Former NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller's Blog - 26 July 2019

As a member of the newly appointed climate change inquiry group, ‘Farming for 1.5 Degrees’, former NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller looks at the challenges faced by the group.

The UK’s journey towards a net zero carbon economy has been mapped out by the Climate Change Committee; the Scottish target of 2045 and England 2050. These are ambitious targets which deliver on international agreements and are underpinned by political consensus in both Westminster and Holyrood, A rare unity in the current political climate.

The climate change targets not only demonstrate real commitment but will ensure that climate science will be at the centre of all our activity going forward: milestones will manage a gradual adaptation and mitigation process.              
Targets however have a single dimension in a complex world; the sustainable use of resources, available and affordable food, biodiversity, and greater equality are all vital to a positive world for future generations.

Tackling climate change is at the top of the agenda, however it can not be a solution on its own.

Agriculture must contribute to our emission targets but food production for a growing population, soil health, water quality, and biodiversity must also be part of the future, part of a viable rural economy. In world terms water will be an increasingly important resource and may determine the focus of future food production.

The independent climate change inquiry ‘Farming for 1.5 Degrees’ was launched last month and is committed to providing a positive pathway for agriculture towards the 2045 target.

The aim is to identify a path to food production systems which will contribute to holding any temperature rise to 1.5 degrees but also a farming model that manages precious resources, provides a platform for biodiversity and generates the financial rewards needed to drive not only agriculture but the wider rural economy.

The inquiry has grown out of the food and community group Nourish, and sponsored by NFU Scotland, and aims to build a consensus between primary producers, wider society and consumers.

The group itself is diverse and brings science, policy development, economic, environmental, land-use and farming interests together in piloting an evidence based inquiry.

Mike Robinson CEO of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society as Co-Chair brings knowledge of climate change, experience in policy development, and a pragmatic commitment to delivering a positive roadmap for farming.

The members of the group have a range and depth of expertise which will be critical but innovative; their energy and commitment to a positive low carbon future for farming will ensure that any recommendations have been stress tested, elevating the value of the final report. This is a tough process but the input of those directly involved in farming provides vital expertise but also ensures any outputs will work for farmers.

This is a long term inquiry and the group aims to deliver their recommendations in the autumn of 2020.

The inquiry’s plan is to map out a staged adaptation process; an initial phase building on the existing production systems but identifying where efficiencies or evolving practice can reduce waste and reduce emissions. This work-stream will also identify how sequestration can fit into farming models.

In Scotland, Farming for a Better Climate has explored and demonstrated some of these approaches. In the Republic of Ireland a diverse menu of mitigation and efficiency measures provides producers with a range of options to fit different business profiles. At a national level the Irish menu is designed to take out a meaningful percentage of emissions.   

The second phase will focus on how new science, genetics, health management and technology can underpin future production systems and deliver significant reductions in green-house gases. Work will be focused around the climate change gases - Carbon dioxide and carbon sequestration, Nitrous oxide [including ammonia] and Methane, where accounting methodology is more complex due to its limited half-life in the atmosphere.

The third phase builds on phase one and two, mapping out how land use can support food production, provide sequestration and a platform for biodiversity. Clearly with potentially new production models including new technology and the need for sequestration there are real questions of change management and how investment is supported. Questions too as to how home production can be sheltered from products which have not been produced to the same quality and climate change standard. The inquiry will address those issues.

The fractures which surround trade policy and politics need to heal. If the UK is to move towards the 2040’s positively the Government and trade agreements will have a role in underpinning both the transformation and sustainability of farming and food production.

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