How would the Committee for Climate Change’s recommendations affect British agriculture?

Released last week, the CCC’s report claims the UK can eliminate its carbon footprint in 30 years.

7 May 2019

  • The Committee for Climate Change (CCC) suggests that the UK government should aim to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 – a more ambitious target compared to the previous goal of 80% reduction on 1990 levels. The CCC claims this is possible using existing technology and within the budget already set by Parliament.
  • While admitting that agriculture is one of the most challenging areas to cut greenhouse gases (GHGs), the CCC believes that it should be feasible to reduce these pollutants in the sector by an additional 40% compared to its original scenario (published in 2015).
  • Three major levers are proposed to make this happen: increased agricultural productivity, reduction of food waste, and the shift in diets away from red meat and dairy.
  • Land freed up by reduced meat production could then be used for afforestation (aka tree planting), which is an effective method of removing GHGs from the atmosphere. The report also highlights peatland restoration as a secondary measure.
  • To reach the projected cut in carbon emissions, the CCC says around 30,000 hectares of trees need to be planted per year – a figure the body alleges is achievable if afforestation rates in the 1980s are anything to go by, though it would mean a substantial increase compared to current levels.
  • Chewing over the facts around changing eating habits, the CCC estimates that there could be a 20% drop in the consumption of lamb, beef and dairy by 2050 thanks to the rise of flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets. This would positively affect climate change in two ways: less animals producing GHGs and the opportunity to turn livestock land towards tree planting.
  • However, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has stated that it is against limiting meat production. The organisation says that methods used to raise UK livestock have less impact on the environment than in less developed countries and so any excess meat available due to changing British diets should be exported. The NFU also noted that it has already set its own industry target of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.

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