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Policies and targets

There are international, regional and national targets on reducing GHG emissions and combating climate change. The UK Government has a legally binding target to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050 and 35% by 2020, and to generate 20% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. These targets affect everyone in the country and Defra has responsibility for a proportion of the overall reduction that must be met from agricultural processes.

UK Government and Industry Working Group Policy

The UK's Climate Change Act 2008 has set legally binding targets for the UK to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050, and 34% by 2022. Emission reductions are expected from across all sectors of the economy, including agriculture and forestry.

Defra has developed the 'Greenhouse Gas Action Plan' in conjunction with the leading agricultural industry bodies. The plan sets out the government's strategy for reducing emissions from the agricultural sector and covers two phases- up to 2012 and 2012 - 2015. As the end of the first period it covers ends this year, the strategy is currently under review, with the review and associated proposals for the second stage to be published by November 2012.

The first stage plan initially focusses on improving production efficiencies in the agricultural sector, and examines the provision of information in a joined up way.

It is important to note that the Government's approach to date has been entirely based on voluntary action and incentives, rather than fining those who do not take action, but that there is nothing to suggest this might not change in the future.


The plan identified the following priority areas:

Using on-farm machinery and energy more efficiently, maximising the efficiency of grassland and crop growing, ensuring best practice soil and land management techniques are adopted and managing livestock in the most efficient ways possible.

The plan also involves examining improvements to the measurement of carbon emissions from agriculture and the provision of consistent advice to farmers.

The plan identifies large and medium sized dairy and arable farms as particularly important in terms of taking action due to their emissions, although all farm types and sizes should take action.

A summary of the proposed next stage strategy should be available in spring 2012.

You can read a summary of the action plan for 2010 – 2012 and download the full report here.


Associated government policies

The UK government has a range of measures in place to mitigate climate change, many of which can be utilised by farmers, these include:

Feed in Tariff payments for renewable electricity generation; for example these payments make it feasible to install measures such as solar panels, wind turbines or on-farm anaerobic digesters

Renewable Heat Incentive payments for renewable heat production; for example farm buildings could be heated by biomass boilers and the scheme also provides a market for woodland waste and new forestry or energy crops.

Landfill tax increases; increased gate fees provide an incentive to reduce, reuse and recycle waste wherever possible, while it may also make anaerobic digesters financially feasible.

Sustainable planning policy; the planning regulations now create requirements for high standards of insulation and other sustainable features in new buildings and conversions.

There are government policies to encourage sustainable soil management and woodland creation which help sequester carbon emissions.


Industry working group activities

The Greenhouse Gas Action Plan was developed in collaboration with the major agricultural industry bodies, however groups such as the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB)'s EBLEX have also developed 'product roadmaps' for their industries, outlining how individual sectors, such as livestock production, can reduce their emissions.

The beef and sheep meat roadmaps can be downloaded from this link.

The HGCA arable farming roadmap can be downloaded here.

View the dairy industry roadmap here.

View the pig meat industry roadmap here.


EU policy

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the EU's farming and rural development funding framework, encompasses many elements that affect climate change and how farmers respond to the challenge. The CAP will be reformed from 2014, with negotiations currently on-going to determine the final outcome.

Under the current proposals, payments will build on the area based, non-production linked approach and have two central 'pillars', firstly a minimum payment for farmers dependent on compliance with a reduced number of animal welfare, safety and environmental standards, and secondly a payment based on mandatory actions to protect and enhance the environment.

The 'Pillar 2' environmental payment will be centred on three requirements;

-       Crop diversification (three different crops to be cultivated on arable farmers' land)

-       A proportion of each farmer's land (around 7%) to be set aside for environmental benefit, such as hedgerow, field margin, fallow land, buffer strips and tree cover

-       The maintenance of permanent pasture

The UK Government is currently seeking for the reforms to go further to promote activities to prevent climate change, more closely linking payments with actions to reduce emissions.

Rural development funding will seek to support agri-environment projects such as climate change mitigation and adaptation, possibly creating new opportunities.

Climate change and wider sustainability issues will therefore become integral to farming under the CAP in the near future.

You can find out more about the proposed reforms here. An official European Commission communication on the changes can be read here.

Follow this link for a summary of climate change adaptation and its affects at the EU scale

Follow this link for a detailed working paper on the agriculture's mitigation potential at the EU scale


Related policy drivers from the EU

The Renewables Directive, which requires the UK to produce 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, therefore creating opportunities in biomass, wind, solar and other renewables.

The Water Framework Directive, which requires much greater consideration of water as a resource, enhanced conservation measures and limits on extraction. It is anticipated that this will eventually be combined with CAP payments where it affects farmers.

Renewable Fuels targets – targets have been set for the replacement of transport fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy such as biofuels. Each member state must meet a progressively increasing proportion of its transport fuel from renewable sources, which creates a market for these fuels.

Negotiations have taken place in the past five years over a proposed Soil Framework Directive. While negotiations are currently stalled, this may lead to future requirements from the EU level regarding the protection and enhancement of soils.