Environment and Land Use Manager Blog - 12 March 2019

Agriculture may be in the spotlight in the context of climate change, but Scottish farming is part of the solution writes Environment and Land Use Policy Manager Andrew Midgley.

We’ve seen international reports emphasise the need for an acceleration in efforts to reduce emissions if we are to limit warming to 1.5 degrees and others urging individuals to reduce their red meat intake to achieve this.

We’ve also seen the Committee on Climate Change point the finger at agriculture and highlight that emissions have not been reducing enough to meet existing targets.

So, the pressure is really on.

But this is so much more than an issue where farming is simply criticised in the press. It is potentially an existential issue for many in farming as tackling climate change has the potential to change the shape of Scottish farming.

Climate change really matters to Scotland’s farmers and crofters as they are on the front line in dealing with changes in weather patterns and storm events.

But because farming contributes greenhouse gas emissions, it must be seen as part of the solution.  We absolutely want to play our role in helping to deliver that in practice.

The Scottish Government has been promoting climate friendly farming practices through its Farming for a Better Climate initiative and we very much support that.  Indeed, we would encourage Holyrood to expand that programme so that it has a much greater effect.

In reality, farmers and crofters are already playing their part – but receiving scant credit for that.

There has been a great deal of focus on how agricultural emissions have not reduced enough. This can lead to the idea that farmers are somehow sticking their heads in the sand.

But part of the problem is that the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) inventory does not properly reflect the complexity of farming in Scotland.

There is a list of things that count as agriculture and so are counted in agricultural emissions and those are things like emissions from livestock or fertiliser application and so on.

But many farmers also have small woodlands or and an increasing number have renewable energy projects and those things are counted in another category.

So, although agricultural emissions are pointed to as not declining, this does not necessarily reflect the full role of farming as an industry.

That’s not to say that agricultural emissions can’t come down, it’s just to highlight the problems with the inventory. That makes farmers feel like they are misrepresented in this debate from the start, which is not a good place to be if we are seeking buy in and commitment to change.

There is a great deal of discussion about targets. Should the national target in the current Climate Change Bill in Parliament be to reduce emissions from 1990 levels by 90% or should we establish a target to achieve ‘net zero’?

That is a difficult issue. Some will want to see the target being as stretching as possible so that action is pushed along.

But to some degree the discussion of targets and arguing over 10% is a distraction. It can simply end up pitting different interests against one and other when we need to be working together with a real sense of purpose and deciding how we are going to move forward to reduce emissions without fundamentally undermining the farming industry and our wider food and drink ambitions.

There are lots of things that can be done in farming, but in order to move positively in that direction we need to avoid a polarisation of views with different interests working against one another.

And we need to start from where the farming industry is today. Whilst there are lots that can be done in to reduce emissions, much of what can be done will entail investment to change practice in order to enhance the delivery of public goods.

So farming is part of the solution and we need all parties to recognise that farmers and crofters are already playing a part in the bigger picture.  And we need to avoid inflicting damaging change on the industry so that farming is retained in areas where it delivers all sorts of other benefits.

Farming has an important role to play; all parties with an interest in climate change just need to be careful about how we move forward together.


Author: Andrew Midgley

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About The Author

Andrew Midgley

Andrew joined NFUS in June 2018 as Environment and Land Use Policy Manager. Andrew seeks to influence the content and implementation of environmental legislation as it relates to Scottish agriculture. Some subject areas include water quality, NVZs, climate change, flooding, and biodiversity and wildlife management. Prior to joining NFUS he worked in Scottish Land & Estates on a wide range of policy topics including CAP reform, agricultural holdings, forestry and crofting. He also worked in SRUC where he helped establish the Rural Policy Centre and in SNH where he worked on the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh which focused on the culture of nature conservation in Scotland.

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