NFU: UK farming sector can reach net-zero by 2040, without ditching beef

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has unveiled a new vision to help the sector meet net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, ten years ahead of the Government's nationwide target.

The NFU claims that net-zero can be met for the sector by 2040, even as it grows. Image: NFU

The NFU claims that net-zero can be met for the sector by 2040, even as it grows. Image: NFU

The framework outlines how three-quarters of the UK’s agricultural emissions, which account for 10% of the nation’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint annually, can be mitigated.

These emissions, it claims, can mainly be offset by growing biofuel, therefore helping the power sector to move away from coal and gas, with the remaining CO2 viable for capture and burial. Crops earmarked for biofuel offsetting by the NFU include willow and miscanthus grass.

As for the remaining quarter of sectoral emissions, technology to electrify farming equipment and vehicles are needed, in addition to innovations to help lower the emissions caused by fertilizer and cattle, the NFU claims.

The NFU plans also call for a doubling of wind, solar and biomethane energy on farms.

However, the framework does not include any plans to help farmers transition away from beef – a move which has been dubbed as necessary by the likes of the EAT-Lancet Commission and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

It also states that tree planting could only deliver emissions reductions of 1.5% for the UK’s farming sector, in direct contradiction to the predictions of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and the Woodland Trust.

NFU president Minette Batters said the organisation “does not see large-scale rewilding as an economically or socially realistic option”.

“However, there are likely to be many opportunities to combine agri-environmental benefit with on-farm carbon storage, such as in enhanced hedgerows,” she added.

On the framework’s plans for beef, Batters told the Guardian that the NFU believes the farming sector can reach net-zero “without changing levels of production”.

“Everybody’s diet is up to individuals to choose, but there are other parts of the world that are hungry for high-quality meat,” Batters said.

Less and better

Responding to the framework, Friends of the Earth campaigner and investigator said that the NFU had failed to acknowledge that “eating less but better meat is a crucial part of the fight against climate breakdown”.

“It seems the NFU is still not prepared to contemplate significant land-use change in Britain, despite the CCC recommending this as being vital.”

Similarly, anti-hunger charity Feedback is currently campaigning for policymakers, supermarkets and farmers to implement measures to help consumers eat "less and better" meat, in order to minimise the climate impacts of their diets.

GHG emissions associated with the human consumption of meat and dairy are currently estimated to account for 15% of the world’s carbon budget. But with the global population set to surpass 9.5 billion by mid-century, that figure is set to hit 80%.

The NFU has continually voiced the opinion, however, that farming practices in the UK are not a significant contributor to this issue – and that many individual farms are actually piloting pioneering low-carbon technologies and practices.

“I am very clear that we can deliver on our commitment to net-zero while retaining, if not growing, our agricultural capacity,” Batters added.

“British farmers are proud to produce food to some of the highest standards of animal welfare and environmental protection in the world. We must avoid anything that undermines UK food production and merely exports our greenhouse gas emissions to other parts of the world.

“The carbon footprint of British red meat is only 40% of the world average.”

Sarah George


| Food & drink | low-carbon | net-zero


Energy efficiency & low-carbon | Climate change

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