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Jeremy's Blog 27th August 2021: New Policies to Challenge Many

This article by Jeremy Moody first appeared in the CAAV e-Briefing of 26th August 2021

All parts of the UK are now shaping future agricultural policy. This week’s consultation paper from Scotland and policy framework from Northern Ireland follow England’s implementation of change and the Welsh Government’s confirmation of next year’s Agriculture Bill.

Policies for climate change and biodiversity have increasing priority alongside wider environmental concerns and business performance. The place of climate change is graphically shown in the new Scottish paper, a first consultative step towards a post-2024 policy; even more so by the new Scottish Government/Green Party deal with its large programme of work in the rural sector and expecting all houses to be at EPC Band C by 2033 – just 12 years away.

Across the UK, a key question is whether the policies can match the targets and proclaimed ambitions. Housing and rural land management have especial challenges as the changes required by society are often not cost effective for individuals affected. We still wait for the UK’s Heat and Buildings Strategy.

Scottish agriculture is expected to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 31 per cent by 2032 – 11 years from now, when the new policies might not start until 2024 or later. That is separately assessed from any changes in land use (as by forestry planting) or energy. The recent farmer-led group proposals are assessed to meet “40% of the necessary reductions, if applied to their maximum technical potential by all relevant farmers”, lower than those reports had assumed. While some tools such as methane inhibitors are not yet commercially available, many of the changes canvased are for farming efficiencies that have not been generally adopted to date.

That “highlights the very substantial remaining challenge that a very significant reduction of at least … 60% of GHG emissions is still to be addressed”. Achieving that will take an enormous effort, with the largest impact perhaps on the suckler sector where cow numbers are already 20 per cent down from 2000. That seems likely to see land use change with forest planting and peat restoration.

The more detailed agricultural and rural policies set out in Scotland’s recent Climate Change Plan update envisage such larger changes while the Housing for Scotland 2040 report observed that “If demand for Scottish timber increases, it can … give us the chance to increase forested land and develop alternative uses for unproductive agricultural land”.

We are not alone – these issues are even more challenging in the Irish Republic with its large cattle numbers and agri-food a third of emissions.

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