All eyes will be on Glasgow shortly with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Conference of the Parties (COP26) set to run from 31 October to 12 November 2021. The aim of the event, involving up to 200 ‘parties’ to the Convention, is to keep the target of limiting global temperatures to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels ‘within reach’.
Global Methane Pledge
While the main focus of COP26 will be on contentious aspects such as carbon market mechanisms and climate finance for developing countries, the Global Methane Pledge by the USA and EU has been attracting publicity. The pledge, announced on 18 September 2021, commits the USA and EU to reducing global methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, and shows that the role of agriculture in climate change is not to be ignored. More than 20 countries have already indicated their intention to sign the pledge at COP26 and it seems there will be a ‘methane moment’. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, up to 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the planet. With livestock being a major contributor to its production, there is increasing pressure to explore how improved manure management systems, anaerobic digestors, vaccines, composting and other mitigation strategies can reduce emissions.
Emissions reduction targets
Agriculture contributes around one quarter of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions. A 2021 report by the Arable Climate Change Group (ACCG) states that a 31% reduction in agricultural emissions is required by 2032, as part of the overall target for Scotland of a 75% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (compared with 1990 levels) and a net zero target for 2045. These overall targets are enshrined in the statement of nationally determined contributions which the UK government has already submitted to the UNFCC to meet its obligations under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The Scottish Government has already created farmer-led groups to develop advice and proposals on how the farming sector can cut emissions and tackle climate change more generally, including the Suckler Beef Climate Group and the ACCG. Both groups have reported with detailed proposals including better manure management and methane inhibitors in the case of the former and the role of precision application of nitrogen and lime in the case of the latter. The farming sector is under some pressure to reposition its image at a time when the new food strategy for England has recommended a 30% reduction in meat consumption over the next decade and with recent reports in The Lancet verifying that a change in consumer behaviour is already underway. In years to come the sector may find itself under competition from plant-based meat or even, if costs come down and in the longer term, cell-based meat grown in laboratories! Further income support schemes for agriculture in Scotland (to replace the EU’s common agricultural policy) are likely to be linked to ‘climate-smart agriculture’ including some of the measures suggested by these groups and discussed in our previous blog post on the ‘Farming for 1.5°’ report.
Deforestation in supply chains
On a separate note, legislation regulating use of overseas commodities which present a ‘forest risk’ is likely to emerge shortly with the UK government leading proposals in this respect. There is, however, disagreement between the UK and Scottish governments as to whether this represents a devolved matter. It is expected that the legislation will require greater due diligence from businesses and make it illegal from them to use key commodities such as soy, palm oil or cocoa if not produced in line with local laws protecting forests and other natural ecosystems. Dialogue is planned for COP26 and the UK government anticipates secondary legislation on the topic shortly after the conference.