Changes to agricultural land use will have to be made if the UK Government is to achieve its ‘binding’ commitment for net zero by 2050.
Committee on Climate Change (CCC) chief executive Chris Stark said one-fifth of farmland would need to be ‘turned over’ to alternative uses, such as afforestation, peatland restoration and cutting production of ‘carbon intensive’ food.
He told the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA) national conference a report outlining the CCC’s recommendations to Government on changing land use and agriculture would be published in early January.
“We do not think it is possible to achieve net zero without some change to land use in the UK,” said Mr Stark.
NFU vice-president Stuart Roberts said agriculture and environmentalism were often wrongly pitted as ‘polar opposites’, highlighting the industry could be part of the solution to tackling climate change.
Mr Stark said alternative uses of land could be economic for farmers and land managers, but Government must provide help for them to transition, with landowners rewarded for providing public goods which deliver climate mitigation and adaptation objectives.
He added: “I am sick of the media trying to paint the picture of us being against farmers.
“We need to be viewing farmers as stewards of the land, as a profession that can change. We will continue to use land for food production and grazing, but land use will change in some way.”
He said with a new Government in place and the net zero emissions target already enshrined in legislation, policy changes would be expected in the next three to six months.
Ahead of the UN’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next year, Mr Stark said ‘fear of embarrassment’ in not having a credible plan as its host nation would be a ‘motivating factor’.
Mr Stark added: “If we do not have the conditions right in the next 10 years, the next millennium looks pretty ropey.
“We are fans of planting trees, but trees take time to grow and this is not something which can wait.”
ADBA chief executive Charlotte Morton said technology such as on-farm anaerobic digestion could help the sector meet its decarbonisation targets, but called on Boris Johnson’s Government to remove barriers to growth ‘as a matter of urgency’.