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Scottish farmers demand 'urgent action' to help meet climate targets



A World Wildlife Fund (WWF) commissioned report has revealed a broad agreement across farmers, charity organisations and Scottish Government on the actions required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the sector.

However, while farmers are ready to act to meet climate targets, the report found urgent policy actions are needed to help them do it.

The research suggested that by combining all the mitigations, direct agricultural emissions could be reduced by around 30% by 2032 – but this is heavily dependent on farmer uptake- with warnings that a lack of policy tools and support could hinder delivery.

The report’s authors were tasked with comparing analysis from environmental campaigners, the Scottish Government and farming-led groups, to identify whether the policies proposed would reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to meet the target set out in the government’s Climate Change Plan Update (CCPu).

The findings show that it is possible, and that farmers are in agreement and ready to take action in areas such as improvements in animal health, and the application of nitrogen fertilisers. However, a delay in support for farmers to make the necessary changes, puts the industry at risk.

Climate change is already impacting the sector, with increasing extreme weather leading to more livestock losses and lower crop yields alongside unpredictable water availability, caused by either droughts or floods.

The CCPu uses a projected baseline of 7 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) for 2020, against a 2032 target of 5.3MtCO2e – so this would require a 24% reduction in direct agricultural emissions.

The report found that the Scottish Government’s CCPu doesn’t reflect all the actions available to the sector, but if all the tools mentioned in the plan are used, they could potentially deliver 22% to 25% emissions reduction.

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WWF Scotland pointed out that it’s still unclear what the level of uptake by farmers would be – and also whether the baseline used in the CCPu is accurate.

The report also noted that, in addition to these reductions in direct agricultural emissions, significant land use change will be required to further reduce emissions and increase carbon sequestration.

It argued that the CCPu doesn’t go far enough to help farmers adapt quickly to the risks posed by climate change or ensure that the required uptake is achieved.

To help farmers adapt to our changing climate and meet ambitious targets, WWF is calling on the Scottish Government to do the following things:

  • Provide the policy framework required for farmers to deliver the change required no later than 2022.
  • Expand the Agriculture Transformation Programme to cover the additional capital, training and advice needed to transition to low carbon, nature friendly farming.
  • Introduce ‘agri-climate’ measures for farmers ahead of the 2023 agriculture legislation.

Dr Sheila George, food and environment policy manager at WWF Scotland, said: “While we welcome the newly-announced Implementation Board and participatory approach of the Scottish Government, this must lead quickly to action.

“The longer the delay in delivery, the tougher the challenge for farmers will be – if we miss the 2032 interim target as set out in the CCPu, the 2045 target may be out of reach.

“With COP26 a matter of months away, the Scottish Government must show leadership by transforming rural policy and publishing a mitigation pathway for farmers.”

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Jonnie Hall, director of policy at NFU Scotland, said: “The challenge facing Scottish agriculture has never been clearer – tackling climate change and biodiversity loss whilst simultaneously contributing to Scotland’s ambitious food and drink sector targets.

“It is not a case of one over the others, however the stark reality is that the legacy of continuing CAP schemes is just not up to it – in fact, current area-based support measures largely incentivise inertia.

“A new, properly funded, agricultural support package that delivers for Scotland’s current and future needs is the biggest priority of the union and the establishment of the Scottish Government’s Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board must now also pave the way to future agricultural policy – starting with the soonest roll out of a ‘national pilot programme’ focused on the suckler beef sector and based on the clear recommendations of the Suckler Beef Climate Group.

“The rhetoric of change must now be replaced by delivery – adequately funded, easily accessed measures that drive necessary actions,” he added.

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