UK: The Greenhouse Gas Action Plan and the NFU

At the beginning of May I set off for Stoneleigh for my first proper Nuffield interview, to talk to Dr Ceris Jones, the climate change advisor for the National Farmers Union, about what the NFU were up to around climate change mitigation and their farmers as well as the work of the Greenhouse Gas Action Plan.  Ceris has kindly spoken at some of my FCCT events before as well as providing a well-informed opinion on some of FCCT’s more wild and wacky project ideas, so she was a fab first interviewee for me to practice my questions on!

The Greenhouse Gas Action Plan (GHGAP) is the principle mechanism for delivering agriculture’s commitment to a reduction in its annual emissions of 3 million tonnes (of CO2e) by the third carbon budget (which is 2018 -22).  It is an industry wide initiative, whose steering group includes the great and the good and who all work together to help farmers and growers mitigate and adapt to climate change, without compromising domestic production.

The GHGAP explains quite nicely in its latest report which has just been published some of the issues:

Over the next 35 years, the global food system will have to feed more people will have to feed more people with less environmental impact. Our British farmers and growers will need to adapt to the changing conditions at the same time as reducing greenhouse gas (and ammonia) emissions. Agriculture has a unique emissions profile and there is a limit beyond which it will not be biologically possible to make further emissions reductions.  Therefore the challenge of reducing them whilst increasing food, feed, fuel and fibre production is huge.” (GHGAP, 2016, Progress report and Phase III strategy).

The action plan has a list of 15 key on-farm actions that the steering group and research has agreed will encourage the continued reduction of GHGs from agriculture and at the same time increase production efficiency.  These actions are:

Key on-farm actions for all farm types

arable actins

Key on-farm actions for livestock farms

livestock

The key points that came out of this interview were:

A resounding need to link science to practice, but to include farmers at the practice stage – measures that are recommended have to be rooted in core science but actionable at the farm level.

The importance of local trusted dissemination networks – we cannot overlook the relationship that is there between farmers and their current advice provider – advisors are a crucial part of enabling behavioural change (more work needed on this).

Farming will always be a leaky system – it’s based on biology.  So although there is loads that we can do, we can’t plug all the leaks.

Coming up with a list of mitigation measures is the easy part – the tricky bit is deciding where to focus your effort and what fits in with your business priorities – this is where the local advisor may help to focus and provide site specificity – tailor the measure to the individual farm business.

We need consistent messaging – we all need to be communicating clearly and simply what we want farmers to do.

Legislation and quality assurance – just because farmers have to fill in a form or tick a box, is it the best way to achieve long term behavioural change?

There is a need to “sell the positives” and provide clear messages to the public of the good things that farmers are doing around environmental management and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Ultimately we need to embed the actions in day to day business management and make it easy – to allow for the development of resilient businesses.

We cannot plan for the weather.

The use of case studies is an effective way to help communicate messages, however the choice of case study farmer is important, we need a role model that is on a journey.

Questions that still need answering

The GHGAP has provided 15 key actions that everyone agrees will help.  What is the most effective way of getting these recommendations into on the ground action? Do we need to fund / legislate / encourage?  Is it enough? What about those people who are already doing these things?  Are they there?

Should the GHGAP be a separate entity that is funded so that more resources can be given to it, or by separating it out, does it lose its core strength of being delivered by the industry even with its stretched resources?

It’s going to be an interesting few months!

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