You are here

Policies and targets

There are international, regional and national targets on reducing GHG emissions and combating climate change. In July 2019, the UK Government amended the legally binding target to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050 to a new, much tougher goal. The aim is to have 'net zero' GHGs by 2050, meaning emissions from agriculture as well as homes, transport, and industry will have to be avoided completely or - in the most difficult examples - offset by planting trees or sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere. 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

Earlie this year (July 2019 Progress Report) the Committee on Climate Change advised the UK Government to set emissions reductions to net zero by 2050 (instead of the previous 80% reduction). Emission reductions are expected from across all sectors of the economy, including agriculture and forestry. So far in the UK we have seen an overall decrease in emissions released, whilst the average UK Gross Domestic Product increases (graph below) - sounds like good news! However, agricultural emissions increased by 1% from 2016 to 2017 and account for 9% of all UK emissions. Emissions from agriculture were 16% below 1990 levels, but there has been no progress in reducing emissions from agriculture since 2008. Methane accounted for 56% of emissions from agriculture in 2017, and almost half (47%) of total agriculture emissions were from the digestive process of livestock. Emissions from managing agricultural soils, largely resulting from nitrogen fertiliser use, accounted for 25% of the sector’s emissions, with the remainder from waste management and on-farm energy use.

Source: BEIS (2019) 2018 UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Provisional Figures; BEIS (2019) 2017 UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Final Figures; ONS (2019) Gross Domestic Product: chained volume measures: Seasonally adjusted £m; CCC calculations (Committee on Climate Change, 2019)

The Greenhouse gas action plan (GHGAP): is an industry-led initiative for delivering reductions in emissions from agriculture in England. The action plan brings together key representative organisations from across the agricultural industry to support collective action. The GHGAP shows the agricultural industry’s commitment to playing its part in tackling climate change, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by three million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year from 2018-22. The GHGAP is one of a range of initiatives that is already helping farming to produce more while impacting less.

Part of the action plan is to: Meet the climate change challenge without compromising domestic production. It is too simple a solution to produce less and import more. This simply 'exports' our emissions to other parts of the world. This action plan focuses on how farmers, across all sectors and farming systems, can become more efficient to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make cost savings per unit of production .Agriculture can also make a big contribution to mitigating climate change by storing carbon in soils and vegetation and by generating renewable energy. The Greenhouse Gas Action Plan sets out to show that farming is part of the solution.

The 2016 review outlined the following key points: 

This review critically analyses the performance of the GHGAP during the period 2012 through to end of 2016- It is estimated that a 1Mt COequivalent reduction has been achieved as of 2016. The estimate of progress is modelled by looking at the impacts of current uptake of relevant mitigation measures that are covered by the GHGAP. Rates of uptake are mainly taken from the Farm Practices Survey (FPS) which covers a range of mitigation methods, including those relating to organic fertiliser management and application. The GHGAP promotes a wide range of measures not all of which are covered by the FPS, for example some activities around management skills and advice. 

Strengths and weaknesses - industry should lead but improvements in reporting required- Government’s preferred approach is to continue with the voluntary GHGAP, with industry taking the lead and government providing support where appropriate, for example helping to identify the most effective mitigation methods. However, voluntary measures and policies are not really meeting the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, and there is a chance that more firm legislation will be required. The GHGAP should include measurable objectives linked to specific mitigation activities and a process for reporting their progress and data shared safely when appropriate between activities and outcomes. 

Links to Defra’s long term plans for Food, Farming and the Environment- The outcome of the referendum to exit the EU provides an opportunity to develop a new vision for British food and farming and our relationship to the natural environment. Improving resource efficiency, including reducing GHG emissions, will be an important part of the thinking that underpins the new vision of the future

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) have also developed 'product roadmaps' for their supply chains, outlining how individual sectors, such as livestock production, can reduce their emissions.

The Beef and Sheep meat roadmaps can be downloaded here. This final report (2012) looks at the environmental challenges facing the industry and develop practical ways to reduce the carbon footprint of the sector. The direct emissions from livestock are analysed in conjunction with water use, economic returns, landscape and biodiversity value and waste in the supply chain. 

The latest Arable farming roadmap can be downloaded here. This Roadmap is a plan of action for AHDB to assist the UK cereals and oilseeds industry to meet its GHG emissions reduction goals and environmental improvement targets. AHDB provides relevant information and tools to assist in the uptake of environmentally sustainable practices, while, at the same time, supporting a profitable UK cereals and oilseeds sector.

The 2018 UK dairy industry roadmap can be viewed here. This report brings together participants from the entire dairy supply chain including farmers, dairy manufacturers, and industry partners. Together, the British dairy industry has made a commitment to set targets and produce regular reports on the progress it is making to reduce its environmental footprint.

The BPEX 2014 pig meat industry roadmap can be found here.  In this report it was established that pig producers in this country can and will deliver further reductions in environmental impact, despite the fact that targets have already been exceeded or look likely to be exceeded by 2020.


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.