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Written - The Land Use Climate Change Report

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The Group was asked to consider how agriculture and rural land use can reduce climate change and adapt to it.
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Elin Jones, Minister for Rural Affairs

The Statement provides an up-date on progress to consider the recommendations set out in the report from the independent Land Use Climate Change Group, under the chairmanship of Prof. Gareth Wyn Jones.

The report was submitted to me on 5 March 2010. The report is an assessment of the science relating to emissions from the agriculture, land use and food sectors in Wales and outlines a way forward for these sectors to achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

It contains 49 recommendations, but as a basic principle it recognises the importance of grassland-based farming systems to the range of eco-system services (including food and fibre production) delivered in Wales. The report also recognises the need for Wales to contribute fully to the production of food to meet global challenges of food security, and importantly not to displace the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with food production to other countries.

The current proposals within the draft Welsh Assembly Government Climate Change Strategy are expected to deliver reductions in agricultural GHG emissions of about 10 percent by 2020, compared with emissions in 2007. However, the Land Use Climate Change Group report identifies options for achieving reductions of 80percent from now over the time frame to 2040.

The report outlines 5 possible scenarios, with the Land Use Climate Change Group identifying one in particular as being a viable option. This option involves:

  • Increased technical efficiency of livestock farming (including increases in feed conversion rates, longevity of breeding livestock, and lambing percentages; and more effective use of manure and fertiliser coupled with anaerobic digestion to produce biogas which can be used for energy production and on-farm).
  • Methane capture from housed dairy and associated beef herds with systems based on zero-grazing.
  • Expansion of woodland in Wales by increasing the average planting rate from about 500 ha to 5,000 ha per annum maintained over 20 years. This will expand the carbon sink and so off-set emissions. Secondary benefits will be obtained if carbon is locked in wood products (e.g. increased use of wood for buildings substituting for more energy intensive materials such as steel and concrete).
  • Expansion of renewable energy production on farms – including small scale wind, hydro, solar, biomass and biogas – to contribute to low-carbon energy production for on-farm and off-farm use.
  • Increased efficiency of the food-chain to reduce waste associated with processing, distribution, and storage. This includes lifestyle changes to use energy, food and fibre more efficiently and to reduce food wastage by consumers.

The report sets out a technical analysis of the options for emissions reduction, but it recognises the need for economic analysis of the recommendations, and identification of policy options and interventions that can deliver Wales, UK and international objectives. The report also has a range of recommendations covering:

  • implementation of existing knowledge on farming systems, soil, renewables, and food chains to improve resource efficiency, using the available policy instruments
  • reduction of barriers – regulatory, cultural, and behavioural (planning and waste regulation, state aid rules on support for renewables, grid connection protocols, and food retailing are all good examples)
  • Improvements to the GHG Inventory for agriculture and land use sectors to provide more accurate tracking of the effects of improved management practices on emissions. This should be coupled with better activity data for Wales to provide more specific and accurate estimates of local conditions, e.g. fertiliser use
  • research on farming systems, soils, life cycle analysis, and mechanisms of methane and nitrous oxide flux cycles and emissions so as to find ways to reduce them
  • engagement with a wide range of interested parties to gain acceptance of the need to reduce emissions, and work actively to achieve the necessary reductions

As a first step, I announced plans on 16 March for expanding woodlands in Wales. However, much of the report’s content requires us to take a view of the medium to long-term needs. To scrutinise the report, a Working Group of Assembly Government officials and representatives of Countryside Council for Wales, Forestry Commission and Environment Agency Wales has considered the recommendations and has advised that it would be appropriate for the Welsh Assembly Government to accept 44 of the recommendations, but to reject 5 on a qualified basis.

The reasons that “rejection on a qualified basis” has been advised include:

the need to take net benefits into account (e.g. where installation of wind farms might disturb upland peats),
areas where Welsh Assembly Government has already considered  policy proposals not to be feasible (e.g. a biomass planting scheme)
research requirements that are not specific to Wales, but are generic and apply at a UK or even international level, (e.g. life cycle analysis of a range of food products, GHG fluxes in organic farming systems)

For some recommendations, there were reservations because:

  • the recommendation as stated having a very broad scope (e.g. need for a full economic assessment)
  • the recommendation as stated applies to a long-term time frame,
  • the recommendation would not be feasible for introduction on all farms in Wales (e.g. all manure/slurry from lowland cattle systems to be processed through anaerobic digestion)
  • the recommendation lies outside the powers of the Assembly Government to deliver (e.g. rapid take-up of compressed biogas and electric machinery in rural Wales requires the technology to be available)
  • a call for generic research that is a global requirement e.g. research on the basic science of rumen function

I have accepted the views of the Working Group. Of those recommendations that are fully accepted, many are already being progressed through Welsh Assembly Government strategies and policies (e.g. Glastir, Wales’ new sustainable land management scheme and the knowledge transfer work of the Farming Connect Climate Change Development Centre). Others are areas of research or mechanisms to gather data on emissions (for the GHG inventory) where the Welsh Assembly Government is already proactive in liaising with research funders and research bodies.

The Internal Working Group will produce an Implementation Plan that will be made available for my consideration by the end of this year.