Horizon blog: How does farming achieve net zero?

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

AHDB’s Head of Environment, Dr Jonathan Foot addressed the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum this morning (23 June 2021), to outline how the UK’s agriculture sector can help deliver the changes required to land use and reach the Government’s target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Latest figures show that land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) are currently the only sector absorbing more carbon from the atmosphere than it is emitting. So in order to drive down emissions, the carbon this land is absorbing needs to be boosted, and quickly. As farmers and growers are the primary guardians of this land, this puts the agriculture sector at the heart of achieving this.

So what are these changes to LULUCF? Well, a report from the UK Climate Change Committee (UKCCC) states that:

  • By 2035, 460,000 hectares of new mixed woodland are planted to remove carbon dioxide and deliver wider environmental benefits
  • 260,000 hectares of farmland shifts to producing energy crops
  • Woodland rises from 13 per cent to 18 per cent by 2050
  • Peatlands are widely restored and managed sustainably

Currently, practices to change land use and increase forests are done on a voluntary basis, through the likes of initiatives such as the Countryside Stewardship scheme. While these schemes have proved popular over the past few decades - with successes in driving tree and hedgerow planting, wildflower meadow creation and much more - such schemes need to go way beyond this voluntary approach in order to achieve the changes outlined by the UKCCC report.

But the reality is planting trees and restoring habitats is expensive, so how can farmers and growers deliver these changes needed to LULUCF? Fortunately, the Government's new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) will launch farmers into such activities, as new farm payments are linked to fulfilling specific actions that meet local environmental priorities. While they are set to be trialled shortly, and farmers randomly selected to be part of the pilot have been notified, they will be fully rolled out in 2024.

What would really boost LULCF change is a join up between SFI and private carbon trading schemes, as farmers and growers could then be paid by other economic sectors or private businesses to do even more; to go even further to maximise on land absorbing carbon. It could also link particularly well to the Peatland Code and Woodland Carbon Code.

But what’s key with these other schemes is there needs to be greater clarity, with underpinning standards, as to who owns the carbon and to ensure the offsets are of good quality, as well as that risks and rewards for all contracting parties are fair and impartial.

Keep following this blog for further analysis of carbon offsetting and its implications for farmers and growers over the coming weeks.

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What are the Westminster Forums?

The forums organise senior-level conferences on a wide range of public policy areas. None of the forums has a policy agenda of its own, other than simply to raise the quality of debate on public policy developments and so create opportunities for informed discussion. Each forum is structured to facilitate the formulation of 'best' public policy by providing policymakers and implementers, and those with an interest in the issues, with a sense of the way different stakeholder perspectives interrelate. Usually this is through impartially-framed, inclusive discussion conducted either in public or under the Chatham House Rule. Forum conferences are frequently the platform for major policy statements from senior Ministers and regulators, Opposition spokesmen and leading opinion-formers in industry and interest groups. Conferences regularly receive prominent coverage in the national media and trade press.