The proposed changes could generate new revenue for farmers, says the Committee on Climate Change

Agriculture climate change

Land use, including agriculture, is responsible for 12% of the UK's total annual carbon emissions (Credit: Pixabay)

Expanding bioenergy crops, reducing food waste and slow-release fertilisers could help cut carbon emissions in the UK agriculture industry, according to a new report.

The Committee on Climate Change has made a series of recommendations today (23 January) as it told the government it needs to confront “rapid changes that are now needed” in its first ever in-depth guidance on British farming policies.


How many emissions are produced by UK agriculture?

Land use – including agriculture, forestry and peatland – accounted for 12% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 but the independent advisory body believes the proposed changes could slash these by almost two-thirds by 2050.

As well as helping the UK reach its net zero target set for the same year, the cross-industry group of experts claim it could provide an economic tonic to farmers.

Committee chairman Lord Deben said: “Changing the way we use our land is critical to delivering the UK’s net zero target.

Lord Deben, uk agriculture emissions
Lord Deben, chairman of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (Credit: Paul Vanston/Twitter)

“The options we are proposing would see farmers and land managers – the stewards of the land – delivering actions to reduce emissions.

“Doing so can provide new revenue opportunities for farmers, better air quality and improved biodiversity, and more green spaces for us all to enjoy.

“But major changes are required and action from government is needed quickly if we are to reap the rewards.”


How the UK agriculture industry can cut carbon emissions by 2050

In the committee’s report, titled Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK, it presents a detailed range of options to drive emissions reductions in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Publication comes as the UK prepares to leave the EU and Common Agricultural Policy, with new agriculture and environment bills to be introduced in Westminster this month.

The committee’s analysis suggests that emissions from UK land use can be reduced by 64% to about 21 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) by 2050 – without producing less food in the UK or increasing imports from elsewhere.

bioenergy crops, UK agriculture emissions
Bioenergy crops are grown specifically to generate energy rather than food (Credit: Flickr/Steve Long –

Its five objectives are:

  • Increase tree planting to ensure forestry coverage in the country rises from 13% to at least 17% by 2050. This would involve planting between 90 million and 120 million trees across 30,000 hectares of broadleaf and conifer woodland each year.
  • Encourage low-carbon farming practices, such as “controlled-release” fertilisers, improving livestock health and slurry acidification.
  • Restore peatlands – including at least half of upland peat and 25% of lowland peat.
  • Encourage the expansion of bioenergy crops – which are grown solely to produce energy rather than food – to about 23,000 hectares each year.
  • Reduce the 13.6 million tonnes of food waste produced annually by 20% and cut the consumption of the most carbon-intensive foods, including beef, lamb and dairy, by at least 20% per person.


New regulations that could help UK agriculture cut emissions

The committee has proposed a mix of regulations and incentives to drive these changes and provide land managers with the long-term “clarity” they need.

It says the suggested changes would release about one-fifth of agricultural land for activities that reduce emissions and store carbon.

They would cost about £1.4bn ($1.8bn) per year – backed by a combination of public and private funds – but generate wider benefits of £4bn ($5.3bn) annually, the group claimed. The UK currently spends £3.3bn ($4.3bn) via the Common Agricultural Policy.

The actions include:

  • Extending existing regulation to reduce farm emissions and use new legislation to further regulate agricultural emissions. Practices such as rotational burning on peatland and peat extraction should also be banned.
  • A new market-based measure to promote tree planting, either through auctioned contracts similar to those offered for renewable electricity or with the inclusion of forestry in a carbon trading scheme. The committee says this should be funded by imposing a levy on greenhouse gas-emitting industries like aviation, while public funding could encourage further low-carbon farming practices including precision farming and peatland restoration.
  • Setting up support schemes to strengthen skills in low-carbon farming and raise awareness of sustainable lowland peat management. Low-interest loans could be offered for energy crops and an agreement made with biomass combustion plants to source a minimum proportion of their feedstock from the UK.