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Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change: 2015 Progress report to Parliament

9th Jul 2015

This report compiled by the Committee on Climate Change was released at the end of June. This is the Committee’s first report to the new Parliament on the progress we are making towards meeting the UK’s emissions reductions targets.

Reducing emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change provide the opportunity to drive innovation, support growth, contribute to improved health, develop effective and resilient infrastructure and minimise the disruptions caused by flooding, water scarcity and other climate change risks.

The full report is available to view here, along with broken down technical reports into each of the main areas that have been studied. These areas are electricity, buildings transport, infrastructure and land and water management. Unsurprisingly I will be concentrating for the rest of this report on the information regarding agriculture, but if you are interested there is much more information on the others here.

What’s in the report?

The report deals with three things:

As assessment of progress to date to reduce GHG emissions and prepare for the impact of climate change including recommended actions

A more detailed report on the progress to date towards meeting C budgets and the UK’s statutory targets to reduce emissions in 2050 by at least 80% from 1990 levels.

Details on progress being made to prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

What are the main recommendations for agriculture?

The overarching recommendation is to preserve and enhance the country’s natural capital in order to sustain agricultural productivity in a changing climate, maximise Carbon sequestration and safeguard the natural environment.

Within the report there are firm measures to preserve fertility and organic content or agricultural soils to achieve the goal of all soils to be sustainably managed by 2030. As well as this, it is recommended to accelerate efforts to restore natural assets and counter long term declines in ecological conditions of the farm countryside, and review effectiveness of agri-environment schemes in controlling protected peat land sites that are of international importance in terms of their natural capital.

Climate change and the UK

The report concludes that the global climate is changing. Sea levels have risen about 20cm and the average surface temperature has risen by 0.8%. Greenhouse gas emissions affect lives in the UK. Action is needed in this Parliament to ensure the pace of emissions reductions accelerates whilst still supporting economic growth.

What action do we need?

Targeted and coordinated actions to adapt to climate change and reduce emissions are needed. Decisions in the new parliament will largely determine how much progress is made to 2030 and beyond. The Committee for Climate Change have recommended five main actions for parliament during this time.

Electricity – ensure the power sector can invest with a 10 year lead time

Buildings – Develop plans and policies that deliver low carbon heat and energy efficiency, whilst also addressing the increasing risk of heat stress and flooding

Transport – maintain support for the up-front costs of electric vehicles

Infrastructure – make decisions that help reduce emissions and improve the resilience of infrastructure networks and services during periods of extreme weather

Agriculture, land and water management- preserve and enhance the country’s natural capital

Latest progress

Emissions reductions progress – provisional emissions for 2014 indicate that UK domestic GHG emissions were 520 MtCo2e. This is an 8% decrease compared with 2013. Emissions are now 36% below 1990 levels. This large reduction across the economy was driven by falls in emissions from buildings, industry and power generation, many of which reflect one-off changes and uncertain factors rather than replicable trends. Also it is important to point out at this stage that emissions estimates for agriculture, waste and other non CO2 sources are not yet available.

Three priority areas (these aren’t agriculture specific)

Low carbon investment – many low carbon policies and funding streams have no certainty beyond the new few years, which prevents efficient investment in low carbon technologies and their supply chains which often have long lead times and payback periods.

Developing future options and innovations – many of the technologies that could contribute to meeting the 2050 target are still developing in terms of cost and performance. Governments need to maintain a clear future market for low carbon products.

Low carbon choices – how lifestyles continue to change and people make decisions will continue to determine whether we continue to reduce emissions.

What are the adaptation priorities for agriculture?

Improving the fertility of agricultural soils

Improving / maintaining the ecological condition of the farmed countryside

Water demand by agriculture

Flooding of agricultural land

Innovation / knowledge transfer; sharing of ideas and best practice

Maintaining / improving the ecological condition of terrestrial habitats (as well as freshwater, riparian and marine environment as well).

The deal with soils

This report makes a big deal on soils, and concludes that soil erosion and the loss of organic carbon is an important issue. It continues, “Agricultural soils are being degraded by intensive farming practices in some areas with deep ploughing, short rotations and exposed ground leading to soil erosion from wind and heavy rain. Although the soil erosion risk may be decreasing, the rate of loss is not sustainable as soil takes a long time to form. Water shortages and drier soil conditions put the profitability of farming in some areas at risk, reducing the productivity of UK farming.”

There is a governmental ambition for all soils to be used sustainably by 2030. At the moment this initiative is in its ‘evidence gathering’ phase until 2016 at which point it will be followed by a plan of action.

What happens now?

This report outlines how the committee on climate change considers the best way to be to reduce emissions and prepare for climate change cost effectively. The progress against these goals will be reviewed in 2016 and the government needs to respond to this report by October of this year (as well as work at how it is going to make up the shortfall for the 4th Carbon budget (2023 – 27).

What are the recommendations for agriculture?

Deliver the Smart Inventory

Defra is working to better understand and measure how biological systems and different farming practices impact on emissions. This will allow for a more sophisticated methodology for measuring, reporting and verifying emissions.

Strengthen the current voluntary approach to reduce agricultural emissions

Assess the effectiveness of the current Greenhouse gas action plan (GHGAP) scheme which is an industry led initiative which sets out how the agricultural industry is responding to the challenges of feeding a growing population with less impact.

Co-ordinate efforts across four nations

Ensuring that measures being implemented across the four nations are feasible, cost effective and consistent with low carbon budgets. No mean feat!

So watch this space to see what happens next. In the meantime to find out what you can do to reduce GHGs on your farm and improve efficiency and profit; why not check out the Toolkit?