IN November the city of Glasgow has been chosen by the UK Government to host the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, referred to as COP26 for which the United Kingdom holds the Presidency, writes Farmer columnist George Dunn, TFA CEO.

Of course, there is a sense of great pride within the UK Government that this seminal event is taking place. No wonder then that the Minister in charge of the event, Alok Sharma, is said to be “apoplectic” over a decision by Cumbria County Council to approve the Whitehaven coal mine application earmarked to produce coking coal for the UK’s steel industry. Interestingly, the argument being used in support of the mine is that it will assist the steel industry in producing the raw materials needed for the green revolution required to meet our long-term commitment to reach carbon net zero. A sort of, short-term pain for long-term gain.

We have reduced the debate around climate to buzzwords and slogans rather than thinking about things within a broad framework. That said, the UK Committee on Climate Change should at least be credited with attempting to look at things strategically but, in doing so, reaching the wrong conclusion because it started in the wrong place.

It is well documented that UK agriculture is responsible for only 10 percent of domestic carbon emissions. That is pretty impressive for an industry that covers 70 percent of the land area of the country. By deduction, that must mean that the other 30 percent of the land area is responsible for 90 percent of our emissions. Acre for acre, that makes UK agriculture 20 times more carbon efficient than all other domestic land uses taken together. However, the Committee on Climate Change decided that the best way to get the country to net zero was not to require the full reductions in carbon emissions needed from the likes of energy, transport and residential land uses, but to allow emissions to be offset by a massive expansion of tree planting – potentially taking out a large area of UK agriculture, predominantly grassland and its associated meat and dairy output. Conscious of the possibility of UK consumers simply switching to imported sources for meat and dairy products, the Committee urged all citizens to reduce consumption of meat and dairy by 20 percent. To say that farmers feel scapegoated by this analysis is an understatement.

Covering precious landscapes supporting biodiversity, local food production and valued public access with tonnes of glass and metal structures is surely not the way forward. We may be able to obtain a significant lump of renewable energy, but at the expense of losing the soul of the place, its contribution to the lives and livelihoods of local people and its beauty.

A piece of work which has tried to see things differently, by taking what appears to be a long-lost systems approach, is the National Food Strategy report by Henry Dimbleby published during the summer. It contains some difficult messaging but does attempt to take an holistic approach which bears scrutiny. Perhaps a copy of the report should be on seats for delegates in Glasgow in November.