Q&A: Will England’s National Food Strategy help tackle climate change?

The NFS is the conclusion of more than two years worth of conferences and discussions with industry leaders, academics, policymakers and the public.

The report, which is more than 150 pages long, lays out 14 suggestions for the UK government to think about, including financial rewards, reporting and trade standards and targets for long-term change in the food system..

The government has actually committed to producing a white paper and proposals for future laws in response within the next six months, although the early reaction from UK prime minister Boris Johnson has actually been “noncommittal” to many of the NFS propositions, according to the Guardian.

The very first part of the method, published in July 2020, offered recommendations for the government to attend to food insecurity and appetite in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. The freshly published second part has actually the stated goal of supplying a “comprehensive strategy for changing the food system”..

In this Q&A, Carbon Brief examines the report and discusses how its recommendations line up– or do not line up– with the UKs climate targets and decarbonisation goals.

Last week, sequel of Englands National Food Method (NFS) was published, providing a broad overview of the state of the “food system”– a comprehensive term that covers the production, processing, transportation and intake of food– in England..

What is the National Food Strategy?

The report itself calls the food system “both a disaster and a wonder”. While the current food system can feeding the “most significant international population in human history”, it states, this comes at a high ecological cost. The report notes:.

Its aim was to supply a roadmap for transforming the food system from its existing state to one that is healthier for the planet and the population..

The response to last weeks release saw members of parliament, celebrity chefs and even rockstars weighing in on its significance.

The NFS has certainly brought these problems to the leading edge, Edward Davey, the global engagement director of the Food and Land Use Coalition, informs Carbon Brief. He explains:.

” [The report] brings everybody around the table for a dialogue about what sort of system do we have, what kind of system do we wish to bring, what are the trade-offs and might governments do things in a different way.”.

Davey includes that, in his view, “every nation on the planet would take advantage of doing something of this kind”.

The scope of the report covers England alone, it notes that the home countries “food systems are so firmly interwoven as to be in places inextricable”. It continues that it hopes the devolved governments “may in turn find some useful ideas” in the method.

” The global food system is the single most significant contributor to biodiversity loss, deforestation, dry spell, freshwater contamination and the collapse of marine wildlife. It is the second-biggest factor to climate modification, after the energy market.”.

The NFS was commissioned by the UK government in 2019 as the very first independent review of the governments food policy in almost three-quarters of a century.

This report by @food_strategy has some fascinating and far reaching ideas that would mean a big modification for the better in our food system and make all of us much healthier. I hope that these strategies will be taken up by this federal government. https://t.co/gl5rZJCrhO— Mick Jagger (@MickJagger) July 15, 2021.

Some have criticised the recommendation to tax wholesale sugar and salt as unreasonable or as disproportionately affecting lower-income households. Others say that the procedures laid out in the report do not go far sufficient towards making the food system more sustainable.

Why is the food strategy crucial for dealing with climate change?

Under its commitments to the Paris Agreement, the UK has actually promised to reduce emissions from 1990 levels by 68% by 2030. The government has actually also set a legally binding target to attain net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Springmann states:.

” Theres quite a lot of siloed thinking of the food system. So, from the viewpoint of integrated national policymaking that delivers, its fantastic.”.

Almost half of all food-related emissions are due to farming, including rearing animals. The methane produced by cows and other ruminants is “estimated to have actually triggered a 3rd of overall worldwide warming given that the industrial revolution”, the report notes.

Other significant factors to the emissions include transportation, food and fertiliser production and product packaging..

The food system has seen significantly smaller sized reductions in sector-wide emissions considering that 2008 as compared to the economy as a whole: economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions have actually reduced by nearly one-third given that 2008, however food-related emissions have actually decreased by just 13% over the very same time..

” Without addressing the emissions of the food system, it will not be possible to fulfill those environment change obligations [laid out by law] and to add to mitigating environment modification.”.

Research suggests that the food system is accountable for about one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. And the numbers have to do with the very same for the UK, Dr Marco Springmann, a population health researcher at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, tells Carbon Brief. (The NFS report puts that figure at 19%, but different research studies draw various boundaries around what counts as the food sector.).

Attempting to develop a much healthier population while farming in a less destructive way needs partnership across disciplines, Davey tells Carbon Brief. He states:.

Essentially all of the gains made in the food sector have been due to cleaner energy and increased performance in the energy sector. Modifications due to farming have been minimal– as seen by the big green bar in the chart below.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the food sector as a percentage of the 2008 emissions in that sector. By 2018, emissions had minimized by 13%, but none of this modification was because of enhancements in farming. Total emissions decreased by 32% over that exact same period. Source: The National Food Strategy, Part II.

What parts of the food technique could make the greatest effect on climate change?

Davey calls the suggestions a “great starting point”. He adds:.

” The question is how rapidly will those reforms truly deal with the environment difficulty … I think the jurys out. Is it not as ambitious as it should be, from the point of view of what the land sector requires to do to attain the UK nationwide targets? I dont understand. Its certainly a step in the best direction, however theres most likely an argument that its not ambitious enough.”.

Much of the suggestions made in the report relate in some way to climate change or environmental sustainability. These recommendations include:.

The proposed framework uses the “3 compartment model”, which makes every effort for a balance between semi-natural land, low-yield farmland and high-yield farmland to fulfill the targets of both sustainability and food production.Investing ₤ 1bn in UK Research and Innovation and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), as well as smaller centres to stimulate innovation to “create a much better food system”. Presenting obligatory reporting on a range of metrics for food companies utilizing more than 250 individuals. These metrics would consist of the tonnage of food waste generated.Creating a nationwide food system information programme, which would enable companies and the federal government to evaluate their development on the goals laid out in the report.

What are the restrictions of the food method in resolving climate change?

” If you take the food system as a holistic thing, then you truly require to deal with all sort of issues. And if you desire to resolve appropriately the environmental issues, plus the health concerns, you truly have to attend to the overconsumption of animal-sourced foods in our diets.”.

Limousin beef cattle in a barn feeding on hay, Selside UK. Credit: John Bentley/ Alamy Stock Photo.

The recommendations “appear to be nearly sort of looking backwards instead of looking forward”, Prof Maggie Gill of the University of Aberdeen, tells Carbon Brief. She adds:.

The food system “is very complex”, Gill states, “but I do not believe thats any excuse for not really highlighting a few of those issues right at the start”.

Gill likewise keeps in mind that the report, while thorough, does not fully think about the unexpected repercussions of its suggestions. A much higher percentage of fresh fruits and vegetables is lost than meat. So the suggestions to consume less meat may increase the quantity of food waste.

” Another thing that seems to be missing out on is that foresighting, wheres the world going to from other sectors … Theres going to be a change in farming … And its going to take years [for the recommendations in the report] to come to fulfillment by which time the world might have changed.”.

The report also “actually shied” away from taking a strong position on reducing meat consumption, Springmann states, with effect on both the environment and public health. He says:.

The commissioning of the report– it was led by entrepreneur and restaurateur Henry Dimbleby– suggests the report itself “reveals a bit of a manipulated focus” towards business-focused options, Springmann says.

The suggestion towards investing in innovation lists alternative proteins as a crucial area in requirement of research study financing. Nevertheless, Springmann says, the alternative-protein market is already extremely strong. He informs Carbon Brief:.

” There are already a lot of meat replaces on the market and even more so when you think about natural meat substitutes like more beans, lentils and those examples … Explaining more clearly that sustainable and healthy diet doesnt necessarily need to consist of processed meat alternatives would have been essential, however that was missed there and instead this sort of pro-business angle was taken.”.

How does the food strategy address the contending interests of agricultural land use and land usage for carbon sequestration?

Nevertheless, UK prime minister Boris Johnson has actually currently indicated his hesitancy to support a few of the policy suggestions set out in the report. This does not bode well for the reports adoption, warns Springmann:.

Overall carbon costs (kgCO2e) per kilogram of numerous food. The teal bars suggest the direct emissions connected with the supply chain of each item, while the yellow bars show the carbon “opportunity expense”, meaning the amount of CO2 that could be sequestered in the land used to produce that food. Source: The National Food Strategy, Part II.

The report itself calls the food system “both a disaster and a miracle”. The proposed structure utilizes the “three compartment model”, which strives for a balance in between semi-natural land, low-yield farmland and high-yield farmland to satisfy the targets of both sustainability and food production.Investing ₤ 1bn in UK Research and Innovation and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), as well as smaller centres to spur innovation to “create a much better food system”. These metrics would include the tonnage of food waste generated.Creating a national food system information programme, which would allow companies and the federal government to assess their progress on the objectives laid out in the report. The right-hand side of the chart, utilizing the same scale, reveals how much land is used overseas to produce food for the UK. The teal bars show the direct emissions associated with the supply chain of each item, while the yellow bars reveal the carbon “chance cost”, implying the quantity of CO2 that might be sequestered in the land used to produce that food.

Sharelines from this story.

The chart below demonstrate how all land in the UK is designated (left) and just how much abroad land is utilized to produce food for the UK (best).

In order to deal with these completing interests, the report requires a nationwide land-use strategy to best designate land to nature, carbon sequestration and agriculture.

” Implementation of any of those recommendations really needs political will … The suggestions themselves could have been more progressive, however even the ones that are there dont appear to resonate extremely much with policymakers that are in power at the minute.”.

The report notes that with the right incentives for farmers to repurpose their land, the technique could be equally advantageous towards farmers and the environment. It mentions:.

” Globally, the biggest possible carbon advantage of eating less meat would not really be the reduction in emissions, but the opportunity to repurpose land so that it sequesters carbon.”.

” The kind of land that might deliver the best environmental benefits is frequently not very agriculturally efficient. The most productive 33% of English land produces around 60% of the overall output of the land, while the bottom 33% only produces 15%.”.

Lowering meat consumption would also assist relieve the strain on land resources, the report finds. About 70% of the landmass of the UK is committed to farming, with feed and pastures for beef and lamb taking up the large bulk of that land.

Nature-based solutions, such as peatland remediation and afforestation, are anticipated to play a significant function in many countries and business net-zero targets, however a number of these require the repurposing of agricultural land.

The chart below programs that when the carbon sequestration “opportunity expense” (yellow bars) is added to the emissions of various food groups (teal bars), the carbon cost of lamb and goat meat in fact goes beyond that of beef, due to the large amounts of land needed to graze those animals and their cravings for tree saplings.

The UKs Climate Change Committee (CCC) has estimated that just over 20% of agricultural land should be rewilded or transformed to bioenergy or other, non-agricultural crops in order to achieve net-zero by 2050. The NFS report states:.

UK acreage divided up by purpose. About 70% is committed to farming, mainly livestock and livestock feed and pasture. The right-hand side of the chart, utilizing the very same scale, shows how much land is used abroad to produce food for the UK. About half of the overall land use occurs overseas. The combined land location for raising beef and lamb for UK consumption is bigger than the UK itself. Source: The National Food Strategy, Part II.

As a result, the report states, the food system is being “asked to carry out an accomplishment of acrobatics” in providing sufficient land to produce the required food, however likewise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The government has committed to producing a response to the technique, consisting of propositions for brand-new legislation, within the next 6 months..

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Developing the technique will involve collecting data on agricultural productivity, priority nature locations for preservation (such as existing peatlands) and highly contaminated locations. It will also build on work such as Englands trees and peat action plans– released previously this year– in order to determine the land finest matched for nature restoration..

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