UK must reach Net Zero target by 2050
Today (2 May 2019), the government Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published a report on how the UK can have ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to meet the urgent need to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5C.
The report sets out an ambitious target for the UK to reduce emissions in the next 30 years and suggests that if the UK is to meet its climate goals there will need to be “fundamental changes to how land is used”.
What is net zero?
‘Net zero’ means that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to zero. To reach net zero, emissions will have to fall to the point where the small amounts that are inevitably emitted are balanced and cancelled out by what it absorbed and/or stored by natural processes or new technologies. Click here and jump to our video explainer on what 'net zero' is.
What does the Committee on Climate Change report say about how UK agriculture will need to change?
- Agriculture one of the most emitting sectors
Implementing low-carbon practices within the way we currently use land can offer some emissions reduction by improved farming practices, such as better soil and livestock management, but agriculture would still be one of the most emitting sectors.
- We need to plant more trees
the current target of 20,000 hectares of new forest a year is not being delivered and the voluntary approach – where land managers are encouraged to plant trees – is not working.
- The upcoming Agriculture Bill can redirect farm subsidies towards public goods
These can be used to support the transition in land use and farming needed to hit the net zero target.
- A change in land use
“A 20% reduction in consumption of beef, lamb, and dairy which is replaced by an increase in consumption of pork, poultry, and plant-based products. In combination with an improvement in arable yields and grazing intensity this would release land for increased afforestation [forest cover]…peatland restoration…and the growing of energy crops”.
- Eat less meat and more plant-based products
“Shifts towards healthier diets relying less on carbon-intensive animal products (like lamb, beef and dairy) would bring down emissions from agriculture in the UK. Transitioning from a high-meat diet to a low-meat diet can enable a person to reduce their dietary emissions.”
What does the Soil Association think about the report?
Gareth Morgan, Head of Policy (Farming and Land Use) says
“It’s clear that deep and radical changes are needed to the way we farm and manage the land – farmers should be seen as part of the solution and must be supported to make the transition to climate-friendly farming systems.
“Ample scientific evidence shows that a transition to green farming systems, like organic, agroforestry and silvopasture, would dramatically reduce agricultural emissions, while also supporting biodiversity, soil health and animal welfare. These changes, like improving soil health to lock in carbon, reducing reliance on fossil-fuel based fertilisers and adding more trees into the farmed landscape, can and must be implemented more widely.
“The CCC report also highlights that we must change what we eat, along with how produce it. Any reductions in agricultural emissions are only possible with changes to our diets and Government needs to support this change.
“The CCC’s call to increase intensively reared pork and chicken consumption in place of ruminant meat is completely counter-productive, as it simply offshores the UK’s emissions. Yes, the number of sheep and cattle on the land will need to be reduced, but a smaller, higher-quality ruminant sector still has a vital role to play in nurturing soil health and biodiversity. The focus must be on eating less but better meat, re-orienting diets around plant-based proteins and grass-fed livestock.”