Tractor field farming

Source: Getty Images

Uptake of low-carbon practices among British farmers is declining

The farming sector is falling behind in the race to net zero by 2050, according to new analysis.

Progress to decarbonise farming and land use is off track in England, with all areas from peatland restoration to woodland creation and low-carbon farming practices showing little to no progress over the past couple of years, new Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) data showed.

Agriculture and land use currently accounts for around 11% of all emissions, with ECIU research showing the total level of emissions from the sector has been steady as some other sectors’ emissions have declined.

Experts estimate agriculture and land use will account for 19% of all residual emissions by 2037, making it the second most emitting sector by then, behind domestic transport.

These estimates fall short of the goals set out in the government’s recently announced Carbon Budget Delivery Plan, which modelled long-term emissions for different industries and set out net zero targets accordingly.

However, ECIU land analyst Tom Lancaster argued progress was happening at a much slower pace than predicted by the government.

“The government’s plans to decarbonise farming and land use lack both substance and credibility,” he said.

“In many areas, such as peatland restoration and woodland creation, progress is too slow and policies are not capable of operating at the scale needed to meet the recently published targets in the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan.”

Uptake of low-carbon practices among British farmers is declining, with 53% of farmers taking action to tackle carbon emissions in 2023 – down from 66% in 2020 and significantly behind the target of 70% by 2025.

Land use targets are also lagging behind – previously unpublished peatland restoration figures for 2022 released to ECIU by Defra showed 4,323 hectares were under restoration, nearly 10,000 hectares short of the annual amount needed by 2025.

Equally, only 3,130 hectares of woodland have been created in England in 2023, against a target of 7,500 hectares by 2025.

“In other areas, including reducing methane emissions from livestock, reducing emissions from lowland peat and increasing the production of energy crops, there is very little progress at all, and in some cases no policies in place to get it started,” Lancaster said.

ECIU experts said, without urgent action, farming and land use could become “the sector with the largest share of total UK emissions by the end of the 2030s”.

The analysis was published ahead of the Climate Change Committee’s annual report, which will be out on 28 June.

The independent report is expected to highlight the UK’s sluggish approach to tackling global warming. Earlier this year, the committee warned there was a “striking lack of climate preparation from government”.

Lancaster added: “Farming is perhaps more exposed to climate change than any other sector. Reducing emissions is key to mitigating these impacts.

“Many of these measures, such as agro-forestry, will also help farmers adapt and build resilience, but urgent progress is needed to get farming and land use back on track to net zero.”