Dairy Sector Climate Change Group: report

Report from the Dairy Sector Climate Change Group, one of the farmer-led groups established to develop advice and proposals for the Scottish Government. It focusses on how to cut emissions and tackle climate change, something that was re-emphasised in the updated Climate Change Plan.

3. Introduction and Background

The Scottish Government has committed to a legally binding target of net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2045[1], including a reduction of 75% by 2030 from 1990 levels. These targets are a result of the UK being a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) an international treaty signed in Paris in 2015. Other parts of the UK have equally committed to binding targets, albeit differing slightly from each other. The Scottish Government's recently updated Climate Change Plan (CCPU)[2] is the key policy tool used in Scotland to meet the targets and currently focuses on the period to 2032, and sectoral targets are framed accordingly.

The climate change challenge does not stand alone. It runs alongside many other, potentially competing, national and international priorities. In 2019, Scotland's agriculture industry contributed around £1.3 billion to the Scottish economy and employed 67,000 people. Agriculture serves our growing food and drink sector and the Scottish Government supports Scotland's food and drink Ambition 2030 target of doubling the value of the food and drink sector by 2030[3] to £30 billion. The Scottish Dairy Growth Board has set a vision for the Scottish dairy sector to increase from £800M in 2018 to £1.4bn by 2030[4].

The Scottish dairy sector has an important role and is committed to playing its part in helping to achieve climate change targets, whilst continuing to contribute to global food security with demand for food expected to double by 2050[5]. Innovation and further technological advancements will be required if these multiple objectives are to be achieved because achieving significant changes to dietary habits of the global population is not a feasible way to proceed in the timeframe under discussion.

It would be indefensible and counterproductive for a government proceed down a path of promoting domestic dietary change as a means of tackling GHG emissions while global demand for dairy products is rising and they can be more sustainably produced here than in other parts of the world. In effect, Scotland has a duty to meet the demand for sustainably produced nutritious food produced in a climate friendly way. Currently the commitments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change) are based on GHG arising from a country's production activities. So while globally the ideal may be to reduce cattle numbers in inefficient production systems and exporting meat/dairy to those parts of the world, this will require efficient and fair trade as well as a change in the accountability of individual countries (for example a consumption based inventory and some sort of production benchmarking and export/import accounting).

To achieve the government climate change targets, the Scottish Dairy Sector therefore faces the dual challenge to improve both its emission efficiency (the emissions required to produce a litre of milk or kilogram of beef) and reduce its absolute emissions. This dual challenge will inform and direct the future of support for dairy farming in Scotland and therefore all dairy farmers must be encouraged to get on board, whatever their starting point. Change is required and will need to be made at individual farmer and farm level. Government has an important role in facilitating and supporting that change for the benefit of society as a whole. We do not have the luxury of getting it wrong as time is not on our side.

This report will outline the steps we suggest are necessary for the dairy sector to make its contribution to the development and delivery of the next phase of Scottish agricultural policy.


Email: are.futureruralframework@gov.scot

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