The agroecological approach to agriculture proffers many opportunities for national and local level adaptation and mitigation to the ecological and social risks associated with climate change and other critical ecological changes that the nation is facing.
“The government wishes to deliver a financial system which supports and enables a net-zero economy by mobilising private finance towards sustainable and resilient growth and is resilient to the physical and transition risks that climate change presents.
The FCA should have regard to the government’s commitment to achieve a net-zero economy by 2050 under the Climate Change Act 2008 (Order 2019) when considering how to advance its objectives and discharge its functions.”
RT Hon Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister, then HM Treasury to Nikhil Rathi Chief, Executive Financial Conduct Authority
We need to see the regulatory market supporting financial innovations that mobilise private and public finance towards systemic transformation across different sectors, particularly, agriculture.
This week, the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) published a new webpage containing information and resources on the FCA's strategic approach to sustainable finance and climate change.
This marks a newer era of further regulatory institutions’ commitments to supporting environmental sustainability within and through the financial services industry.
This follows the publication of the updated remits for the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) and Financial Policy Committee (FPC) at Budget 2021, which communicated the institutions’ commitment to supporting environmental sustainability and the transition towards ‘net zero’, and the HM Treasury recommendation letter for the FCA.
The government’s related economic strategy consists of:
structural reform to level up opportunity in all parts of the UK and to transition to an environmentally sustainable and resilient net-zero economy, including through regulation, and an ambitious programme of investment in skills, infrastructure, and innovation, in order to sustain high employment, raise productivity and improve living standards
maintaining a resilient, effectively regulated and competitive financial system that supports the real economy through the provision of productive finance and critical financial services, while protecting consumers, safeguarding taxpayer interests and supporting the transition to a net zero economy
The FCA's sustainable finance strategy is based on three themes.
Transparency: promoting good disclosures along the investment chain.
Trust: ensuring that the market delivers sustainable finance instruments and products that genuinely meet investors’ sustainability preferences.
Tools: government, regulators and industry all working together to share experience, develop guidance and tools, and provide mutual support as we address the challenges of climate change.
NEONICS - The EU-Banned Pesticide Which England Nearly Let Back In
The Banning of Neonics in the EU
In 2018, the European Union introduced a total ban on the outdoor use of three neonics: clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam.
The ban applies to all agricultural applications except in closed greenhouses, as the main scientific basis for the ban relates to the hazards to wild bees. It is important to appreciate that this law did not come about overnight; it is a result of years of research and campaigning by scientists, wildlife interest groups, policymakers, and other stakeholders.
As the UK Brexit 11-month UK transition period ended just a few months ago, it’s still unclear how many EU environmental rules will continue to apply to the UK. The expectation is that some of the rules will be maintained and some will change. The Environment Bill, which is still making its way through the UK Parliament, will set the new legal framework for matters relating to environmental concerns in the UK.
Here’re the top five things you should know about pesticides:
There are two categories of pesticides: contact and systemic. Contact pesticides remain on the surface of the treated parts of plants. Systemic pesticides are taken up and transported throughout the plant – the flowers, leaves, roots, stems, pollens, and nectars. In another word, systemic pesticides affect a plant’s entire ecosystem
Systemic pesticides destroy bees and other natural pollinators like butterflies, flies, wasps, moths, beetles, and more
Systemic pesticides have adverse effects across terrestrial and marine ecosystems, which affect our food systems
Toxins build up in a food chain and biomagnify higher on a food chain
The large-scale use of pesticides is directly linked to industrial monocultures. There are nature-friendly alternatives to most agricultural applications of pesticides
The derogation on sugar beet in England this year
In January this year, the UK government announced the decision to grant an application for emergency authorisation to allow sugar beet crops to be grown in England this year, with seeds treated with neonicotinoid thiamethoxam, an EU-banned pesticide. The intention was to prevent Virus Yellows, a disease that has historically affected sugar beet yield in England.
The UK government’s decision to allow the use of neonicotinoid thiamethoxam was premised on the arguments that it will be “temporary” and that sugar beet is a non-flowering crop. Therefore the risks to bees were assessed to be acceptable.
Many in the campaigning and scientific communities disagree and campaigned for the reversal of the derogation. So did I, as the ecological and socio-economic impacts from the use of neonicotinoid thiamethoxam and the likes of it are highly hazardous and costly to our ecosystems, and alternative solutions are available.
The U-turn - when the weather becomes the natural pesticide
A few days ago, the government announced a u-turn - the derogation has been canceled. This u-turn is not a direct response to the public campaigns but instead a response to a change in a virus model which uses winter temperatures and population dynamics of aphid, the insect that is responsible for transmitting virus yellows into sugar beet crops. Virus Yellows is one of the key threats to industrially grown sugar beet crops in Europe and the UK. Due to colder weather observed in January and February this year, the recently updated model predicts a lower percentage of crops will be affected by the virus this year, compared to the previous model. Colder winter entails a delay in aphids’ flights and peak growth thus reducing the risk of Virus Yellows in beet crops this spring.
It is great news when the weather becomes a natural pesticide. But the concerns remain - prospective derogation of neonics and the continuous use of other systemic pesticides as alternatives. The current system allows and justifies the triggering of highly hazardous pesticide use, instead of dealing with the systemic problems associated with non-agroecological farming approaches.
What can we do?
It took almost a decade to push for the EU banning of just a handful of neurotoxic pesticides. We have seen a number of temporary allowances of neonics in the EU in the last two years. They are almost always lead by the companies that produced them. There is a worry of deregulation of neurotoxic pesticides post-Brexit, when as a nation, we should be tightening up environmental and social standards.
Agroecology is a farming approach that attempts to understand and improve the relationships between plants, animals, people, and the wider ecosystems. It involves techniques to ensure healthier soils, biodiversity, workforces, and communities. It is a scientific discipline as well as a social movement, where the linkages and feedbacks between social and ecological systems are fed into a continuous learning cycle.
In fact, farmers and researchers have found nature-friendly/ agroecological alternatives to most agricultural applications of chemical pesticides. Some of the most promising alternatives include farming practices that are designed to conserve biological control through the use of microbes. There are also other biological, physical, and non-toxic semiochemical practices that have shown high efficacy, applicability, and practicality.
Our agriculture-food systems need positive disruption. We need not one, but many, different types of alternative solutions that will fundamentally change not just how we view, pay, and consume food, but how as a society we organise and regenerate the scarce natural resources we have been taking for granted. This requires many socioeconomic changes pursued by various stakeholders across our agriculture-food systems — farmers, landowners, scientists, policymakers, investors, wholesalers, retailers, restaurateurs, chefs, cooks, and not least, consumers, to support large-scale transitioning into agroecology.
Consumers could support nature-friendly farming communities by buying produced farmed in agroecological manners and support social and business initiatives that contribute towards the socioeconomic sustainability and regeneration of agroecology.
Business owners should explore the ecological, social, and economic benefits of sourcing raw materials from agroecological farmers and producers. The term 'regenerative farming' relates to the concept of agroecology and often used as a synonymous term in the industry. This industry is expected to grow rapidly in the next years.
There are great opportunities to invest directly in agroecology, channeling the much-needed financial capital to support the transitioning of industrial monoculture to the type of agricultural activities that will support the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the United Nation 2030 Agenda.
For more information about the investing opportunities in agroecology and regenerative agriculture, contact us.
Peatland is a neglected topic in the public discourse on climate change, natural capital and ecosystem services.
provide a wide range of vital provisioning, regulating and cultural ecosystem services
are key to regulating water, and geochemical cycles including carbon
provide habitat for highly specialised biodiversity
represent 3% of the global land surface but estimated to store 30-40% of terrestrial carbon
Heard about the great decline in the orangutan population in Borneo linked to deforestation for palm oil?
But not the fact that its the main driver to peatland loss?
That's because peatland is a neglected topic in the public discourses on climate change and ecosystem services.
"England’s ‘national rainforests’ to be protected by new rules"
This week, the UK government announced that a new regulation will be introduced to prevent the burning of heather and other vegetation on protected blanket bog habitats in England.
This is great news. But as it is, the new regulation is only relevant to peat over 40cm deep, at a Site of Special Scientific Interest that is also a Special Area of Conservation or a Special Protection Area i.e. the new regulation will only protect some peatlands, from some human activities, in some areas.
Here're the main ESG implications of Peatlands in the UK:
provide 25-27% of UK drinking water
represent 12% of UK land, stores 20x the carbon compared to the total forest mass
the main causes of loss and degradation are afforestation, forestry, drainage, heavy livestock grazing, peat extraction for fuel and horticulture, and cultural activities like grouse shooting.
5% loss = approx. 5% UK annual anthropogenic GHG emissions
the economic cost from adverse socioecological impacts of peatland loss and degradation is far greater than the economic benefit from industrial and cultural activities that adversely impact the conditions of peatlands
the cost of restoration will bring about between 5-10x the economic benefits arising from both an increase in the positive and decreased adverse socioecological impacts
The condition of the peatland determines the quality and extent of the 'e-services' it provides. e.g. peatland in good condition is better at storing and sequestering carbon for the long term. Peatlands in poor condition can release carbon rather than storing it and change the quality of the water in the area.
Blanket bog is globally rare and found in only a few parts of the world with cool, wet, and usually oceanic climates. 13% of the world’s reserves are in the UK, the largest type in the UK. 15+% are in England. Protecting the two other main types of peatlands in the UK, Raised Bogs and Fen (fed by mineral-rich ground- and river water, as well as rainfall), are economically viable and socioecologically important too.
Rotational burning is widely deemed as an outdated and damaging practice. This could be an opportunity for a blanket ban on rotational burning of peatlands across the UK.
The government has for more than a decade recognised that healthy peatland is one of the most effective terrestrial carbon sink, and that restoring peatlands is a priority, yet, little has been done for conservation and restoration until now.
UK has a high stock of agricultural land areas not utilised. There is no need to use peatlands for any agricultural activities.
The new regulation needs to go further to help the nation to achieve the pledged ‘net zero carbon emissions by 2050’. Restoration and management measures are also necessary, to protect peatlands and the biodiversity, food, clean water, and other ecosystem services peatlands provide.
The long term economic costs from the adverse socialecological impacts of peatland loss and degradation are many times larger than the short term deemed 'benefits' of any industrial use of peatlands, and from not going further with this regulation.
There are great opportunities to create public and market-based solutions. Contact me for a discussion in my recent projects in developing a multi-discipline mechanism with the agroecological farming communities in the UK.
Neonicotinoid Thiamethoxam, banned in the EU in 2018, will be allowed for "limited and controlled use” in the UK on sugar beet in 2021
Neonicotinoid Thiamethoxam is a type of Neonicotinoids also known as neonics.
They are systemic pesticides, i.e. taken up and transported throughout the plant - the leaves, flowers, roots, stems, pollens, and nectars; travel long distances through the atmosphere and accumulate elsewhere; and also persist in soils.
The ESG implications of the temporary derogation of Neonicotinoid Thiamethoxam in the UK
The UK government announced last week that a pesticide containing Neonicotinoid Thiamethoxam, banned in the EU in 2018, will be allowed for "limited and controlled use” on sugar beet this year. They argued that sugar beet is a non-flowering crop and the risks to bees were assessed to be acceptable. Many in the campaigning and scientific communities have disagreed with this assessment.
Neonicotinoids or neonics are systemic pesticides. Unlike contact pesticides, which remain on the surface of the treated parts of plants, systemic pesticides are taken up and transported throughout the plant - the leaves, flowers, roots, stems, pollens, and nectars.
Pesticide can travel long distances through the atmosphere and accumulate elsewhere. It can also persist in soils. The implication? Many ecological and social systems, including our food systems, could be adversely affected.
Pollinators like wild bees are one of the important indicators of agricultural ecosystems' health, like earthworm and microbial populations in soil. A regulatory reversal on neurotoxic pesticides could have devastating socioecological and economic impacts in the UK and systems beyond our national borders. These impacts include but are not limited to the declining wild bee population in the UK and the threats to key food crops that require pollination. The toxins in neonics and other types of neurotoxic pesticides like organochlorine and pyrethroid can damage the tissues of almost every life form and affect many ecosystem processes on the earth.
It took scientists and campaigners almost a decade to push for the EU banning of just a handful of some neurotoxic pesticides. There are reasons for concerns, for instance, could this announcement mark the beginning of the deregulation of neurotoxic pesticides? Temporary lifting has been applied and approved in the EU over the last few years. So this is not unusual in the context of precedence. But in ESG terms, it's highly insensible for any nation to allow any form of derogations on systemic pesticides.
So what about the economic (social and ecological) costs of crop failure? Let's be clear that farmers, particularly small scales have to shoulder most of the financial risks when there are crop failures. This is just one of the many examples of the risk-reward imbalance in our food systems. The elephant in the room is intensive crop monoculture. Monoculture farming increases the risk of crop disease and pest outbreak. Instead of supporting a system that perpetuates systemic failures in the food systems and highly hazardous impacts on people and the ecosystem, a long term solution should consider mechanisms that share agricultural risks and help farmers to transition towards more agroecological farming approaches.
We should move towards, not away from, social- and ecological- systems-centric and nature and human-friendly approaches in our agricultural and food production activities.
There are 7,039 edible plants which hold potential as future foods
The criteria for the 'edible food plants':
nutritious - to deal with millions of malnourished people across the world,
robust for a changing climate
low risk of extinction
history of being used as foods, at least on a local level
The new "State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2020" report by Kew provides an in-depth snapshots of biodiversity in the UK and its overseas territories, highlighting :
+ 15 plants provide 90% of humanity’s food energy intake, with four billion people rely entirely on three crops – rice, maize, and wheat.
+ Relying on a handful of crops to feed the global population has contributed to malnutrition, topsoil degradation, biodiversity loss -all of which makes humanity highly vulnerable to abrupt ecological changes.
+ 2 in 5 plants threatened – extinction risk may be worse than previously thought
+ 723 of the plants we use for medicine are at risk of extinction
+ 2,500 plants could provide clean energy for millions worldwide, beyond the six crops – maize, sugarcane, soybean, palm oil, rapeseed, and wheat – currently used to generate 80% of global industrial biofuel
+ Current levels of beekeeping in cities are threatening other biodiversity, mainly wild bees, rather than saving it.
Read the latest "State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2020" report"
Why farmers in India are protesting?
Three new farming laws introduced in India in September 2019:
The Farmers Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill,
The Essential Commodities Act Bill, and, Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Bill,
collectively called the Indian Farm Reforms 2020, have sparked the largest protest in India, quite possibly the largest protest in the world.
Here, are my top 7 biggest issues with the new laws.
I focus on the most critical aspects that will further exacerbate the livelihood of farmers in India, many living in poverty with minimal institutional supports, including access to basic agricultural insurance:
Removal of subsidies for farmers, including the minimum support price (MSP) for a selection of grain crops
Removal of procurement facilities intended for farmers to sell their crops to the Government at MSP
Farmers have only one route to market - ‘contract farming’. What farmers grow and at what price will be dictated by corporations, with negligible governance frameworks for interventions
No legal provisions for farmers to take a corporation to court (e.g. written contract is not mandatory). Disputes will be arbitrated by local Government
Farmers would not be able to complain to the governing board, AMPC / Mandis, previously available to them
The Government demits itself from the power to prevent hoarding and controlling price inflation. (They can intervene only if there is 50% price rise over the previous year’s price on non-perishable goods & 100% price rise over the previous year’s on perishable goods.)
Anyone can store an unlimited quantity of food commodities for future sales, which previously only gov-authorised agents could do.
The legal regime in the UK is generally deemed healthy. However, the reality is that the legal safeguards for farmers are still largely superficial. Farmers have disproportionately lower bargaining power, compared to other industries. This has resulted in inequities in risks and rewards - low margin, high transaction cost, risks of increasing ecological changes such as climate change, for farmers, particularly small scale farmers, and perpetuating structural injustice in agrifood.
The impacts to farmers in India, and to farmers and citizens around the world, are beyond these. The exposure and vulnerabilities to these impacts are indeed unequal among different groups of societies. Ultimately, everyone including corporations will be affected.
We need more platforms to hear from farmers directly. We, corporations and food citizens, need to better understand the linkages between the social, ecological and economic aspects in agriculture with other industries and the wider societies.
My journey from Corporate Sustainability to Regenerative Agriculture Tech Start Up
On Wednesday, I had the chance to represent Farms to Feed Us for a live Q&A with the directors of the documentary, Kiss the Ground.
It was great fun to chat with Rebecca and Josh Tickell, Matt Swarbrick ecologist and farmer at Henbant Farm, and Humphrey Llyod, head grower of Edible Futures and creative mobiliser at the the union Land Worker Alliance where he co-produced the documentary Our Hands.
During the chat, I touched on the opportunities for UK agriculture to contribute positively to the climate agenda and the role of my new venture, Farms to Feed Us in transforming the agriculture and food systems. I’d like to share, here, why I have been so passionate about my work in the past months.
I have been disheartened by the progress in global climate mitigation and adaptation, in the last years. The governmental leadership in the UK has been sombre and severely regressive in the US. The crucial system-level climate or socioecological resilience initiatives among large multinationals have slackened.
When I decided to set up Farms to Feed Us as a community interest company Cathy St Germans, I saw it as an opportunity to go full throttle with my socio-ecological-economic aspirations, and the ideas we developed from our volunteering endeavors during the Covid-19 lockdown. I was re-spirited by the shared passion between our colleagues and collaborators, and by the tenacity and aptitude of the farmers, I have had the fortune to meet and work with.
The economics in UK agriculture is shockingly dim. Prices of fresh produce like veg have been declining for two decades, and at least on average 20% lower now than in the 90s. Farmers, particularly small-scale farmers tend to get less than 10% of the retail price, yet they are most vulnerable to and bear the most or all of the risks from the increasing abrupt and severe weather events.
So the starting point for me was to ask, could we create a system where:
🌱 the social, ecological, and economic values are circulated in a regenerative loop
🌱 agricultural produce is fairly valued and priced
🌱 farmers and producers receive a fair share of the profit margin and the socioecological and economic risks
🌱 land is more accessible to new and diverse entrants
🌱 agroecological and nature-friendly farming approaches will be supported. For instance, gains in natural capital like biodiversity, bioefficacy, biosequestration, topsoil improvement from agroecological farming practices will be financially recompensed by the market or by the government through 'payment for ecosystem' initiatives. These are ecosystem provisions and services that benefit everyone yet paid by no one
🌱 our relationship with the food-producing community changes from purely transactional to cognitively and affective interactive?
All the questions led me to two words, democracy, and technology. We need to democratise the agriculture-food systems, which involves reducing information asymmetry between farmers, producers, landowners, seed banks and sellers, soil experts, livestock vets, nutritionists, consumers, and the ecosystems. Information empowers everyone, it encourages diversity in agriculture, sharing of expertise within the supply chain, gives voices to the marginalised groups, encourages people to become social agents such as global and food citizens. It means we could look forward to fairer and richer agri-food systems. Richer, in culture, interest, and expertise.
Technology will be the enabler.
Stay tuned for the launch of our revolutionary circular economy platform.
The linkages between agriculture, climate change, and other critical social-ecological emergencies, and the potential of agriculture being a solution to climate change, UN SDGs and UN 2030 Agenda
agriculture contributes 20% of the world GreenHouse Gas (‘GHG’) emissions, uses 70% of fresh water is a major water polluter along with other geochemical cycles, and is a driver of land degradation and desertification
>70% of UK land is agricultural area. UK soils currently store about 10 billion tonnes of carbon, roughly equal to 80 years of annual UK greenhouse gas emissions
agriculture has the potential for carbon sequestration and geochemical cycles management
Increasing the health of topsoil can lead to an increase in the wider ecosystem’s adaptability and resilience to different ecological stressors such as precipitation and wind
Next: understanding the complex interactions between water, energy, and food; the link between microbes in soil and its health with consequent impact on human health and how regenerative agriculture proffers some answers; 1% of farms operate 70% of the world farmland, highlighting the severity of land inequality and large-scale monocultures
Agriculture is a key piece of the puzzle to feeding the world but is it a part of sustainable development? Can agriculture contribute to the United Nation (UN) Sustainable Development Goals and the UN 2030 Agenda - to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure peace and prosperity?
United Nation (UN) Sustainable Development Goals consist of 17 goals:
There are opportunities for agriculture to contribute positively to these goals. A social-ecological system perspective is key to understanding these goals with respect to their social, ecological, and economic drivers, process, and impacts.
The current narratives about agriculture and ecological changes tend to focus on agriculture as one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions. This is true, but there are more to that. Firstly, agriculture has contributed to other social-ecological stressors. Secondly, the ‘right’ agriculture could mitigate and prevent some systemic ecological and social problems.
Global perspective on the link between agriculture with a myriad of ecological changes
Industrial agriculture was deemed a panacea for an increasingly populated world. Agricultural production has more than tripled since the 1960s, supporting the need for food, feed, and fibre. We saw a rapid and increasing intensification in the use of land, water, synthetic fertilisers, chemical pesticides, and high-yield cereal hybrids promised to reduce hunger and stimulate economic development.
Agriculture has, directly and indirectly, contributed to various abrupt and gradual changes in ecological and human systems at the global and regional level, such as biogeochemical (carbon, water, nitrogen-phosphorus, oxygen, sulphur) cycles changes and imbalances, biodiversity loss, land degradation and deforestation, which also intensify the vulnerability and sensitivity of biodiversity, food security, human health and human livelihood to ecological changes and variability. The interlinkage, nature, magnitude, spatial extent, and reversibility of these changes, abrupt and gradual, have an immense impact on our planet earth and life on earth.
Carbon and Soil Carbon Sequestration
Since the pre-industrial period (1850-1900), the world has warmed around 1.2 - 1.5C1, land surface air temperature have seen nearly 1.8C warming, while the oceans have warmed around 0.8C. These increases have been associated with higher and unprecedented frequency and magnitude of social-ecological events around the world - droughts, rains, floods, forest fires, coral bleaching, heat waves, and storms.
As a whole, globally, agriculture2 is responsible for 1/5 of carbon dioxide emissions, 1/3 of Methane (CH4) emissions, and 2/3 of Nitrous Oxide (N2O) emissions. It has been argued that agriculture has a decreasing share of total global anthropogenic emissions, for instance, in the 1990s, it was responsible for around 29% of emissions, 24% in the 2000s, 21% 2010s (Tubielli, 2015)3 and around 18.4% by 20204. The main reasons driving the global decline? A fall in the emissions from deforestation and land-use change, and a rise in the total of anthropogenic GhG emissions. Whilst the emissions from deforestation has fallen, the emissions from agriculture have risen over the last half of a decade.
The view of forests as carbon-sequester has been established for decades. Trees capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, sequestered carbon is then accumulated in the form of biomass, deadwood, litter, and in forest soils. The release of carbon from forest ecosystems results from natural processes such as respiration and oxidation as well as from human activities such as harvesting, deforestation, and fires.
The view of agriculture as carbon-sequester is however still largely debated. Academics in soil science have studied and estimated the potential of carbon sequestration in soil organic matter for almost two decades. The premise: nearly 10,000 years of cultivated agriculture has reduced global soil carbon by 116 Gt5, an amount equivalent to more than a decade of the present rates of industrial emissions6.
It is proposed, through changes in agricultural techniques, the legacy load of carbon can be restored to soils, thus serve as a significant tool to feed humanity and to mitigate climate change. Scientific research in this particular field is at its nascent stage, scientific evidence so far showing a spectrum of pessimistic and optimistic observations. Whilst there is an increasing consensus that reducing soil erosion will reduce carbon leakage, the evidence of specific agriculture practices leading to the retention of carbon in the soil in still debated. Critiques argue that it offers temporary carbon storage and is be highly sensitive to changes in agricultural management practices.
The research in agricultural practices contributing to increasing topsoil health which in turn increase the wider system’s social-ecological adaptability to different ecological stressors such as precipitation, wind, and wave are increasingly exciting. Markets should pay attention to these developments. For instance, agricultural activities rely heavily on water. The sector accounts for about 70% of global fresh-water use and is a major water polluter, highlighting the role of agriculture as a sector that contributes to and faces the risks of ecological changes. Agriculture has also been linked to desertification. According to the United Nation, more than 1 billion people in over 100 countries face some level of risk related to the effects of desertification. Climate change can further increase the risk of desertification. Whilst, desertification is reversible, it requires concerted civil and industrial actions and agriculture proffers some potentials.
In the US, figures in 2018 suggest that agriculture accounts for 9.9% of GHG emissions, land use, and forestry 11.6%, transportation 28.2%, electricity production 26.9%, industry 22.%, commercial and residential 12.3%.
Since 1990, the US government has largely view managed forests and other lands are a seen as a net sink. The view of agriculture as carbon sequestration opportunities is increasing in a section of the farming communities and yet seen in public policies.
The UK Government has pledged to adopt policies that will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the economy by at least 80%, from 1990 levels, by 2050. This is In line with the requirements set out in the Climate Change Act 2008 and as part of its international obligations.
With 10% of net greenhouse gas emissions in the UK were estimated to be from the agriculture sector, 28% from transport, 23% from energy supply, 18% from business, and 15% from the residential7, it places agriculture as the 5th most important driver. If we look beyond carbon dioxide emissions, agriculture is responsible for 70% of total nitrous oxide emissions and 49% of total methane emissions. Emissions of methane largely come from the enteric fermentation from livestock, particularly cattle; and nitrous oxide emissions related to the use of fertilisers. In the UK, between 1990 and 2018, GhG emissions from agriculture decreased by around 16%, with a general downward trend in emissions since the late 1990s8. This was driven by a fall in animal numbers over the period, together with a decrease in synthetic fertiliser use.
But one key but the relatively unknown fact is that UK soils currently store about 10 billion tonnes of carbon, roughly equal to 80 years of annual UK greenhouse gas emissions9. This may correspond with the other important fact, that 72 - 74% of the UK land area10 is agricultural area11. The total utilised agricultural area in the UK has remained between 17 and 18 million hectares since 2001. In 2020, the total utilised agricultural area in the UK is approximately 17.5 million hectares, with the total croppable area at approx. 6.1 million hectares, covering 25% of the total land area in the UK.
Interestingly, whilst the government or rather DEFRA see soil as an important natural capital resource that provides ecology and humanity with many essential services, termed ecosystem services, Yet, contrary to the OECD12, for years, the UK government has taken the position that potential in the UK to which soil carbon sequestration can offset agricultural emissions in the UK is uncertain and that potential in the UK is limited.
Academics, however, have been unraveling the potential of soil as a key compartment for carbon sequestration (Lal, 2014; Minasny et al., 2017). To date, most studies found the potential to be hinged on the net biome productivity and the soil quality (Bispo et al., 2017) which correspond with not just climatic, ecological and land-use changes but also specific to farming methods.
A recent global study on soil lifespan showed that topsoil health can be rapidly extended by changes in land use and management highlighted or rather refute a narrative13 that have been circulated in media - there is 60 years of farming or harvest left if we do not convert to minimal- or zero- tillage farming systems. This narrative has been espoused by a recently launched Hollywood star-studded documentary titled ‘Kiss the Ground’.
There is research that suggests zero-tillage practices may induce an increase in N2O emissions thereby offset potential benefits from CO2 reduction. Reflecting DEFRA’s concerns, the academic uncertainty remains in regard to the extent to which zero-tillage14 can sequester more carbon throughout the soil profile, with some studies highlighting incorrect sampling and calculation methodologies have overestimated the potential of zero-tillage in carbon sequestration. A new study showed global warming potential was at least 30% lower from zero-tilled soils compared to conventionally tilled soils, primarily driven by lower CO2 emissions under zero-tillage. However, the consensus on good soil management practices positively influencing and extend top soil heath remains, along with the potential for geochemical rebalancing and mitigating CO2 emissions.
At the moment, the UK government sees peat soils15 as a significantly larger potential for carbon sequestration. Only £12 million has been invested in the research in this area.
Despite agriculture’s relatively high contribution to GHG emissions, agriculture is not yet subject to emissions caps under the Kyoto agreement to fight climate change. Government in some countries are taking actions, we see that in global and particularly finance industry-led initiatives in climate risks and biodiversity loss reporting.
The potential for carbon sequestration in agriculture will be discussed further in the next article. I will also discuss the uptake of mitigation methods by small-scale farmers, and the potential of regulatory and market instruments to provide for natural ecosystem services.