Soil Association: need for a climate friendly farming
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Tackling climate change must be a top priority for future food and farming policy. The next government will be faced with the challenge of producing an agricultural policy for the UK for the first time in decades. That’s why, in our general election manifesto asks, the Soil Association calls on all political parties to commit to zero-carbon farming by 2050.
Farming is responsible for 10% of the EU’s overall emissions. However, this figure ignores emissions from animal feed production outside the EU, the manufacture of nitrogen fertiliser or other agro-chemicals, and the transport of agricultural products. It also excludes the emissions related to land use change (for example, ploughing up forest or grassland for crops) or losses of soil carbon.
In fact, a new report from IFOAM EU estimates that one-third of global GHG emissions could be linked to the farming and food industries – production, processing, distribution and consumption. This report argues that action from the agriculture sector is essential – including from the point of view of farmers who are first impacted by climate change. It warns that “without a clear political signal to reduce emissions by 2030, action, learning and investments in sustainable farming practices will simply be delayed.”
Efforts to cut emissions from agriculture have been half-hearted. The British government’s own advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, have called for stronger policies on agriculture over the next 5 year period, as current progress is not on track, and after 2022 a move beyond the current voluntary approach of providing information and advice.
Organic farms generally emit fewer greenhouse gases
Achieving ‘net zero emissions’ from farming by around 2050 would be in line with the historic Paris Climate Agreement, signed by the UK and nearly 200 other countries. This requires rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors – including food and agriculture – alongside bolder efforts to maximise the potential of carbon sinks such as woodlands, peatlands and soils.
Evidence shows that organic farms generally emit fewer greenhouse gases, use less energy and store greater amounts of carbon in soils per hectare than non-organic farms. Indeed, the IFOAM EU report’s authors estimate that conversion to 50% of EU land under organic farming by 2030 would equate to a 23% cut in agricultural GHG emissions through increased soil carbon sequestration and reduced application of manufactured nitrogen fertilisers.
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