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Delivering the 'Nationally Determined Contribution' through sustainable farming

Written by Honor Eldridge

In October, the Soil Association, Pasture For Life Association, the Floodplain Meadows Partnership and the Sustainable Food Trust published a report into how sustainable farming can deliver reduced emissions and help to meet the UK’s climate targets. 

At Glasgow’s COP26, the UK Government put forward a target for reducing emissions, known as the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) and committed to reducing economy wide GHG emissions by at least 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) detailed how the UK government would achieve this climate commitment in their 6th Carbon Budget. The budget covers the entire economy, however, there are specific concerns regarding proposed changes to the farming and land-use sector. 

The primary focus of the report finds that the CCC, and by extension the UK Government, should consider taking a more holistic approach and employing agroecological principles. The potential for agroecology to reduce net emissions and improve biodiversity and nature recovery has been demonstrated by the French research group IDDRI, with initial projections estimating a 38% reduction by 2030 and 100% reduction by 2050.  Nature-based solutions (NbS) would both tackle climate change by reducing carbon emissions as well as improving public and animal health, improving soil quality and enabling the creation of green jobs. Importantly, the government should also take action to highlight and adequately distinguish them rather than view all producers as a one-dimensional group. This would help inform the discussion on reduced meat and dairy consumption, developing sustainable consumer behaviour and reducing net emissions.

The second concern voiced is the CCC’s binary approach to land management. Sustainable intensification (or “land-sparing” approach) is put forward as the solution to meeting the demand for food production while reducing overall agricultural land use, a large-scale producer of GHG emissions. This is likely to drive further industrialisation on non-spared land in order to meet yield demands, with an increase in synthetic nitrogen fertilisers and pesticides as well as increasing stocking rates for livestock farmers. The projected yields used by the CCC in this land-sparing scenario fail to take into account climate change impacts on yield and productivity, so there is no guarantee that market demand would be fulfilled, even with the intensification of remaining agricultural land. 

The full report is available here.