The news has been dominated by the waves of fire ripping through east Australia’s sun scorched bush, leaving a blackened shadow of what was a living landscape; trees, wildlife, homes, hopes for the future and tragically lives overwhelmed by a relentless tide of flame.
Climate data released in the last few days has confirmed the last decade recorded a further increase in average world temperatures and across the UK, climate change protests have reignited, with oil and energy companies targeted as responsible for fueling the man-made climate crisis.
Glasgow as host of COP26 has adopted ambitious zero carbon targets for the city.
Climate Change is increasingly at the centre of both the public and political consciousness.
In response the media has re-heated the headline climate policy options with sound bites from experts. Blame focused on fossil fuels, our transport choices, animal protein in the western diet and livestock farming.
The pressure on politicians for action is building.
The reality is that we in the developed world have all lived with, and benefited from the carbon based economy, including cheap and available food. If there is to be meaningful change we all must take blame and responsibility. Solutions are complex and will rely on multiple interventions.
Agriculture will be at the centre of the 2045 net zero carbon economy in Scotland but must also have a role in supporting communities, landscapes and biodiversity.
Managing change is not easy, top-down policy delivery in agriculture is a blunt tool; it can drive change but it is likely to build on a rigid regulatory framework and rely heavily on land-use change to achieve carbon targets.
Giving individual producers the space to develop their own low carbon system within a framework of best practice options is likely to drive change more quickly. Developing systems at farm level is likely to fit better with soil types, farm resources and local biodiversity priorities while remaining focused on quality food production even when sequestration is also a key part of the business activity. There are smart solutions that can transform Scottish farming but different solutions are needed on different units.
A producer led approach should be a priority but needs the commitment of the farming community; the low carbon challenge must win the hearts and minds of those who work on the ground if it is to gain traction.
The present national and international carbon auditing systems are a barrier to farmers, crofters and land managers adopting a proactive carbon management approach. Rigid sectoral siloes exclude agro-forestry, farm forestry and other sequestration assets from the agricultural count. On farm renewable energy is excluded from agriculture’s carbon footprint. In Scotland ruminants contribute a significant level of farming’s emissions under current carbon accounting standards despite the reduction in the national herd and flock. The developing understanding of the decay of methane in the atmosphere raises questions over that assessment and the use of the additive GWP100 multiplier as applied to methane in quantifying enteric emissions.
The present carbon assessment system for agriculture is flawed.
An auditing system at national level which reflects the diversity of activity on farms and a system which reflects developing climate and sequestration science is key to building industry confidence and a commitment to investing in change.
The understanding of low carbon management options is growing with exciting developments likely to emerge from researchers over the next few years. Some options have a positive cost benefit others however require investment in new infrastructure or machinery to mitigate emissions without a positive cost benefit. In-line with other sectors, a commitment from government to introduce transition investment support to underpin the introduction of low/zero carbon capital investments is now a priority.
A capital investment scheme is a vital bridge to a new generation of low carbon production and emission management systems. It has the potential to unlock investment from a range of businesses and move them to a new level of carbon efficiency. Collaborative investment in waste management or linking greenhouse systems with livestock units have potential, schemes may involve clusters of producers. A similar collaborative approach to habitat management or woodland development opens the door to meaningful connectivity and can add value to ecosystems and the economy. A support scheme needs to be designed to underpin these approaches.
Government has a vital role in building confidence in the low carbon journey, that intervention is needed now to kick-start change.