrations on the UK’s transition to a net zero-carbon economy. This shift towards a carbon neutral future is essential if we are to stay within the 2 degree limit as agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. The UK needs to achieve at least an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions before 2050, based on 1990 levels.

Previous reports from the Committee on Climate Change identified agriculture as a sector that will find it particularly hard to reduce emissions to close to zero. Our response focused on the need to adopt a whole-farm approach to farm policy, which integrates efficient and sustainable food production with practices that maintain and enhance natural and human capital.

The Sustainable Food Trust supports the UK Government’s objective to design a new agriculture support system that reintegrates food systems with the natural environment and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Such an approach could have multiple benefits including (but not limited to) climate change mitigation.

To achieve the systemic shift towards more sustainable farming methods, we need to unlock the barriers to change since the current business model means that most farmers have no option but to employ agricultural practices that do not serve the public interest in terms of its impacts on the environment. Through the new Agriculture Bill framework, the UK Government has the opportunity to create the economic conditions where farmers are financially supported for adopting climate mitigating practices, which can then emerge as the most profitable and economically-viable way of producing food.

However, it is critical that the entirety of the farm be managed in a sustainable manner if farmers are to receive support payments. If farmers enter only part of their farm into an Environmental Land Management contract while continuing to manage large areas in a highly intensive way that does not reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they should not be eligible for payments. By allowing a piecemeal approach of greening only the edges of fields and isolated areas of good practices within deserts of intensive agriculture, we will not achieve the systemic shift in farming that is needed to meet the threat of climate change. Only by shifting practices towards production systems that avoid damage to the environment (while maintaining and building natural capital) can we hope to achieve net zero.

The SFT will continue to work on the need to create a new vision for the future of farming that its more sustainable and keeps within ecosystem limits. We will continue to raise these points with Government and act as a catalyst for public discussions.

 

Photograph: Panoramas

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