The climate crisis can not be tackled without sustainable farming
As world leaders gather in Glasgow to try and forge a global response to the climate emergency, we must all hope that the government don’t squander a unique opportunity to agree a plan for supporting a global transition to sustainable farming.
The UK government must quickly show that it has a plan and a grip on the issue if claims to be a world leader are to be taken seriously. With pigs being culled on farms for the first time in living memory, they have a lot to do, not least because, done right, changes to farming practice offers humankind one of its best hopes for tackling the climate crisis.
Currently, agricultural practices are thought to be responsible for around a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, the continuation of current agricultural practices is likely to be incompatible with the Paris Agreement. Sadly, in the UK, the government’s environmental legislation that was supposed to replace protections guaranteed by EU membership is still not on the statute book.
With extreme weather becoming commonplace, farmers increasingly have to contend with droughts and floods damaging their crops. In the UK, there is growing concern about food security, with the NFU recently launching a campaign to demand that we produce at least 60 per cent of our food. Much-trumpeted recent trade deals have failed to calm UK farmer’s fears that they will be undercut by cheap imports with lower standards. Climate pressure on UK farming must not be resolved by importing food produced to lower standards from other countries, which merely outsources our problems and does nothing to address those environmental pressures.
More optimistically, farming’s position at the forefront of the climate crisis means it offers a powerful tool for fighting back against the climate emergency. Our government has decided not to back British farmers, instead pursuing harmful trade deals and a programme to eliminate farm support that will put many farms at risk. It doesn’t have to be that way. Through advancements in technology and farming techniques, there are now many options to help farmers reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and tackle the climate challenge. In the UK, Labour will not walk away from our farmers as they make this transition: we will nurture skills and back our farmers with our plan to buy, make and sell more in Britain, increasing our food security and driving down emissions.
Ultimately, we will not be able to tackle the climate crisis if we do not tackle the crisis in the natural world, and here too agriculture can play a critical role. In the UK, 72 per cent of land is under agricultural management and with government inaction, we have become one of the world’s least biodiverse nations. With the right support, farmers can conserve, protect and enhance natural ecosystems. These practices can generate healthier soil, good food, and greater biodiversity, which are essential for tackling the nature crisis and reducing farm emissions.
Sustainable farming can only be effective in the fight against climate change if it is embraced both at home and abroad. For nations with large domestic food markets, a commitment to a trade policy that upholds high environmental and agricultural standards will be a powerful instrument for convincing other governments to adopt those same standards. That is why Labour has been speaking out so strongly in support of writing clear standards into future trade deals – something the current government has refused to do. Indeed, when it comes to those deals, this government will always prioritise short-term economic benefits over longer-term climate and nature goals. That has to change – in the fight against climate change nations must work with their farmers, not undercut them and set them against each other.
As the eyes of the world fall on COP26, it is clear that any solution to the climate emergency must acknowledge the importance of sustainable farming in the fight against climate change.
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