Prime minister Rishi Sunak attends Farm to Fork Summit - Simon Dawson  No 10 Downing Street

A lack of policy is hampering the sector’s abilities to transition to net zero, the Climate Change Committee said

The Climate Change Committee has slammed the government for setting ‘unrealistic’ net zero goals for the farming sector with little suport.

The government lacked “a coherent, strategic approach to co-ordinated policy to meet the multiple needs for land” and a robust policy framework for emissions, the independent body argued. 

This had left the British agriculture sector lagging behind many others in slashing carbon emissions and struggling to meet the net zero target by 2050, found the CCC’s latest annual report, published on 28 June.

Indra Thillainathan, senior analyst at the Climate Change Committee, hit out at the lack of robust policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with net zero legislation.

“The agriculture sector is one of the few in the UK economy that still does not have the sort of policy that targets emissions reduction,” Thillainathan said. 

“It’s critical the policy landscape increases – that will allow farmers to make decisions that can reduce emissions.”

The UK government committed to delivering a Land Use Framework last year that would set out how to manage land in England. The aim was to help land use deliver on multiple functions such as food security, recreation, climate and nature. 

Originally planned for summer 2023, the framework has now been delayed to the autumn.

The government’s own Carbon Budget Delivery Plan, which sets out targets for different sectors, now estimates emissions abatement for land use and agriculture will be 11% lower in 2035 than initially projected by the Net Zero Strategy.

The government needed to address other key areas such as livestock production, on-farm food waste, mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reporting and trade policy urgently to help the sector transition to net zero, the CCC said.

“It’s one thing having a legislative target to get to net zero, but then if there’s no real commitment therefore to roll out firm policies and plans to deliver on that, then it’s not that meaningful to have a legislative target,” Thillainathan said.

Read more: Government taken to court over National Food Strategy climate impact

The CCC report also said the heavy reliance on voluntary measures coupled with a lack of clarity on agri-environment policy and funding details hampered farmers’ uptake of low-carbon measures.

The government has set a target that 75% of farmers in England should be engaged in low-carbon practices by 2030, rising to 85% by 2035.

But recent survey data suggested the proportion of farmers using low-carbon farming practices has fallen from 61% in 2019 to 58% in 2022.

“The farming sector requires stability and confidence in policies before making changes to land management,” Thillainathan said.

Livestock production numbers in the UK will also need to reduce in line with reductions in meat consumption, according to the CCC.

However, data showed cow and sheep numbers have remained relatively stable in the past decade.

Meanwhile, the government’s National Food Strategy has come under fire for lacking specific policies for low-carbon diet targets, including significant cutbacks in dairy and meat consumption.

Flagship proposals such as HFSS restrictions and a ban on junk food ads have either been postponed or shelved entirely.

“The only diet policy is introducing voluntary eco-labelling on foods, which is unlikely to have a meaningful impact on emissions,” the CCC report said.

“Failing to address demand-side measures properly raises risks that emissions reductions will be insufficient. [It is] a missed opportunity for climate policy across the agriculture and land-use sectors, with benefits for human health.”