SCOTTISH LIVESTOCK farming can achieve 'net zero' greenhouse gas emissions – so long as the official calculations take proper account of grassland's ability to capture and store carbon.

Analysis of the UK Climate Change Committee's latest report has led at least one farming industry leader, former Quality Meat Scotland chairman Jim McLaren, to adopt a more optimistic attitude to the prospect of future legislation binding agriculture to GHG reduction targets.

Mr McLaren famously used his final speech as QMS chairman to warn that 'net zero' ambitions would mean the end of viable livestock farming in Scotland.

However, with the CCC's new acknowledgement that livestock methane emissions are less of an issue, because that gas has a short lifespan in the atmosphere, Mr McLaren has identified the possibility that proper accounting for pasture-based livestock farming's considerable ability to soak up carbon dioxide could be used to balance agriculture's GHG account, and legitimately present the industry and its products as net-zero.

"This is an important document, jointly commissioned by both the UK and devolved governments," said Mr McLaren of the latest CCC report. " It will almost certainly form the basis of legislation. The previous report formed the basis of my QMS speech at RHS in 2018. It spoke about the impossibility of achieving net zero by 2050. This new report had reversed that advice."

He highlighted this CCC conclusion: "To stabilise global temperatures, emissions of long-lived gases like CO₂ must be reduced to net-zero. Emissions of short-lived gases like methane must be stabilised, but need not reach net-zero.

"We develop scenarios in this report that reduce UK emissions of CO₂ and other long-lived gases to net-zero. Alongside cuts in methane emissions these would result in a UK reduction across greenhouse gases of around 97% relative to 1990. This would end the UK's contribution to rising global temperatures."

Mr McLaren commented: "Amidst the clamour by the vegan lobby to come up with a daily report advocating a meat free diet and lifestyle, there is a stark lack of context and challenge within the debate.

"These assertions marry the worst global statistics with examples of the poorest animal welfare and environmental practices and shamelessly pedal them as somehow being representative of UK red meat production."

Farmers needed to highlight ruminants' unique ability to convert cellulose to protein in a way that humans and all other mono gastric creatures cannot, and ensure that official policy recognised that an equivalent level of CO₂ to the methane emitted by those ruminants is absorbed by the grass and other crops on which they graze and feed.

"This makes stable populations of ruminants completely carbon neutral with exactly zero climate warming impact," said Mr McLaren.

QMS director of strategic engagement Douglas Bell, commented: “Scotland is known for the high organic content of its soils and the considerable amount of carbon captured and stored in these soils.

“As well as converting grass into a valuable dietary protein such as meat, our grazing cattle and sheep also make a significant contribution to the retention and protection of this carbon store.”