Nature must be central in CCC report
Today (23rd January), the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has published a new report – “Land Use: Policies for a Net Zero UK”.
The report comes at a time when farming, land use and its impact on climate change is under the spotlight like never before.
This CCC report will be a major influence on what farmers will be rewarded for doing to adapt to climate change. And we’re calling for nature to be given equal emphasis in shaping the future of post-Brexit farm support, as farming and land use is also the primary driver of global insect decline and the biodiversity crash.
What does the CCC report say?
There is so much to welcome in the CCC’s report:
- Our “dietary footprint” needs to be radically reduced
The Committee is right to say that our diets need to change and to highlight the crucial role that public settings like schools and hospitals have to play. The Government should use the ongoing reviews of the School Food Standards and Hospital Food to re-balance menus around ‘less and better’ meat and ‘more and better’ plants.
- We need a revolution in farmer-led tree planting
The Committee signals a tree planting (agroforestry) revolution. The report calls for public funding and removal of tax barriers to incentivise tree planting on farms. We are working with the Farm Woodland Forum and the Woodland Trust to accelerate the take-up of agroforestry.
Farmer-led tree planting can start tomorrow, unlike Bioenergy and Carbon Capture and Storage, which is unproven and which the Committee rightly acknowledges can “have negative impacts on biodiversity, soil health, water quality and invasive species”.
- Encourage farmer-led research and development, and no intensification of farming
The Committee calls for sustainable productivity growth to be “driven by good agronomy practices and crop breeding rather than intensification of farming (which would involve increasing inputs onto land).” This points to an important role for agroecological methods of farming as used on organic farms, which work with nature and minimise reliance on chemical inputs.
We welcome the Committee’s call for an effective strategy for skills, training and knowledge exchange and “delivering R&D at farm level.” We’re a leading partner in the Innovative Farmers network, which is already proving this approach works. The network has actively engaged more than 300 farms in on-farm trials known as field labs, and 25% of farmers involved have reported changing their farming practices as a result.
- Trade deals must align with low-carbon farming
The Committee makes clear that “delivering emissions reduction should not be at the expense of increasing food imports that risk ‘carbon leakage’” and stresses the crucial importance of protecting higher UK food and farming standards in trade deals. We remain concerned that international climate accounting rules bias the Committee towards the UK’s production-based emissions rather than our consumption emissions, and that this creates a blind spot for imported animal feed and fertiliser manufacture.
What could the Climate Change Committee report do better?
Nature is not at the heart of this climate-led land use plan. The CCC needs to join the dots between climate, nature and land degradation.
As Chair of the UN’s IPBES global assessment of biodiversity and land degradation , Sir Bob said:
“Governments have focused on climate change far more than they have focused on loss of biodiversity or land degradation. All three are equally important to human wellbeing."
The UK’s State of Nature 2019 report and global evidence of insect decline has underlined the importance of pesticide reduction and a shift away from monocultures to more mixed farming to restore abundant farmland wildlife and soil life.
In response, Jo Lewis, Soil Association Policy Director, said:
“We welcome the Climate Change Committee’s call for farmer-led tree planting, as well as their warning against further intensification of farming. But with the global insect decline and wider biodiversity crisis, much more is needed to make nature central to climate action.
“The UK has made clear that nature will be at the heart of the United Nations’ COP26, so it will be crucial to our credibility to show we have placed nature at the heart of our climate plan for land use.
“To join the dots between climate, nature and land degradation, government must support all farms to transition to agroecological farming methods, pioneered by organic farmers, which work with nature and minimise chemical reliance.
“While the Committee is right to say that our diets need to change and to highlight the crucial role that public settings like schools and hospitals can play, it should go further to recommend a reduction in soy-fed meat that is driving deforestation. We need ‘less but better’ meat, sourced from organic and agroecological farms, and an end to intensively farmed meat.”
Our work to influence the Climate Change Committee report
We work closely to engage and influence the Climate Change Committee and the recommendations within their reports. Recently we’ve organised visits to organic farms so that they can see first-hand the work pioneering organic farmers are doing to farm with nature.
We’re encouraged to see that this has resulted in a change from their last report, when they encouraged an increase in grain-fed white meat. Instead, there has been a positive shift towards the important role that the government must play to support dietary change and climate-friendly farming.
We have the solution
French think tank IDDRI has modelled a ‘Ten Year Transition to Agroecology’ that would restore biodiversity and soil health, achieve similar net emission reductions to the CCC model and produce enough food to feed a growing population a healthy diet.
The key difference from the CCC plan is that IDDRI highlights the value of ruminants for conservation grazing and soil carbon and prioritises a diet shift away from intensively produced chicken and pork which drives deforestation and diverts two-thirds of crops to animal feed. Cutting grain-fed meat stops intensification pressure on farming and allows radical reduction in nitrous oxide emissions.
The UK has made clear that Nature will be at the heart of COP26 so it will be crucial to our credibility to show we have placed nature at the heart of our climate plan for land use. IDDRI’s ‘agroecological’ scenario therefore deserves serious consideration by the Climate Change Committee, Natural England and the Environment Agency.