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The Net Zero strategy forgets the urgent nature of an emergency

The Net Zero strategy is devoid of urgency

Today, the Government have launched their Net Zero strategy. What will it mean for agricultural and food policy?

This is an emergency – but you wouldn’t know it from the government’s new Net Zero strategy. As it relates to food and agriculture, it is devoid of urgency.

Vague statements on emerging technology take priority over concrete commitments to agroecological solutions. Perhaps feed additives with methane inhibiting properties will help to reduce emissions from housed cattle. Perhaps innovations in alternative proteins will shift the balance of the UK diet, as the strategy suggests.

But we don’t have time to speculate.

The recent National Food Strategy called for an urgent transition to nature-friendly, agroecological farming and sustainable diets – the Net Zero strategy falls short in helping to deliver that ambition.

There are welcome elements to the strategy. The government has signalled its ongoing support for agroforestry and tree planting. It has recognised the damaging impacts of nitrate and ammonia pollutants from slurry, generated in vast volumes by intensive livestock systems. Nods towards expanding legislative prohibitions on the burning of peat bogs are welcome, as is the suggestion that regulation might be introduced to curtail the use of manufactured nitrogen fertilisers. The government is also considering new legislative powers to improve soil management and nutrient management.

Great. But it’s difficult to conclude that the government’s approach to food and farming is cohesive or sufficiently ambitious.

The Net Zero strategy poses as many questions as it answers.

Is the government pursuing a trade agenda that supports the UK’s climate ambitions? Does the strategy’s emphasis on bioenergy align with the government’s purported intent to protect nature and restore soil health? Is the environmental land management scheme fit for purpose?

The Climate Change Committee has said that Net Zero won’t be attainable without a change in our diets, including a sizable reduction in the consumption of poultry meat – why is the government trying to dodge the difficult public conversation on dietary change?

With COP26 on the horizon, this strategy represents a positive step forward, but it feels more like a tottering baby step than the meaningful stride we need.

The National Food Strategy called for an urgent transition to agroecological or nature-friendly farming and sustainable diets – but the strategy falls short in helping to deliver this ambition.

What are the key commitments for agriculture and land-use, as they’re framed in the strategy?

 

  • 75% of farmers in England will be engaged in low carbon practices by 2030, rising
    to 85% by 2035. Government is introducing farming schemes, including the new
    environmental land management schemes, which will provide a powerful vehicle for
    achieving net zero, and goals of the 25 Year Environment Plan.
  • Increase investment in industry-led research and development into solutions to
    help deliver net zero in agriculture and horticulture, including through the Farming
    Innovation Programme.
  • Treble woodland creation rates by the end of this Parliament, reflecting England’s
    contribution to meeting the UK’s overall target of increasing planting rates to 30,000
    hectares per year by the end of this Parliament and maintain new planting at least
    at this level from 2025 onwards. We will explore a long-term statutory tree target in
    England within the public consultation on Environment Bill targets.
  • We will boost the existing £640 million Nature for Climate Fund with a further
    £124 million of new money, ensuring total spend of more than £750 million by
    2025 on peat restoration, woodland creation and management. This will enable
    more opportunities for farmers and landowners to support net zero through land
    use change.
  • Restore at least 35,000 hectares of peatlands in Englad by 2025, through the
    Nature for Climate Fund. Restore approximately 280,000 hectares of peat
    in England by 2050, including via funding from the new environmental land
    management schemes.
  • Mobilise private investment into tree planting, including through the Woodland
    Carbon Code, with the support of government’s Woodland Carbon Guarantee,
    and into peat restoration through implementing a package of reforms to the
    Peatland Code.
  • We will work with key stakeholders to develop a policy roadmap to increase the
    use of timber in construction in England, and will create a cross-government and
    industry working group tasked with identifying key actions to safely increase timber
    use and reduce embodied carbon.
  • To support our commitment to explore options for the near elimination of
    biodegradable municipal waste to landfill from 2028, we are bringing forward £295
    million of capital funding which will allow local authorities in England to prepare to
    implement free separate food waste collections for all households from 2025.
  • Complete a review of the F-gas Regulation and assess whether we can go further
    than the current requirements and international commitments, including by looking
    at what additional reductions in F-gas use can be made to help the UK meet net
    zero by 2050.
  • Through the Environment Bill we will legislate for Local Nature Recovery Strategies –
    a new system of spatial strategies that will map proposals for improving or creating
    habitat for nature and wider environmental benefits, helping to deliver net zero
    objectives.
  • Biodiversity co-benefits and other environmental objectives are maximised alongside
    decarbonisation.