Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Climate change debate remains close to home

It appears there is already a cooling of relations between some of the countries at this year’s UN climate change summit in Durban, South Africa, which started this week. There is significant disagreement on fairly fundamental principles, such as when talks should start on a new global emissions agreement. India and Brazil – both significant contributors in terms of emissions – are the latest countries to say they do not want to start talks before 2015, while other countries, including the EU block and smaller, developing nations, would like to see a deal finalised by then.

Meanwhile, “rich” countries such as Japan, Russia and Canada are refusing to commit to targets under the Kyoto Protocol – adopted at the summit in Japan in December 1997 – which should have been met by next year. This was a set of binding targets calling for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions amounting to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.

The ultimate aim of the summit is to form an agreement that can constrain greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep the global average temperature rise below 2⁰C. This will be no mean feat with so many countries involved with different opinions and, of course, the whole science behind climate change being such a young one.

In the beef and sheep sector it is fair to say there is still a degree of scepticism about climate change. This can lead some to dismiss it and continue with “business as usual”. However, this is not an option and we do need to address the challenge to reduce our emissions. The simple fact is that the Government believes in it and so has set targets via the Low Carbon Transition Plan, backed up by the targets in the industry-led Greenhouse Gas Action Plan (GHGAP) that we must strive to meet. If not, the reality is that legislation and regulation may follow to force farmers to make changes.

EBLEX has taken a lead in this work. As well as being prominent in the GHGAP project, it has already published two reports under our environmental roadmap banner benchmarking where we are in terms of emissions and energy use, and exploring practical ways that these figures can be reduced. You can find both of these reports here. These practical measures for change are being delivered through our Better Returns Programme.

We are currently finalising content for the third chapter of our roadmap for the beef and sheep meat sector, which we expect to publish in January 2012. This will include the biggest yet on-farm data set, which backs up figures from previous years, showing similar trends and ranges of emissions. It also picks out characteristics of high and low carbon farms, allowing people to look at their own business and see where they might be under-performing.

It also involves sections from the main multiple retailers examining how they are working with their beef and lamb supply chains to improve environmental efficiency, while a further section looks at the issue of carbon sequestration – how land grazed by livestock has a positive effect on emissions by sucking carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it.

In the run up to the 2009 climate change summit in Copenhagen, it is fair to say that livestock farming was the scapegoat for climate change. It appeared everyone was suggesting that reducing meat consumption and therefore livestock numbers, would bring the necessary emissions cuts in one foul swoop. The reality is this would do nothing to improve efficiency, would adversely affect food security and any food producing enterprise which replaced it would have its own negative GHG affect. We would also lose the huge benefits that grazing livestock bring to the countryside, not just as a carbon sink but also in terms of landscape value and making the most efficient use of land that could not realistically be used for anything else in terms of food production.

So we are watching the debates in Durban with interest but should not lose sight of the measures already identified that can make an impact on our own carbon footprint.

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