Agriculture at risk in slow response to climate change

Agriculture risks being left behind in the race to address climate change and without urgent, practical measures could lose its reputation for high quality produce.

Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) has warned that detailed policy direction and suitable support is urgently required to stop the sector being left behind in the slipstream.

Responding to the public consultation on the recent update to Scotland’s Climate Plan, the landowners and rural business organisation said that while some progress had been made on cutting emissions, there was an urgent need for measures to enable agriculture to transition to a lower emissions future.

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“Significant strides have been made by rural businesses across Scotland over the last decade to both cut emissions and to improve carbon storage through increased tree planting and peat land restoration,” said Stephen Young, the SLE’s head of policy.

But he warned that as progress had slowed in recent years, the industry risked being left as one of the most polluting sectors - potentially damaging the reputation of Scottish produce. “No single decision can transform the environmental credentials of agriculture overnight but we do need to see action and more practical support given to farming businesses to enable change rather than it primarily being a discussion point for academics, policy and government officials.”

And he pointed to the Scottish government’s recent Sustainable Agriculture Capital Grant Scheme as an example of the sort of action which could deliver improvements to the natural environment.

Young said that management decisions over recent decades had been driven by Europe’s Common Agriculture Policy’s focus on production.

“There is now a huge opportunity for change over future decades – change which would have been required even if remained in the EU - but we need the detail for this imminently.”

However addressing Scotland’s Climate Assembly, NFUS vice president, Martin Kennedy said that steps were already being taken to address the issue.

“In global terms, Scotland is already starting from a good position, but we recognise that more can be done if we create opportunities for each sector to play its part.”

He said that for farmers, climate change mitigation and environmental enhancement were all linked: “From a Scottish perspective, if we take a holistic approach to all three of these issues and are given the right tools in the toolbox to address them, then we in Scotland will be in pole position to lead the world on how to reverse the current situation.”

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But he recognised that the sector would have to move faster to meet the targets set out by government, while still producing food profitably.

“If this is not managed carefully then we will simply offshore our emissions by way of imports from other countries who do not share the same concerns for climate change or the environment, not to mention the socio-economic impact this would have on many of our rural communities.”