Farming’s close relationship with the land means it’s an industry that not only contributes towards the causes of climate change, but feels and sees the effects.
What’s going on?
Climate change directly effects farming. Yet because of its contribution to pollution, overexploitation and land use change, farming is also a contributing factor to climate change.
This occurs when farming generates carbon emissions through production and use of fertilisers and pesticides. But it also happens when it decreases the land’s CO2 absorption by reducing or damaging the grasses, trees and soil coverage that provide a natural carbon sink.
As a result, biodiversity and climate change are inextricably linked. But increasing biodiversity will help lessen climate change’s negative effects.
Specific ways in which agriculture contributes towards climate change include the emissions generated that are by-products of the way we feed our animals and move food for people and resources globally.
Imports and exports of agricultural products, for example, are drivers of emissions. And mass import of animal feed, in particular, is a major contributor – currently 95% of soya used in the EU, one of the main types of animal feed, is imported.[i]
Much of the heavy machinery now ubiquitous in large scale industrial farming in the UK is diesel-dependent and, also, causes soil compaction and ground damage.
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.[ii]
Farmers are not only contributors to climate change, however – they are also victims of it.
As rainfall and heatwaves increase and flooding, droughts and wildfires become more commonplace, the effects of decisions such as moving/changing natural waterways and farming in delicate ecosystems will be more powerfully felt.
- Agriculture in the UK produces 45.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent – 10% of UK total GHG emissions, including significant methane and nitrate contributions.[vii]
- We need 10% of agriculture to be under agroforestry by 2050, The Climate Change Committee advises. The current figure is 3.3%).[vi]
- 20% of CO2 emissions globally can be attributed to the conversion of key ecosystems which act as carbon sinks.[v]
- Silvopasture (the integration of trees, forage plants and livestock) is ranked the 9th most powerful of 80 climate mitigation solutions. [iv]
Get nature positive
Tackling climate change is a necessary, pressing and group effort.
It requires change, with new and alternative approaches and longstanding approaches and practices re-thought. And it means actively seeking ways to work with nature.
With a renewed focus on reducing emissions by working with the land, protecting our natural resources, and lessening imports for local alternatives, the farming industry can both reduce its contribution to climate change emissions and protect itself and the landscape.
Inspired by steps agricultural companies are already taking, we’ve compiled suggested actions to help you on your journey to getting nature positive.
[iii] Hawken, P. ed. (2017). Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. Penguin.