COP 26: The Race to Zero can be joined at any stage

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

COP 26: Tuesday 9th November 2021, AHDB’s Head of Environment Dr Jonathan Foot address’s the UNFCCC and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) on the role of standardisation within measuring carbon. He outlines below how, unlike other races, the race to Net Zero can be joined at any stage.  It’s never too late.

The ‘Race To Zero’ is the United Nation’s global campaign to rally support from businesses and civil society, to mobilise action and commitments to achieving Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050.

In agriculture we have the NFU’s Net Zero Goals that aims to achieve Net Zero by 2040, the CIEL Net Zero Carbon & UK Livestock report and in the New Year, the AHDB, NFU and CHAP Net Zero Cropping Report.

Yet, despite these commitments and reports, the industry is making slow progress towards Net Zero. The problem isn’t  lack of action - we know lots of farmers already playing their part. The problem is being able to evidence and demonstrate this with good quality data that is holistic and measures all relevant parameters.

Data in the agriculture sector is not universal, it’s not transparent, tends to be binary (i.e., yes or no), is often unvalidated and tends to look in the rear-view mirror (lagging somewhat) rather than supporting and driving day to day decision making.

With this lack of standardisation, farmers are often required (and rightly frustrated) to provide the same data in multiple formats and means for their customers and suppliers. This all takes time; it can be complex and appears to add no value to the bottom line. So why should farmers do it?

Well under new proposals, UK companies will be required to publish Net Zero transition plans that detail how they will decarbonise - or face fines if they don’t. The gold standard for this reporting will be set by a new Transition Plan Taskforce.

Whilst this may not look relevant to agriculture (or only the big co-operatives producers), the retailers, banks and other supply chain actors will need data and evidence for their own returns. Likely pushing their requirements down the supply chain and onto farmers.

And this data has the greatest value on farm, through driving business decisions. Yes, there is a value to the supply chain but largely only as accumulated data. So even with data still not under any standardisation, but soon to become a supply chain necessity, it is time to join the race to Net Zero.

The first steps towards net zero are:

  1. Measure your carbon footprint using a carbon tool.
  2. Create a plan: Look at the options to eliminate greenhouse emissions and focus on the those that will give you the largest cost reductions or may enable you to expand your business. Do you need to change your business model, and if so, explore grants and other options to help with the transition.
  3. Communicate your plan: Talk to your customers and let them know you are working towards Net Zero. Being able to talk about something, even if its how you will measure and come up with a plan will be recognised and you may be able to garner goodwill or support.
  4. Keep measuring your progress towards Net Zero and using the same carbon tool you used in year one. Assess whether anything has changed (i.e. market requirements, legislation, the way you farm) and update the plan.
  5. Reduce inputs and increase efficiency of production. Lots of small changes rather than one big-bang approach are more likely to deliver sustainable results. This should save or make you money, this is where the value of your data lies. It helps you to make better business decisions.
  6. Keep everyone informed: Share your success and be honest about where things have gone less well. Not everything will work, especially in agriculture where the weather can have a significant impact.

We believe that in the future there will be a market for carbon and net gain offsets. Getting the basics as outlined above will set you up well so you can access this market, but for now its good for your business. The old adage from Peter Drucker “you can't manage what you can't measure” is often true!