Farming both impacts on – and is impacted by – climate change.
What’s going on?
Agriculture and climate change have a close and intricate two-way relationship.
Global warming means higher temperatures and greater temperature extremes, changes in rainfall, drought, and flooding – all of which are having an impact on what is grown and how by farmers in the UK. It also requires farmers to reduce the ways and extent to which their activities contribute to it.
Carbon emissions through production and use of fertilisers and pesticides is one way agriculture contributes to climate change. Decreasing the land’s CO2 absorption by reducing or damaging the grasses, trees and soil coverage that provide a natural carbon sink is another.
Imports and exports of agricultural products are also drivers of emissions, with mass import of animal feed a particular contributor. Meanwhile, methods of providing out of season food and larger yields – heated polytunnels, for example, and greenhouses – contribute to the 14% of total UK carbon emissions from industrial heating.[i]
- Agriculture in the UK produces 45.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent – 10% of UK total GHG emissions, including significant methane and nitrate contributions.[v]
- An estimated 3.3% of agriculture is under agroforestry – a proportion that needs to rise to 10% by 2050, The Climate Change Committee advises.[iv]
- 20% of CO2 emissions globally can be attributed to the conversion of key ecosystems which act as carbon sinks.[iii]
- Silvopasture (the integration of trees, forage plants and livestock) is ranked the 9th most powerful of 80 climate mitigation solutions. [ii]
Get nature positive
Many UK farmers are building on improvements already underway to reduce agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions by improving crop waste management and protecting and increasing natural carbon stores through reforestation and peat restoration rates.
But tackling climate change is about more than reducing carbon emissions or increasing sequestration. Also critical is for agriculture to use its inputs more efficiently.
Further improving how farmers work with nature will require change, with new and alternative approaches and longstanding approaches and practices re-thought. But to maximise its effectiveness, it must be a group effort.
Inspired by steps some farmers and other land managers are already taking, we’ve compiled suggested actions to help you on your journey to getting nature positive.
[ii] Hawken, P. ed. (2017). Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. Penguin.