Susan Law, Partner in the Rural Services team at Lindsays

GRETA THUNBERG’S journey from spending her school days as a lone voice of protest outside the Swedish Parliament to keynote speaker at the UN Climate Summit has sparked a passionate debate across the globe about the need for more drastic action to tackle what is becoming increasingly accepted as a climate emergency.

Closer to home, the Scottish Parliament took another significant step on our journey on the fight against climate change with the passing of the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill. In essence, this law simply makes the provisions of the initial, and arguably already world-leading, 2009 law more ambitious.

The 2009 Act established Scotland as a world leader in tackling climate change. This is achieved by increasing the ambition of the emissions reduction targets in line with an appropriate contribution to limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and incorporating provisions that will require the Scottish Ministers to regularly review whether the time is right to specify a net-zero target year.

The legislation has some important implications for how we use and manage our land in Scotland and will require some significant changes in agriculture and farming more generally. As always, with change comes challenges and opportunities.

For example, new rules on the Assessment of Energy Performance of Non-domestic Buildings came into effect on September 1, 2016. The rules require owners of affected properties to prepare an action plan setting out a programme for the implementation of measures to improve the energy performance of the building and to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases produced. Although some buildings are exempt, including non-residential agricultural buildings with low energy demand, they will still catch some agricultural buildings that do use more energy, such as those used for feeding and milking on dairy farms. This has had the effect of creating additional costs for some farmers and landowners to comply with the rules.

More importantly, the industry will need to make some significant changes if we are meet ambitions for net-zero emissions by 2050. Due to the large amounts of methane produced by farms, national goals for climate change mitigation and adaptation are unlikely to be met without fundamental changes to the way land is used and managed.

The importance of subsidy to both the farming and the renewable energy sector means that any changes to these frameworks to incentivise changes in behaviour will have important knock-on effects. If traditional farming subsidies are reformed, farmers will need to consider diversifying their businesses. For example, the UK Government is considering a change to the subsidy regime after Brexit to incentivise greener practices. There is already precedent for using financing initiatives to support farmers with transition to different practices, the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme comes to mind.

But there are already big upsides for farmers. For instance, there are a great deal of farmers who lease their land for wind farms. They may not necessarily agree with them, but the additional income allows them to keep farming. This is often the case with hill sheep farms, which use more traditional methods of farming which are less intense and potentially less profitable. It also allows landowners to benefit from better road and service infrastructure on the wind farm developers penny.

The various new climate change and energy laws passed by politicians in recent years is not the end of the journey – quite the opposite. We’re likely to see more legislation and regulations in years to come, and farmers and landowners will need to have an eye to the future to mitigate any challenges and avail of any opportunities.