Sustainable agriculture can play role in climate change battle - Jon Robertson

All eyes were on Glasgow earlier this month as the host of COP26 and the resulting Glasgow Climate Pact is the first ever climate deal to explicitly plan to reduce coal.

Jon Robertson is Partner and Head of Land and Property, Turcan Connell

But the Scottish and UK governments are increasingly recognising the part that sustainable agriculture can play in limiting global temperatures to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Global Methane Pledge

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The Global Methane Pledge commits signatories to reducing global methane emissions by at least 30 per cent by 2030, and shows that the role of agriculture in climate change is not to be ignored. More than 100 countries signed the pledge at COP26 in what has been termed a ‘methane moment’. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, up to 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the planet. With livestock being a major contributor to its production, there is increasing pressure to explore how improved manure management systems, anaerobic digestors, vaccines, composting and other mitigation strategies can reduce emissions.

Emissions reduction targets

Agriculture contributes around one quarter of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions. A 2021 report by the Arable Climate Change Group (ACCG) states that a 31 per cent reduction in agricultural emissions is required by 2032, as part of the overall target for Scotland of a 75 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (compared with 1990 levels) and a net zero target for 2045. These overall targets are enshrined in the UK government’s statement of nationally determined contributions under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Meat consumption

The Scottish Government has already created farmer-led groups to develop advice and proposals on how the farming sector can cut emissions and tackle climate change more generally, including the Suckler Beef Climate Group and the ACCG. The farming sector is under some pressure to reposition its image at a time when the new food strategy for England has recommended a 30 per cent reduction in meat consumption over the next decade and with recent reports in The Lancet verifying that a change in consumer behaviour is already underway. In years to come the sector may find itself under competition from plant-based meat or even, if costs come down and in the longer term, cell-based meat grown in laboratories! Further income support schemes for agriculture in Scotland (to replace the EU’s common agricultural policy) are likely to be linked to ‘climate-smart agriculture’ including some of the measures suggested by these groups.

Deforestation in supply chains

At COP26, as well as more than 100 leaders pledging to end deforestation by 2030, governments representing 75 per cent of global trade in forest-threatening commodities have also signed up to a new Forests, Agriculture and Commodity Trade Statement. It is expected that the implementing legislation will require greater due diligence from businesses and make it illegal for them to use key commodities such as soya, palm oil or cocoa if not produced in line with local laws protecting forests and other natural ecosystems.

Implementation

Decisions made at COP26 affecting the agricultural sector will gradually be translated into policies and legislation at the national and international level. It is therefore critical that stakeholders anticipate and are aware of the latest developments as regulations begin to keep pace with changing market norms.

Jon Robertson is Partner and Head of Land and Property, Turcan Connell