UK Agriculture aiming for net-zero by 2040
The National Farmers Union has announced their goal for the farm and agricultural industry to hit a net-zero carbon emissions target by the year 2040. This has been received across the industry as a tough but necessary target to meet as the UK agricultural sector is responsible for a huge proportion of the UK’s Greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, over the last five years, farms in the UK and their related industries were responsible for up to 10% of the UK’s Greenhouse gas emissions. For this reason, the National Farmers Union (NFU) wants to slash the carbon footprint of the UK’s farms.
Agriculture, an industry in trouble?
As we know, climate change is caused by the emission of greenhouse gasses (GHG’s), the most common of these gasses is carbon dioxide. Globally, agriculture is responsible for 30% of all the worlds GHG emissions. This is predominantly because of the initial changes made to the landscape for farming to be possible. Such as the destruction of forest land, the disruption of natural water sources and the production of fertilisers for the soil. All of these factors and more are what make farming a carbon-heavy process.
Even though we are not typically destroying forest space for farming purposes in the UK, we still have many improvements to make until we can call UK agriculture a carbon neutral industry. To start with we have to take a look at the what are the main carbon-heavy processes involved in UK farming. One of the main contributors is the process used to fertilise the soil. To make the soil suitable for the growth of vegetables and other plants, ammonia fertilizer is used to enrich the ground. The process of making ammonia in the first places requires a huge amount of energy.
Once the fertilizer is applied, the soil will secrete a large amount of Nitrous oxide, a GHG that is considered 300 times more damaging to the worlds climate than Carbon dioxide. Farming is the largest producer of Nitrous oxide so it’s clear that this is where a large proportion of the emission cuts must take place. Already there have been developments in the production of green ammonia, which should help to take a large proportion of the carbon footprint out of the process.
Another problem caused by agriculture is the huge amount of methane produced. Methane gas is produced organically and is considered to be 30 times more damaging to the world’s climate than carbon dioxide, even though it stays in the atmosphere for a much shorter period of time. Methane gas is mostly produced by livestock by “ruminant enteric fermentation”. The gas is released as a result of bacteria in the stomachs of cows and sheep and the natural processes that release these gasses into the environment. Methane is also released by using manure to fertilise the soil. Experts have speculated that the best way to reduce the release of methane into the atmosphere is to reduce our demand for meat-based products so that fewer livestock are needed on the UK’s farms.
The last of the main three GHG’s produced by farming is Carbon dioxide. A large amount of farming activities produces this. Such as driving around the farm, operating heavy machinery, destroying woodland and much more. One of the best idea’s put forward is for UK farmers to switch to electric machinery and transport which they could power from renewable energy sources such as wind or solar. This can help ‘balance’ the cycle of GHGs in the atmosphere and help prevent climate change.