Citizen’s Assembly: Emergency Plan for Agriculture and Wildlife

Climate and Net Zero - by Mair Floyd-Bosley and Melanie Coath (RSPB - climate change policy)

Agriculture in the UK produces 45.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, 10% of UK total GHG emissions, including significant methane and nitrous oxide contributions. At the same time, the continuing decline of nature is both exacerbated by, and accelerating, climate breakdown. This shared challenge poses vital opportunities for farmers and land managers to address both in tandem, and farming in the right way, alongside nature, gives the opportunity to not only reduce emissions, but lock up carbon.

In our Citizens’ Assembly the climate and net zero group, considered the measures different actors should take to ensure key steps are made towards net zero in the land use sector.

Change in farming policy and practices

Ultimately, to get towards net zero, farming policies and practices much change. This change can be innovative and exciting, facilitated by policy. A few exciting ideas the group had included:

  • Reclaiming the coast, for example for sustainable shellfish farming.
  • Working with nature to diversify farms with a new focus on natural regeneration, encouraging tourism and a nature-based economy.
  • Payments and grants for non-market goals like carbon, water and biodiversity.
  • The development of a "One Planet Development Policy" for England.

Education and awareness

The group pinpointed education as a key tool to ensure farmers and consumers could contribute towards climate friendly farming. Especially important is the dissemination of knowledge within farming communities:

  • Initiatives promoting successful case studies, both locally and internationally.
  • Farming education in agriculture colleges including core modules on climate, and follow-up courses on net-zero farming.
  • Existing institutions offering accessible carbon knowledge, for example through farming unions, FWAG and other trusted advisers, and statewide education.
  • Campaigns promoting the range of benefits of carbon capture, like health benefits and other economic and social benefits.

General understanding of the decisions farmers make by by  the public is also important. The group suggested that specific climate-relevant farming practices should be better understood by everyone. This could include messages like understanding extensive vs. intensive cattle farming and the importance of low intensity conservation grazing.

Transparency, information and communication

Connected to education, the group discussed a need for transparency within the food system and clarity on the carbon costs attached to different farming options. This would give consumers tools to understand climate costs, give policymakers accessible data, and farmers would be able to use the information on their own farms.

  • Labelling the carbon content of all farm products, like fertilisers and pesticides.
  • Giving every farm a carbon assessment and rating (although this presents the challenge of whether one farm can be net zero).
  • Designing a UK habitat mapping system showing ecosystem services (including carbon sequestrations) and farms’ contributions.
  • Collaboration between NGOs and farmers to create engaging campaigns for the public, with clear messages like "stop intensive farming and imported grain".
  • Informing Parish Councils of climate impacts of farming and empower them to implement ways to tackle emissions on local farms.
  • Clear support and explanations for farmers and consumers along the whole journey.

The group noted that all this campaigning and information must be careful not to create a divide between environmental NGOs and farming with black and white language. RSPB are working to find solutions in our farming system that reduce emissions and sequester carbon – nature-based solutions are the core of our response, and these must be implemented in a way that ensure a just transition for farmers (another of our Assembly themes). We have a long way to go to transition to net zero but hearing the many ideas are out there through our Citizens’ Assembly gives us hope and direction along the journey.