NICOLA STURGEON nobly led the way last week by admitting to imposter syndrome, that horrible feeling that you have been promoted well beyond your abilities and are about to be exposed.

Anyone who denies ever feeling that way is either a lying dog or an egomaniac. I feel it frequently, usually when sitting down to write this column. I think I’ve mostly got away with it up to now, but trust me, it’s only a matter of time.

Perhaps this is the week I come unstuck, because I feel compelled to write about something I don’t fully understand – 'climate change'.

I stole John Elliot’s thunder a few weeks ago (although he had many wiser additions to make on soil than I did) and now Jim Brown has done it to me – much of what he wrote last week was about energy production in response to a decline in beef and overproduction of food crops – and I think he is entirely right.

The thing is, climate driven policy is going to transform farming whether we want it to or not. If you thought you were sick of the 'B-word', it will be a distant, almost, but not quite forgotten irritant by the time we finish poring over the 'C-word'.

If we don’t take ownership of the climate change debate, and work with Holyrood and Westminster to find ways to meet the proposed targets, we will lose the weather gage, which as any reader of Patrick O’Brien’s novels will tell you, is vital to hang on to in a sea battle.

And we are in stormy waters. Separate targets set by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) on one hand, and Scotland Food and Drink on the other, seem to be contradictory, as Jonnie Hall, of NFUS, pointed out in an NFUs meeting the other day – how do we achieve a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as well as double value in food and drink by 2030? Are both of these goals even mutually achievable?

Not without a serious rise in the price of food is the answer, because improved efficiencies and yields alone certainly can’t double value.

NFUS is putting a huge amount of energy into this, because as an industry we need to be involved in the discussion, helping to guide it in a proactive and positive way, hopefully providing some practical and realistic solutions which will avoid another round of Highland clearances. That is not what governments want to happen, but without positive input from NFUS and others, it might happen by mistake.

The noise coming from the CCC is that trees capture more carbon than grazing sheep, but let there be variety – Tacitus quoted the ancient Caledonian leader, Calgacus, speaking of the Romans: “They make a desert and call it peace.”

Blanket mono forestry across the Highlands would create an environmental and social desert. What the CCC actually recommends is 27,000 ha of new planting a year for Scotland up to 2045, which doesn’t seem a ridiculous figure on the total farmed area of 5.7m ha, provided it is managed correctly and properly funded.

Part of that funding could well come in payments from aviation for carbon offsets, as it will struggle to meet its targets otherwise. It is vital that farmers recognise the value of these offsets and make the most of them – this is going to be a rising market and we mustn’t sell ourselves short.

A worrying development is that the pace which trees are being cut down is increasing on the back of the rapidly rising cost of wood chip, making a nett increase in afforestation more difficult to achieve. The law of unintended consequences in action yet again.

On the upside, research on GHGs suggests that we don’t need to go down the vegan route to be climate friendly – the Oxford Martin programme on climate pollutants points out that not all GHGs are created equal. Methane breaks down within 12 years, while much of the CO2 from a tonne of coal burnt in 1900 is still floating around up there today.

Professor Myles Allen of the programme stated: “Past increases in CH4 emissions caused warming when they occurred, but constant methane emissions cause little additional warming. Faster reductions in CH4 lead to cooling, presenting an opportunity for agriculture to compensate for delays in reducing CO2 emissions, although nett emission of CO2 and nitrous oxide still need to be reduced.”

The 25% natural reduction in suckler cows in 10 years quoted last week by Jim means that methane emissions from the UK herd currently have no nett global warming impact. In fact, they are probably having a nett cooling effect as they reduce, and the CCC report’s target is already being surpassed.

What other measures must agriculture take to reduce GHG emissions by 70% in 10 years? According to the CCC, renewable energy – such as solar and energy crops – reduced food waste and increased efficiency. Hydrogen energy is also mentioned throughout the report.

We are a resilient and adaptable breed of people, so I have no doubt that we will find the opportunities in there. Certainly, there are threats as well, but what else is new?

The quid pro quo of our support for climate change measures should be unqualified support from government for the 2030 target set by Scotland Food and Drink. That means support for investment in innovation, technology and infrastructure, ongoing support for producer organisations, more support for agri-food tourism, and above all, protection for local production to ensure it is not undercut by the same produce coming from abroad that is not subject to our restrictions on climate change.

Transport is still the largest polluter, so it makes a lot of sense to shorten the food journey where practical. Public sector food procurement could be immeasurably improved with more emphasis on fresh and local.

The inescapable fact is that this huge shift in policy is happening, and we can’t afford to drag our heels. If you remain unconvinced about the reality of climate change, the CCC report, 'Nett zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming', is worth a look – you won’t agree with everything in there, but the accumulated evidence is incredibly compelling.

Unless we grapple and board the climate change ship in the smoke for a short sharp action at close quarters and then fly our own flag from her mast, we are likely to be shattered and sunk by the full weight of her broadside.

To borrow a phrase from the late, great Mr O’ Brien, in farming, as in the navy, you should always choose the lesser of two weevils.