Does the farming industry choose to portray itself as a climate change victim or villain, or is it ready to embrace its role as a champion of positive and responsible action?
The authors of a new report released this week clearly hope farmers will pursue the last option.
Indeed they suggest there is actually little real choice. The ‘Farming for 1.5 degrees’ report has been prepared by an independent group of sponsored by NFU Scotland and food and farming group Nourish.
Its title alludes to the need to prevent global temperatures rising by more than 1.5 degrees centigrade.
The group which includes scientists, academics and farmers has deliberated for eighteen months under the joint chairmanship of former NFUS president Nigel Miller and Mike Robinson, chief executive of the Royal Geographical Society of Scotland.
This report, which is an interim one, was due to be presented at the now delayed COP 26 climate change conference in Glasgow.
The report is uncompromising in its directness. It states: “Without the engagement of the agricultural community, with its ability to absorb emissions and not just cut them, it will be impossible for Scotland to deliver against its targets. This engagement must have political and financial recognition.”
The Scottish Government target has already been set at zero carbon emissions by 2045.
Mr Robinson said: “It is vital for farmers to get behind these targets and the 15 key recommendations we make in the report should kick in no later than 2024. There should be a transformational board set up to supervise the process at arm’s length from government.”
The report maintains that as emissions from farming are reduced, less agricultural land will be needed to offset its residual emissions and more will be available to offset ‘unavoidable emissions’ from the wider Scottish economy.
“If the industry embraces this opportunity and accepts the challenge, it will be able to claim a progressive central role and be seen to be offering leadership in a field in which it has – until now – been seen to be a reluctant player,” it says.
There was however a warning from Mr Miller.
“We can meet these targets but it will not make us low cost producers. Farmers will need base line support, otherwise the industry will fail,” he said.
SRUC economist Steven Thomson, who is a member of the group, added: “There is lot of embedded skill in the farming sector but it will need help to make the required capital investments. It cannot just be a case of government saying ‘you must do this’.
“The rationale must change. We cannot get round the problem by being a net importer of food. That is just ‘exporting’ our emissions,” said Mr Thomson.
Access the report on farmingonepointfive