We Must Balance Our Food Farming Impacts

We Must Balance Our Food Farming ImpactsMore woodland, less farmland would reduce CO2 emissions in the UK. Image: SwaloPhoto via Flickr

The UK could reduce its emissions by converting farmland to absorb more carbon dioxide − but risks increasing climate change effects abroad.

British scientists have worked out how to turn agricultural land – which currently produces 10% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions – into a “carbon sink” that soaks up carbon dioxide.

The answer is simple: take more land out of food production, restore natural habitats, and allow forests to grow again.

If, in the next 35 years, the UK increased forest cover from 12% to 30%, and surrendered 700,000 hectares to revert to peat bog, that would be enough to meet government ambitions to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by 80%.

The extra helping of woodland and wetland would go a long way to supporting the UK’s declining population of wild things – including many species that are a source of anxiety for conservationists – and deliver more space for recreation. And the same set of decisions would go some way to reduce the risks of flooding.

Pastoral Areas

But after sparing the land for wildlife, farmers would need to increase yields from the remaining agricultural and pastoral areas, say the authors of a new study in Nature Climate Change.

The area proposed for woodland cover would be close to that already achieved in France and Germany, but still less than the average for all Europe.

Such restoration alone would go some way to meeting targets imposed by the government to reduce the threat of catastrophic global climate change driven by greenhouse gas emissions that result from changes of land use and the combustion of fossil fuels.

“Land is a source of greenhouse gases if it is used to farm fertilizer-hungry crops or methane-producing cattle”

Andrew Balmford, professor of conservation science at the University of Cambridge, and one of the report’s authors, says: “Land is a source of greenhouse gases if it is used to farm fertilizer-hungry crops or methane-producing cattle, or it can be a sink for greenhouse gases – through sequestration.

“If we increase woodland and wetland, those lands will be storing carbon in trees, photosynthesising it in reeds, and shunting it down into soils.

“We estimate that by actively increasing farm yields, the UK can reduce the amount of land that is a source of greenhouse gases, increase the ‘sink’, and sequester enough carbon to hit national emission reduction targets for the agriculture industry by 2050.”

The researchers offer more than just a prescription for emissions reduction: their paper identifies a suite of farm and animal management improvements that could raise yields by an average of 1.3% per year until 2050. Food consumption in the UK is likely to rise by 38% by 2050, but the researchers believe the target can be met without increasing food imports.

Food Imports

However, a study in the Royal Society’s Interface journal shows that the UK has become increasingly dependent on food imports since the 1980s, with about 50% of its food and feed currently being imported.

In effect, the UK is exporting the environmental impact and leaving producer nations with the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions released in the service of the British supper table.

The UK’s “land footprint” – another term for the global area of land devoted to delivering British food and animal feed –increased by 23% between 1986 and 2009, while associated carbon dioxide emissions increased by 15%, say Henri de Ruiter, an environmental scientist at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, and colleagues.

At present, two-thirds of all cropland needed to produce the UK’s food and feed is located overseas, while 64% of associated carbon dioxide emissions are emitted abroad.

The report concludes: “These results imply that the UK is increasingly reliant on external resources, and that the environmental impact of its food supply is increasingly displaced overseas.” – Climate News Network

About the Author

Tim Radford, freelance journalistTim Radford is a freelance journalist. He worked for The Guardian for 32 years, becoming (among other things) letters editor, arts editor, literary editor and science editor. He won the Association of British Science Writers award for science writer of the year four times. He served on the UK committee for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. He has lectured about science and the media in dozens of British and foreign cities. 

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolutionBook by this Author:

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolution
by Tim Radford.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon. (Kindle book)

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
White sea ice in blue water with the sun setting reflected in the water
Earth’s frozen areas are shrinking 33K square miles a year
by Texas A&M University
The Earth’s cryosphere is shrinking by 33,000 square miles (87,000 square kilometers) per year.
A row of male and female speakers at microphones
234 scientists read 14,000+ research papers to write the upcoming IPCC climate report
by Stephanie Spera, Assistant Professor of Geography and the Environment, University of Richmond
This week, hundreds of scientists from around the world are finalizing a report that assesses the state of the global…
A brown weasel with a white belly leans on a rock and looks over its shoulder
Once common weasels are doing a vanishing act
by Laura Oleniacz - NC State
Three species of weasels, once common in North America, are likely in decline, including a species that’s considered…
Flood risk will rise as climate heat intensifies
by Tim Radford
A warmer world will be a wetter one. Ever more people will face a higher flood risk as rivers rise and city streets…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.