While farming leaders and commentators might be guilty of running out of ways in which to overstate the importance of getting a good deal in the Brexit negotiations, it came as a bit of a shock last week to hear similar heights of hyperbole being applied elsewhere.

So, when terms such as 'era-changing' and 'the most serious challenge of our lifetime' were being bandied about in the farming press last week, there was a moment’s hesitation before reading on – as the expectation was that it would apply to the most recent move (or lack thereof) in the seemingly interminable Brexit saga.

But, as has been widely reported, it was the new 'nett zero' targets raised in the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations published towards the end of last week which prompted the use of such language.

There’s no doubt that the issue of climate change is a double-edged one for farming industry – for while we might feel that we should be more exempt than other sectors from the tightening of the screw on this one, we’re also right there in the front line of those being affected by the issue.

So, I guess it was probably a bit of a mixed blessing to hear that the UK – and in particular Scotland – is going to do its bit in reducing emissions, with the UK likely to focus in being carbon neutral by 2050 while Scotland was set a target of 2045.

It has to be admitted that it’s grand and noble to take the lead and be amongst one of the first countries to selflessly charge down the route by ensuring that we won’t be pumping out any more greenhouse gases than we will be laying down. But you do have to ask if, in itself it’ll make a difference if some of the major contributors to greenhouse gas levels – such as the US, China, India and Russia – aren’t going to give similar undertakings.

But this apart, it’s almost a given that the 'keen-to-be-green' Scottish Government will want to be ahead of the pack – and meet the nett-zero target by 2045, at least five years ahead of the rest of the UK, as suggested in the report. And few would be overly surprised if they decided to do it in an even shorter time-scale.

As has been widely recognised, though, such an undertaking will require massive change within Scottish agriculture.

So, are we up for it?

I guess the answer really has to be 'yes' – but on the condition that the industry is treated fairly.

Now, the shortfalls of the formula used to allocate the levels of emissions from various industries was given a fair airing in my last column, with the huge amount of sequestration in the country’s grazing lands – and even cropping land – not being credited to the farming sector, but instead squirrelled away under an entirely different heading in the audit.

As many have pointed out, this has given an entirely misleading picture of our overall nett contribution – which is claimed to be around 20% of all emissions in Scotland – while at the same time ignoring many of the benefits which farming provides in mitigating climate change.

So, not only would it be a complete cop-out for any government to conclude it could take the easy route by simply sacrificing farming on this green altar and reduce our emissions by letting our productive capacity dwindle, it would be a misguided one as well.

It would also be entirely hypocritical, as all the emissions which will inevitably be required to produce the food for the population would simply be 'exported' abroad. And the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has shown that production tends to be considerably more efficient in Western Europe than it is in many other parts of the world.

Any focus purely on greenhouse gas emissions would also fail to recognise that other factors such as rainfall and water availability - which will also become of increasing importance as climate change kicks in - are likely to be less of an issue in Scotland and the rest of the UK than in many of the other major food producing areas around the globe.

Putting all this together, there is a pretty clear case to be made to any government that any push towards nett zero should focus on providing a bit of a carrot to incentivise moves in this direction, rather than relying solely on the use of a big, thick the stick.

To do this, we have to understand what is technically achievable in the farmed and natural landscape – and while we might need to aim high, we also need to be realistic in what we can ultimately achieve.

Curiously, though, most of the emissions from farming aren’t actually of the best known global warming gas, carbon dioxide, or as it is also known, CO₂. More than half (57%) is due to methane and 30% is due to nitrous oxide (N2O). Both of these are, unit for unit, much more powerful greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide, but they tend to be expressed in terms of CO₂ equivalents.

Emissions from livestock account for around half of the farming sector’s total, with that from agricultural soil, mainly in arable cropping, accounting for around 15% while waste and manure management also accounted for around 14%.

While last autumn’s report from the Climate Change Committee (CCC) showed that emissions in the farming sector had declined by 14% between 1990 and 2016, there had been a substantial slowing down in the rate of progress since 2008.

The majority of the reduction since 1990 was attributed to efficiency improvements in farming, fewer livestock, a reduction in nitrogen fertiliser use and less grassland being ploughed for crop production.

But while farmers have been worried about the stick approach not working, the CCC – while it said it recognised that supporting policies which promote culture and behaviour change are an important lever in reducing agriculture emissions – also expressed concerns that a voluntary-only approach hadn’t really led to any significant reductions in emissions. So they are advising that the approach should be backed up with 'appropriate regulation'.

So, be it by persuasion, coercion or regulation, it does look like we’re going to have to face up to some massive change in the near future.

But another sensational report – the UN one on biodiversity, which stated that 1m species were under threat of extinction – might have changed the debate. While the focus was on the threat which the loss of species might have on humanity, many voices pointed out that it was the sheer mass of humanity which was threatening the planet.

For the first time for a while, the argument that halting or even reversing the growth in the global human population might play a significant role in saving the planet was given a serious airing.

And fewer people – or the same number but using far fewer of the earth’s precious resources because it’s overconsumption as much as overpopulation that’s the problem – would help stop species extinction and would also massively reduce humanity’s carbon footprint and CO₂ emissions as well.

So, we in farming might not be the only ones having to face up to massive changes …