'COP26 effect' will benefit UK farm businesses as industry heads for net zero target

March 13, 2020

Farmers and rural business owners could benefit from the ‘COP26 effect’ as the Government pushes through a raft of new policy announcements ahead of the UN’s climate change talks in Glasgow later this year.

Dr Jonathan Scurlock, chief adviser on climate change and renewable energy at the NFU, highlighted the planned reopening of contracts for difference for wind and solar which could bring a resurgence in the sectors and proposals to introduce ‘greener’ E10 fuel which contains 90 per cent regular unleaded petrol and 10 per cent ethanol.


Speaking at a debate on ‘achieving net zero in agriculture’ at the Energy And Rural Business Show in Peterborough, he said: “I can smell the whiff of Glasgow in the air as we are seeing a number of policy announcements coming from Government because they realise they cannot go into hosting international climate talks empty handed.”


Highlighting the NFU’s pledge to achieve net zero in agriculture by 2040 – 10 years ahead of the Government’s wider target for the UK as a whole – he said the industry’s long held ambitions were now being reflected in opportunities in Government policy.


But Merlin Hyman, chief executive of energy consultancy Regen, said agriculture may have to go even further than net zero and achieve ‘net positive’ if the UK is to achieve its targets on climate change.


“Agriculture and land use is probably going to have to do more than net zero because it is going to need to capture carbon from other sectors, for example in industrial processes where we cannot remove them from,” said Mr Hyman.


“This is why it is crucial agriculture is seen as the solution.”


Patrick Holden, chief executive of the Sustainable Food Trust, praised the NFU for ‘setting the bar high and for showing fantastic leadership’ on net zero.


He said: “If the farming community follows that leadership we could provide a benchmark for others to follow across the world.”


However, in order for this to happen, the industry needed a ‘harmonised framework’ for sustainability assessment.

Currently, farms like Mr Holden’s in west Wales were subject to regular audits to calculate their sustainability impacts, with some taking the same data twice and the system being ‘overly bureaucratic’.


“I want to know how my farm is doing on the journey to net zero and sustainability as a whole and I still do not know if my farm is more sustainable than another," he added.


He said the data could then be transferred into food labelling schemes to allow consumers to make informed choices about the degree of emissions with which their food had been produced.


Farrmers must have access to a multiplicity of forms of carbon finance in order to buy in to net zero goals.
This would see ‘negative emissions’ viewed as a public good, which they could be financially rewarded for through the new Environment and Land Management (ELM) scheme.

Dr Jonathan Scurlock said: “By facilitating carbon capture we can create ‘negative emissions’ by actively removing carbon from the atmosphere to balance methane and nitrous oxide emissions from food production.

“The ways of doing this include linking crop production to carbon-negative power stations and anaerobic digestion (AD) plants that recycle or store their CO2 emissions.

“There is also scope to use non-food crops such as hemp and miscanthus as raw materials for bio-based products made of bio-fibres and bioplastics, while the renewable CO2 from AD plants could be captured as a feedstock and turned into synthetic fuels and chemicals.

“We believe farmers can be key drivers in this low-carbon transition.”


Source: FG Insight

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