Agriculture and land-based emissions are currently responsible for around 10% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in the EU.
The European Commission say that by 2050 ‘the agricultural sector will represent a third of the EU’s emissions, tripling the current share’.
At the Soil Association we believe that a priority for the COP21 talks in Paris must be the start of governments talking about how we can cut the huge ghgs from farming and food.
Climate Change and Farming in the UK
After a flurry of interest a decade ago, almost no attention is being given to reducing GHG emissions from English farming – and although the Scottish government has tended to be more interested, this has not led to real action.
The current UK Government’s consultation on their 25 year plan for English farming has omitted any reference to climate change. However, Parliament’s Climate Change Committee, responsible for ensuring that the UK meets the legally binding target of 80% cuts in emissions by 2050, has been looking at farming’s record.
Farming’s two big sources of ghgs are Nitrous Oxide from manufactured fertiliser and Methane – mainly from cattle and sheep. Drops in livestock numbers, and some greater efficiency in the use of manufactured Nitrogen fertiliser, have helped reduce emissions slightly.
A revolution in farming is what’s required
Many scientists have agreed that a ‘revolution’ in farming will be required to hit 80% cuts. However, whether this should be a revolution in intensification and further industrialisation of farming, or a move to agro-ecological, low input systems, is not agreed.
This is despite the support for the agro-ecological route from over 400 international scientists in the IAASTD report, and results of scientific modelling which suggest the intensive route would lead to significant increases in emissions if many more people have to be fed (as they will be).
Work by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation suggests that if diets change (as they must to meet any climate targets) and food waste is reduced, organic farming could feed the world’s increased population by 2050 – with far lower ghg emissions.
(Part of) the answer lies in the soil
There is more carbon locked up in the world’s soils than anywhere else. Soils can either be a source of carbon emissions, or a very effective means of sequestering carbon over the long term.
Targets on soil could help prevent emissions. A recent global review of research found that organically managed soils have significantly higher levels of organic matter – in north-west Europe an average increase compared to non-organic farming of 21% over 20 years.
The International Panel on Climate Change says that 89% of all global agricultural emissions can be mitigated by improving soil carbon levels.
The Soil Association is calling on the UK Government to set a target to increase organic matter in UK arable and horticultural soils by 20% over the next 20 years.
This would significantly reducing the risks of flooding and increase resilience to droughts. It could also store 10 tonnes more carbon per hectare by 2035 – almost 0.5 tonnes per hectare every year. Even at low estimates of potential carbon storage, around 1.3 million tonnes more carbon could be stored in UK arable and horticultural soils every year – equivalent to the emissions saved by taking nearly 1 million cars off the road.
These are the issues that the organic movement will be working to get onto the agenda in Paris.
Given the scale of the challenge facing the planet, we cannot afford to allow agricultural emissions to continue to grow, nor ignore the huge potential that agro-ecological and organic farming has to sequester carbon and reduce emissions.
If you are interested in finding out more about how to build organic matter and carbon in your soils, why not check out the soil carbon pages on FCCT's website here?