Agriculture’s progress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been described as “glacial” in a damning independent report that says the government is not on track to meet its net-zero target by 2050.
The Climate Change Committee (CCC) 2022 progress report to parliament concludes that agriculture and land use have the weakest policies, despite being vital to delivering net-zero emissions.
In further criticism of the government’s recently published food strategy, the CCC said the plan did little to address farming’s slow progress on reversing climate change, which must now be remedied in the new land use framework promised next year.
Lord Deben, the CCC chairman, said: “I welcome the government’s restated commitment to net zero, but holes must be plugged in its strategy urgently.”
UK greenhouse gas emissions were 447m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in 2021, including the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions.
This was 47% below 1990 levels and 10% down on the figure for 2019.
But the CCC’s latest available data for agriculture and land use show that emissions were 50m tonnes of CO2e in 2020, representing 12% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions and a reduction of just 4% on 2019.
The report says agriculture and land use “urgently need” a decarbonisation strategy to match those of other sectors, and that limited progress has been made since last year.
It adds that agri-environment schemes to reward farmers for meeting climate targets remain “incomplete and lack detail”.
Defra must therefore ensure funding and incentives are good enough to encourage farmers to adopt low-carbon practices, and meet tree-planting and peat restoration goals.
In response, Defra said its Environmental Land Management scheme would be the catalyst to achieving the goals of the 25-year Environment Plan and to meet net-zero emissions by 2050.
The Soil Association recommended a “rapid shift” to nature-friendly farming across the UK.
“Evidence shows that agroecology can help us create a productive, diverse food system that is resilient in the face of a changing climate,” said head of farming policy Gareth Morgan.
He added: “Despite a weak and disappointing food White Paper published this month, the commitment to a Rural Land Use Framework is a key opportunity to set a clear direction for how we ensure our farm land is locking in carbon and providing habitats for nature, while also producing good food.”
NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy warned there was a “significant risk” land use policies to support climate change mitigation will increase “carbon leakage” – where the UK offshores emissions and environmental stewardship responsibilities.
“Looking to the future, it is vital that agriculture, land use and biodiversity policies are holistic, practical, properly funded, and realistic,” Mr Kennedy said.