The growing gap between the level of ambition recommended by climate scientists and what politicians are able to deliver in terms of commitments to cut emissions is cause for serious concern. From a nature conservation perspective, there’s a high risk of climate change taking place so rapidly that many species will be lost. Just last month, for example, our partner organisation in the US, the Audubon Society, published the results of pioneering new research that found half of all bird species in the US were imperilled by climate change.
In this light, it would be easy to condemn the deal struck by Cameron and other European leaders last night as woefully inadequate. The new EU climate target to 2030 is just 40% emission reductions by 2030, when it should be at least 55%, and targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency are equally inadequate and aren’t even binding on national governments.
Yet, until today Europe had no concrete plans to cut emissions beyond 2020. The renewable energy industries, which have been innovating and growing in recent years because of EU 2020 targets had no assurance of continued support, whilst energy conservation continued to be ignored. The latter has been particularly galling, given that reducing energy use saves consumers money and reduces the amount of large energy infrastructure needed, making it the most nature-friendly way of cutting our emissions!
Today’s deal should have done just enough to alleviate the worst of this uncertainty. What’s more, the greenhouse gas emission target includes a flexibility clause that will mean it can be increased as part of the UN negotiations over a global climate deal next year.
This is an important achievement then, particularly given the other pressures on EU leaders and the continued antagonism towards climate action from some countries, political parties and parts of the media.
Now we must focus on building on this agreement by investing in diplomacy to achieve a strong global climate deal, continuing to push for greater ambition in Europe, and focusing on delivering the emission cuts here in the UK. I hope to see all of the political parties, for example, putting forward detailed and ambitious plans over the coming months that would deliver emission reductions through reducing energy use, supporting energy efficiency and supporting sustainable, low ecological impact renewable energy. Unless this happens, and is followed by swift action by the new Government next year, we will see the UK falling from a position of a global leader on climate action to being a laggard.
Lucy Bjorck, RSPB Senior Agriculture Policy Officer
Food security means different things to different people. To a subsistence farmer in a developing country it means producing enough food for their family for a year. For a low wage worker it means having cash to buy enough healthy food to feed the family. And for us middle class westerners – it probably means very little.
The relationship of food security with climate change is equally double edged. Agriculture is a major greenhouse gas (GHG) source, responsible for 17% to 32% of GHG emissions (the high end when including land use change, mostly deforestation which is devastating for biodiversity). Livestock production accounts, directly and indirectly, for a large proportion of these emissions[i].
And climate change also affects agriculture, expected to reduce global crop production by more than 10% by 2050[ii] and likely to reduce marine production as well[iii].
We need to feed more people, better, meet our climate targets and, at the same time, producing our food is getting harder. So how can we make sure that everyone has enough to eat, agricultural emissions go down, and we reduce farming’s impact on nature?
The initial response to worries about food security often looks for ways to produce more food and, for climate change, to make current methods more efficient. But whilst these routes may help a bit, they don’t address the root of the problem. Food security is about more than the total amount of food: it encompasses what we produce, how we produce it and how we access our food. The solutions are as much social and political as they are technical.
This is becoming more widely understood. Academic and advisor to Government, Professor Tim Benton, recently summed this up:
“... we’ll never grow our way into food security: the more food we produce, the more we’ll waste and over-consume, ...degrade the environment and issues of equity and access will remain. To solve these problems, we need to recognise local and planetary boundaries and grow food sustainably within them...”
Andy Hay / RSPB
Lapwings can share farmland with lower-intensitygrazing
A Nature Climate Change article last month showed that closing ‘yield gaps’ (the difference between yields between best-practice agriculture and average yields in each agro-climatic zone) will not be enough to prevent further agricultural expansion and deliver emissions reductions unless we improve diets and reduce food waste.
This chimes with growing evidence and consensus about reducing the amount of meat we eat, if we are to stay within safe emission limits and nourish a growing global population. There are other benefits, too: a global transition to a low meat diet to meet health goals would lower our costs to reduce GHG emissions to meet a ‘safe’ 2°C global temperature rise by about 50% by 2050.
Farming livestock contributes 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions and covers a staggering 75% of all anthropogenic land use[iv]. Worldwide, it's estimated that 30% of biodiversity loss is due to livestock yet equally, many of our priority species rely on livestock grazing. Many people eat more than they need for a healthy diet, creating a public health problem on a par with cigarette smoking, with annual costs of over £6 billion for the NHS, and rising to an expected cost to the economy of £50 billion annually by 2050.
So it’s clear that we need to make a change! You’ll no doubt have come across campaigns such as such as Meat Free Mondays and Part time carnivore encouraging us to eat less meat. Culturally of course, this is a difficult area and initiatives are needed not just from the ground up, but also by government to lead people towards healthier and more sustainable eating habits. There’s huge potential in this approach, for nature, for the economy and for our own lives – as well as our health, eating less meat helps our wallets too, freeing up cash which we may then choose to spend on more sustainably produced food and supporting wildlife friendly farmers.
At the RSPB we’re working, with others, to help deliver a new recipe for food, farming, nature and public health – click to the Square Meal web pages and let us know what you are going to do differently!
[i] Ecological Livestock, Greenpeace - Pelletier & Tyedmers 2010, Bellarby et al 2008, IPCC 2007
[iv] “An astonishing 75% of the world’s agriculture land” is devoted to raising animals, including both the land used to grow crops for animal feed and pasture and grazing lands (Foley et al 2011).
Ivan Scrase, RSPB Senior climate Change Policy Officer
Building the energy infrastructure that Europe needs to tackle climate change can, and must, be achieved with wildlife and nature in mind. So shows our new report Connecting Energy, Protecting Nature launched in Brussels this week.
Photos © HorstWagner.eu
In particular we address the energy 'projects of common interest' (PCIs) which the EU selects and promotes as the highest priority investments. These PCIs benefit from 'streamlined' permitting procedures and access to EU funds. As flagship EU projects, it's vital that these projects showcase a joined up approach that meet the range of Europe's objectives, including environmental sustainability.
We had a novel ‘fishbowl’ debate at the launch, with four to six seats are arranged in the middle of the room, and people from the audience joining and leaving the centre to add to the ongoing discussion. Antonella Battaglini, CEO of the Renewables Grid Initiative, which kindly organised the launch event, maintained diversity in the fishbowl's ecosystem. Contributors from DG Environment, National Grid and REE (the UK and Spanish grid operators), BirdLife and many others either volunteered for the fishbowl, or got harpooned by Antonella.
Two issues emerged clearly for me. First, while there are ways to protect nature and get environmental NGOs behind the grid projects that are clearly needed, those people who live in the places where new lines are planned often have different views. There are risks of creating an unfortunate 'environment versus people' dynamic on the ground – perhaps a local expression of the outdated (yet all too alive) 'nature versus economy' thinking that survives in the some high level political circles.
Second, Europe needs a vision and a project for a sustainable energy system. As long as EU infrastructure plans remain a patchwork of national priorities, and regulation continues to be implemented in an incomplete and inconsistent way across Europe, progress will be slow, inefficient and difficult. Without real vision, and no attempt to inform and inspire the public, opposition on the ground will persist, allowing unnecessary or damaging projects to continue to come forward.
Our report makes recommendations for everyone involved - for the EU, national governments, industry, regulators and NGOs. By working together we hope to help Europe to deliver the infrastructure we need in harmony with nature, and with public support.
Click to read Connecting Energy, Protecting and do give us some feedback!