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East Anglia Future 50

Suffolk and Essex farmers set sights on meeting net zero emissions target by 2040

PUBLISHED: 13:38 06 May 2019

Glenn Buckingham, chair of the Suffolk branch of the National Farmers' Union. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Glenn Buckingham, chair of the Suffolk branch of the National Farmers' Union. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Leading Suffolk and Essex farmers have backed plans to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions across the whole of agriculture in England and Wales by 2040.

Glenn Buckingham says farmers will need to balance efficient food production with environmental measures  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNGlenn Buckingham says farmers will need to balance efficient food production with environmental measures Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Glenn Buckingham, chair of Suffolk National Farmers' Union (NFU), and Essex farmer Guy Smith, who is the organisation's deputy president, have spoken in support of the ambitious goal in an industry which is at the sharp end of climate change, as well as being a significant contributor to it.

Former environment secretary Lord Deben, who lives near Debenham and heads up the Committee on Climate Change, said climate change deniers had lost the battle, and the UK needed to stop building “crap houses”, and “take that steps that are necessary” to halt global warming.

MORE – Non-farmers snap up East Anglian farmland but demand outstrips supply

His committee said the UK should cut greenhouse gases to zero by 2050 to end its contribution to global warming within 30 years.

Police watch Extinction Rebellion protesters at their final destination of Parliament Square in Westminster  Picture: KIRSTY O'CONNOR/PA WIREPolice watch Extinction Rebellion protesters at their final destination of Parliament Square in Westminster Picture: KIRSTY O'CONNOR/PA WIRE

A Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report said hitting the net-zero target will mean an end to heating of homes with traditional gas boilers, more green electricity, and a switch from petrol and diesel cars to electric vehicles, walking and cycling.

It could also require people to eat less meat and dairy and take fewer flights.

Mr Smith said the NFU was working towards the “ambitious goal” of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions across the whole of agriculture in England and Wales by 2040, as a contribution to the CCC's proposed 2050 target, adding that action was “vital”.

But he warned against curbing British production and “exporting it to countries which may not have the same environmental conscience, or ambition to reduce their climate impact”.

Protesters call for action at a climate change protest in London  Picture: KIRSTY O'CONNOR/PA WIREProtesters call for action at a climate change protest in London Picture: KIRSTY O'CONNOR/PA WIRE

“Rather, we must farm smarter, focusing on improving productivity, encouraging carbon capture and boosting our production of renewable energy,” he said.

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“In Britain, 65% of our farmland is best suited to grazing animals, so our ambition is that the climate impact of UK grazing is amongst the lowest in the world. Already, research from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation shows that beef production in Western Europe is 2.5 times more carbon-efficient than the global average. At the same time UK farmland conserves important carbon stocks in England's uplands.

“British farmers have an important role to play in tackling climate change and our members are committed to this challenge, alongside fulfilling their responsibility to the public in providing high quality, sustainable and affordable food.”

Extinction Rebellion protesters reach Parliament Square in Westminster  Picture: KIRSTY O'CONNOR/PA WIREExtinction Rebellion protesters reach Parliament Square in Westminster Picture: KIRSTY O'CONNOR/PA WIRE

Mr Buckingham said the farming industry needed to engage with the challenge. “The majority of farmers are beginning to realise that action will need to be taken,” he said. Climate change was far more important as an issue than Brexit, he argued.

“We have got to be productive and efficient,” he said, and “understand our impact on the environment”. He acknowledged that it was a “really difficult subject to get over”. “I think there's a willingness but I'm not sure it's been fully exposed,” he added.

But the industry was on the frontline when it comes to the effect of climate change, he said. “We are seriously affected – the science is out there.”

Farmers were up for the challenge, he added, and “the most important issue of our time” was getting traction. He suggested the NFU should support the ambitions of movements like Extinction Rebellion, which wants a much sharper focus on climate change.

Ipswich climate protester, 17-year old Thea Pettitt  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNIpswich climate protester, 17-year old Thea Pettitt Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

“The National Farmers Union started significant work on its Net Zero policy last November, In June this year it will report to its National Council the findings of its work and use this as the basis of promoting a more planet friendly farming industry in this country, with the aim of net zero by 2050. Farming has its part to play alongside producing a food for the nation.”

He agreed that the UK must avoid exporting the industry and said we should only import what is energy efficient or not able to be produced here.

“There will be many strands to the actions required and the study will point UK agriculture in the right direction,” he said.

Farmers and future farmers needed about good practice on issues such as conserving energy use, soil health, and animal welfare, and avoiding waste in all parts of the food chain, from production to consumption.

NFU deputy president Guy Smith  Picture: NFUNFU deputy president Guy Smith Picture: NFU

Locally-produced food reduced food miles, was good for the local economy and helped farmers to diversify, he said.

He called for a focus on water usage and irrigation, tree planting, and the expansion of solar roofs and wind turbines on farm.

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