Climate Battles & The Future of Farming

1st June 2021

Erin LynchErin Lynch

News emerged this month about a potential trade deal between the UK and Australia which could eradicate quotas and tariffs on trade. Critics call the deal a ‘betrayal of British farming’, as analysts predict that Australian imports could rise by 83.2% as part of the deal, with animal products expected to comprise a significant chunk of that. Farmers and environmentalists are concerned that British farmers will be unable to compete with their mega-sized Australian counterparts who are able to produce more economically efficient livestock products, especially beef, due to Australian farms’ use of battery cages, growth hormones, pesticides banned in the UK and higher grades of antibiotics.

These debates highlight an important aspect of the complex relationship between industrial agriculture and climate change that we first discussed in our April blog on deforestation, live animal exports, and zoonotic disease. Industrial meat production has been heavily linked to land degradation, desertification, soil erosion, decreases in biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions. The scale of the meat industry is hard to fathom — according to the FAO, 26% of the Earth’s ice-free land is used for livestock, and one third of the planet’s arable land is occupied by crops for livestock feed. Livestock produce 14.5% of human-related greenhouse gas emissions, and cattle contribute 65% of the livestock sector’s emissions (mostly methane) through digestion, feed production, manure storage and supply chain costs. Although methane disappears from the atmosphere within 20 years of being released (compared to centuries for CO2), its global warming potential (GWP) is 84 times higher than CO2 over that time period. It’s for this reason that some scientists believe that tackling methane could be one of the most effective ways we can address the climate crisis in the short term.

While going meatless could make a difference, industrial agriculture for non-meat products is also a significant contributor to land degradation, greenhouse gas emissions and loss of biodiversity. In fact, some creative environmentalists believe that innovative livestock farming practices could help bring an end to the climate crisis. Earlier this month, The Guardian featured a story about an exciting new 12-year silvopasture trial in Devon which aims to enhance biodiversity and restore the health of farmland soils by planting trees onto livestock farms. The trial will be the largest ever participatory research project looking into silvopasture, managed grazing and agroforestry. Silvopasture is just one of many practices encompassed within the broader regenerative farming movement. If you’re interested in learning more about these topics, last year Netflix released Kiss the Ground, an ‘optimistic climate documentary’ that walks viewers through some of the devastating effects of modern agriculture, in particular chemical pesticides and excessive tilling, and argues that we should embrace regenerative farming as a potential solution. There are many pieces to this puzzle, but it’s clear that green futures will depend on innovation and creativity.

Good Tythings

  • It’s been a ‘cataclysmic week’ for three of the world’s most polluting companies. Oil giants Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil have been hit by climate activism in a series of historic events.
  • Firstly, a Dutch Court has ruled that Royal Dutch Shell must cut its CO2 emissions by 45% against 2019 levels in a ‘monumental victory’ for the climate. This is the first time a company has been legally obliged to align its emission policies with the terms set out in Paris climate accords. While at present, the ruling only applies to the Netherlands, onlookers hope that this decision might inspire other countries to also take action.
  • Meanwhile, ExxonMobil and Chevron experienced ‘shareholder rebellions’ over their climate policies. Hedge fund activist Engine No.1 staged a ‘coup’, replacing two Exxon board members with their own candidates in a push to drive the oil giant to commit to a low-carbon future. At Chevron, 61% of shareholders voted in favour of a proposal organised Dutch campaign group Follow This which would force the group to cut its emissions.
  • A few months ago we highlighted some of our charity partners’ appeal to the government to “halt the decline of nature”. Well, we spoke, and they listened. The Government has now officially committed to this promise, pledging to plant more trees, ban the sales of peat and set new targets to strengthen biodiversity in the countryside.
  • As part of the Government’s efforts to halt the decline of nature, DEFRA has launched the Nature for Climate Peatland Grant Scheme which will fund peatland restoration projects across England. Peatland, when kept in good condition, can help sequester carbon, but when damaged, or degraded can emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases. At present, damaged peatlands contribute about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions from the land sector, including methane.
  • The Government will also plant 44,000 trees in areas with less coverage and higher social deprivation as part of the Urban Tree Challenge Fund which aims to improve health, wellbeing and connection in deprived areas.
  • A new report on innovations in solar e-waste management across Sub-Saharan Africa has highlighted Solar Aid’s efforts to collect e-waste, create jobs, train people, and leverage technology to raise awareness and incentivise people to engage in their solar product repair system.
  • A giant river otter, thought extinct since the 1980s, was spotted alive and well in Argentina. This is exciting news for conservationists as otters are important predators and will play a vital role in the larger ecosystem restoration project happening along the Bermejo River in Argentina’s Chaco province.

More Ways To Help

  • Surfers Against Sewage is partnering with Ekologik, a new, zero waste cleaning company aiming to help households move away from using cleaners packaged in single use plastic. 2% of every sale is donated to SAS. Learn more about their products.
  • Looking for something to do with kids? Hubbub have launched a new pirate-themed litter picking initiative called ‘Treasure Your River’ with a series of interactive events in Bristol, Bournemouth, and Manchester.
  • Did you know it’s National Hedgerow Week? Check out the #TalkToTheHedge hashtag on Instagram to learn more about these fantastic wildlife habitats, and maybe even post your own hedge appreciation…