15 September 2020, 10:28 AM
  • The UK's Citizens' Assembly for climate change has detailed more support for farmers, more efficient use of land and a focus on where food comes from in its final report
Provenance, smart farming and local food key considerations for net zero commitment

As the Citizens’ Assembly on climate change published its final report earlier this month, members of the public have made their recommendations to Government, urging MPs to rise up to the challenge of achieving net zero target emissions in a clear and accountable way.

Comprising 108 members from different walks of life across the UK, the climate assembly was commissioned by the House of Commons in an effort to understand public preferences on how the UK should tackle climate change, understanding the impact these decisions have on people’s lives.

The group’s final report, which was published on 10th September, has set out a consistent and timely path for the UK to reach its target of net zero by 2050.

With the members calling on the Government to come together and show “leadership at the very highest level”, food and agriculture look to play a large part in the nation’s net zero commitment.

Detailing ten key areas, including what we eat and how we use land, the report stressed the importance of supporting farmers during the net zero transition, by offering financial and professional/skill-focused support, as well as a shift to smarter farming to make it more efficient.

It also recommended a voluntary shift in diet to reduce meat and dairy by 20%-40%. Local and seasonal food are also seen as key factors, with the assembly recommending cheaper, local food, and encouragement of local, seasonal and home-grown food options as the UK looks to become more self-sufficient.

It also noted the need to reduce the amount of land used for food production – currently 74% of land in the UK is used for agriculture, according to the Committee on Climate Change (2018). Members also highlighted the need to increase support for and collaborations between farming, forestry and land management, and landowners to balance the need for sustainable food production with biodiversity and reducing emissions.

Provenance was also a key factor, with the assembly agreeing that the public should be given more information about where their food and other purchases come from, in order to help consumers make better choices. This could include introducing carbon labels to products and services to detail the emissions used to produce it.

For retailers, the report suggested addressing pricing structures and the low prices imposed on farmers, as well as reducing food waste and packaging.

Speaking about the report, Joanna Lewis, director of policy at the Soil Association, said: “We welcome the strong emphasis Climate Assembly members have placed on providing support to farmers to make the transition to climate-friendly farming and a more diverse landscape, and their insistence that changes should take account of smaller farms, and that animal welfare must not be compromised.

“It is striking how much support there is for a vision of more localised food production for the benefit of communities, farmers and the environment. The clear mandate for the Government to champion a voluntary shift towards less and better meat is one that must be heeded.”

For the NFU, whose own 2040 net zero plan focuses on improving productivity, boosting renewable and bioenergy production, and increasing carbon stores on farms, the assembly’s call for increased assistance for farmers and more supportive government policies is a welcome one.

NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts added: “Buying British and buying local is a really important element in the food debate. British food is already some of the most climate-friendly in the world – emissions from UK beef are half that of the global average – so we really do need to consider where and how our food is produced. With this in mind, our net zero plan shows that we can continue to eat quality, sustainably-produced British meat and dairy and still reach our climate goals.

“British farmers have started on the road to net zero but we want to do more. We want to see the UK government match our climate ambition for farming and ensure our progress isn’t undermined by trade deals that allow unsustainably produced food, food that would be illegal to produce here, onto our supermarket shelves or restaurant menus.”

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