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Agriculture, achieving net-zero emissions inquiry launched

31 July 2019

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee inquiry examines how agriculture can achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 whilst maintaining food production. It will also look at how those affected in farming communities can be supported through the transition fairly.

Reaching ‘net-zero' greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions

In June 2019, the Government legally committed the UK to reaching ‘net-zero' greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. The agriculture sector accounts for approximately 10% of the UK's GHG emissions, and many of the options for absorbing carbon emissions such as planting trees or restoring peatland involve changes to the use of land. Therefore, achieving net-zero will pose significant challenges for farming and farming communities.

Climate change

Climate change is also a major risk for UK agriculture. For example, farmers already face water shortages, heat stress on livestock, and crop loss owing to hotter summers. More intense rainfall will mean accelerated soil erosion and more flooding. Sea-level rise could also lead to substantial losses in crop production from low-lying areas.

Reduce agricultural GHGs

The Committee on Climate Change has argued that existing policies are not working, as agriculture's contribution to UK GHG emissions remains virtually unchanged at 10% since 2008. It has therefore called for stronger action to reduce agricultural GHGs and a better land strategy to fully deal with the challenge of climate change.

Chair's comments

Neil Parish MP, Chair of the Committee said:

“Climate change is a huge threat to farming in the UK. Agriculture must play its part in getting to net-zero emissions, and that will involve tough choices. But, we must do it in a way that maintains food production in the UK. If we don't, farmers and the public won't support the actions that we need to take, and we risk seeing higher emissions in other countries as they produce food to sell to us.

“We therefore want to explore what are the most practical ways that agriculture can achieve net-zero emissions, and how we best support the farming communities who are going to be affected by the transition.” 

Terms of reference

1. How could 20% of UK agricultural land be repurposed to increase forest cover, restore peatlands, implement catchment-sensitive farming and enable agricultural diversification, whilst maintaining current levels of food production?

a. Are there other practical and economic ways for the agriculture sector to achieve net zero emissions?

2. How important will the financial payments proposed under the Agriculture Bill be to incentivise actions to reduce, capture and store GHG emissions, and how should the payments system be designed?

3. What support, skills, training and information will land managers need to adapt and thrive; and how should this be provided and funded?

4. How could innovative technologies and farming practices help the agriculture sector achieve net zero? Are they currently commercially viable or is there a viable path to market for them?

5. What impacts would large-scale changes in land-use have on rural communities and how should the transition be managed to achieve sustainable and just economic, environmental and social outcomes?

6. What impact would encouraging a shift in diets towards lower red meat and dairy consumption have on agriculture, and how could any negative impacts be mitigated?

7. How can any reduction in UK-agricultural GHG emissions be achieved without ‘offshoring' emissions to other countries via increases in the consumption of imported foods in the UK?

The deadline for written submissions is 30 September 2019. Submissions can be submitted through the agriculture, achieving net-zero emissions inquiry page.

Further information

Image: Borisshin/Wikimedia Commons