SCOTLAND’S FARMERS and crofters must be recognised as part of the solution that can deliver ‘net-zero’ greenhouse gas emissions.

A new report from the Committee on Climate Change has stated that Scotland has greater potential to remove emissions from its economy than the UK overall, and can 'credibly' adopt the more ambitious target of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 – that is, the country will absorb at least as much atmospheric carbon as it releases.

NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick responded that the agricultural sector was in a strong position to contribute both in terms of release reduction and increased carbon capture: “The CCC recommendation that Scotland can achieve net-zero emissions by 2045 is era-changing and a huge moment in the climate change debate for Scotland’s farmers and crofters.

“It is now extremely likely that Scottish Government will adopt this recommendation and emission target and look to all sectors of society and industry, including food and farming, to play their part in delivering. That will require massive change within Scottish agriculture. Our farmers and crofters are green by nature, we are starting from a very good place and we will work with the government to help the industry become a world leader in low carbon farming," said Mr McCornick.

“First and foremost, climate change is a critically important issue for Scottish farming and our farmers and crofters are on the front line in experiencing the impacts of climate change. They are increasingly having to adapt to changing weather patterns and increased volatility in order to maintain their businesses and still put high quality food on the table.

“They take their environmental responsibilities incredibly seriously and continue to adopt practical, workable solutions and improvements to the challenge of climate change. Agriculture is a source of greenhouse gas emissions, and farmers and crofters are a big part of the solution in helping tackle the collective challenge that we face..

“Reducing agricultural emissions in Scotland will be fundamentally challenging to businesses but need not be at the expense of producing food, cutting livestock numbers or exporting our emissions by relying on food imports," he stressed. "Simply reducing numbers in the Scottish red meat sector would have a massive economic impact on agriculture and more importantly the wider economy, but also export the responsibility to nations with a poorer record on climate change.

"If net zero targets are to be laid in legislation, there is now an opportunity for government and organisations to work together to set the agenda. To secure the facts, NFUS is planning to work with Scottish research institutions to establish a Fellowship to capture what is currently understood about agricultural emissions in Scotland and to communicate that information in a user-friendly way to key industry stakeholders in order to create a solid platform from which to move forward."

Speaking from Scottish Land and Estates, Mark Tennant said: "Whilst ambitious, we believe net-zero can be achieved by 2045 if government positively supports land managers to implement the changes that will need to be made.

“One current issue faced by land-based businesses is the separation of land uses in carbon emission calculations. Through afforestation, regeneration of peatland and renewable energy projects, farmers and land managers are already making significant efforts towards the reduction of carbon emission and existing atmospheric carbon levels," he noted.

"Despite this, many of these efforts are not currently recognised because of the strict sectoral approach that is taken between farming, forestry and other land uses. With more and more diversification in land-based business, it is important that the concept of integrated land use is encapsulated within new legislation currently in passage through the Scottish Parliament.”

QMS chief executive, Alan Clarke, said the report’s recommendation that Scotland can achieve net-zero emissions by 2045 heralded the start of a new chapter in the climate change debate – and stressed that it was vital that full recognition was given to the part livestock producers can play in achieving the new emissions targets.

“It is important to recognize that the recommendations for agriculture and land use within the report contain many potential solutions that work with both livestock farming and the environment together – delivering win-wins," said Mr Clarke. "For example, peatland restoration within our hills and uplands can also result in improved livestock productivity."