3 The challenge of climate change |
41. The biggest long-term challenge
for food security, at the global and national level, is the impact
of climate change. Thus our food production systems, and the Government's
approach to food security, which suit us well as present, will
need to respond to this challenge if we are to guarantee food
security in the future.
42. The UK Committee on Climate Change,
an independent statutory body established under the Climate Change
Act of 2008, raises concerns about the possibility of a shortfall
in water during dry periods, and of soil degradation resulting
from intensive agriculture, both as a consequence of climate change
and population pressures.
Professors Benton and Crute said that, although we know that temperatures
will increase, we do not yet have a good understanding of what
will happen to the jet stream which steers our weather patterns.
However, it is most likely winters will become wetter and summers
drier and hotter in the UK, and extreme weather events more frequent.
Professor Benton said:
Climate risks are inherently uncertain
as they [also] depend on the future emissions pathway and
the eventuating climate impacts. The impact of extreme weather
on food production is increasing; but its future impact is, by
its nature, very difficult to predict.
Hence it is about thinking through
the systemic response to climate change and having a likely scenario
that you are working towards, whether it is four degrees, or understanding
better the extremes of and variability in the weather.
Responding to climate change
43. The Food Ethics Council argues that
climate change risks are not adequately incorporated into UK food
security strategies and planning. Other witnesses also told us
about the need for food systems which took account of climate
change. Peter Kendall, then NFU President, told us that our agriculture
could cope with small changes in temperature but not large ones.
He said the agricultural sector needed to build resilience and,
in particular to protect its physical infrastructure, to withstand
44. While changes in our climate may
be less hostile to agriculture than in other parts of the world,
all agriculture is vulnerable to extreme weather events and conditions.
Indeed witnesses told us it was the number one challenge for our
The NFU writes that since the turn of the century farming in the
UK has suffered significant financial losses as a result of a
number of extreme events including £1.2 billion in 2012,
£66 million in 2007, and £603 million in 2000-01 and,
across the EU, the heat wave in 2003 cost European farming 13.1
billion. The 2013-14
winter floods also affected significant amounts of agricultural
land. The NFU has stated that:
About 49,000 hectares of agricultural
land was flooded in a one week period including about 14,000 hectares
on the Somerset Levels and Moors and large areas in the Thames
and Severn catchments and along the South Coast of England. In
addition about 2,600 hectares flooded during the December tidal
surge along the North coast of Wales and East coast of England,
but it is still too early to assess the financial cost to farming.
45. The farming community would benefit
from early warnings of extreme weather events. Professor Benton
talked about the importance of longer term weather predictions:
We need to understand better the
environment system. That includes investment in decadal-long weather
forecasting so farmers can plan water resources and infrastructure,
and includes thinking about soils and how soils will be impacted
and the whole range of plant/environment interactions.
Professor Beddington concurred saying:
I think there is real scope for
linking meteorological prediction more closely to the farming
community. Everybody watches Country file these days or listens
to Farming Today and you get a forecast, but it is well within
the capability of our meteorologists now to predict on forecasts
of a few days away very accurately, but also giving you some idea
three or four weeks ahead. For example, not this last winter but
the previous winter, it was pretty much predicted we were going
to have a very, very cold period at the tail end of January or,
last summer that we were going to have a fairly mild autumn. These
are the sort of things that the farming community could benefit
from a lot. 
46. Food Security Ltd, a farmers' organisation,
said the Met Office had a long history of translating its science
to provide services to decision making. This expertise could be
used to help the agricultural industry become more resilient.
We note that Defra and DECC have co-funded UK CP09, a climate
information service provided by the Met Office which can assist
with interpreting possible future climate conditions based on
different scenarios, and wonder whether a similar service for
weather forecasting could be created.
47. Nevertheless, the farming community
also needs to be able to put in place appropriate response measures,
and the Government has a responsibility to ensure its policies
encourage this. Minister of State for Agriculture, George Eustice,
told us the Department's strategy for responding to climate change
impacts on food security was based on the Foresight Report findings
indicating that it was largely a longer-term problem, creating
stresses in the food systems predominantly in the subtropical
and equatorial regions of the world.
The Government was promoting a number of initiatives in response
to climate change, including, in particular, the uptake of new
We have [..] encouraged and been
at the forefront of saying that we should have an open mind to
new technologies, such as genomics and also GM crops, where there
is the potential that you could breed more drought-resistant varieties
of crops. That could be very important for those areas that suffer
the worst impacts of climate change. I would say, through a combination
of the Agri-Tech Strategy that we are pursuing, combined with
our view that we should open world markets and have food trade,
those two key measures are the key measures that we would need
to mitigate the risk of climate change.
48. Defra told us it was working towards
a more sustainable agriculture through productivity improvements
resulting from sustainable intensification, reductions in post-harvest
losses and climate-smart technology.
Defra produced a climate change evidence plan in March 2013,
but we have not yet seen an action plan resulting from this.
49. The IPCC's 5th assessment
report of March 2014 makes strong connections between climate
change and its potential impacts on food security without appropriate
However it focuses on the need for strategies for adaptation which
distinguish between incremental and transformational adaptation
(or paradigm shifts) to climate change, and for methodologies
for decision making under circumstances of climate impact, adaptation
While many Governments are addressing issues of incremental adaptation,
less is being done in relation to transformational adaptation.
Issues of risk assessment and planning relating to climate change
impacts on UK agricultural and food system were not widely explored
in any detail in the Foresight Report.
50. Climate change will have significant
implications for our agricultural production in the long run.
While it may be that the UK climate becomes better suited to particular
types of agriculture, farmers will need the know how to adapt
their crops or livestock without productivity losses and in a
sustainable manner. Farmers would be greatly assisted by having
access to more reliable long range weather predictions so that
they can be better prepared for extreme weather events and conditions.
51. We urge the Government to explore
the cost implication for farmers of access to more long term weather
forecasts as a first line of defence against extreme weather.
52. Building on the Climate Change
Evidence Plan, the Government must produce an up-to-date action
plan for reducing UK emissions. This should draw on the conclusions
of the latest IPCC Report and on the methodologies for risk assessment
outlined in it.
REDUCING EMISSIONS FROM THE AGRICULTURAL
53. While protection against extreme
weather is important and a very real threat, in the long run there
is a need to reduce emissions from the agriculture sector. As
part of its response to climate change the Government has committed
to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions across England by 80%
by 2050. Agriculture accounts for approximately 9% of the UK's
total GHG emissions. Projections for this sector show only a 2%
reduction by 2020 and little further reduction by 2030.
Reducing emissions from livestock
54. Cattle and sheep are the largest
contributors to GHG emissions in the agriculture sector. Livestock
as a whole contributes 49% of agricultural emissions. Professor
Beddington suggested that identifying ways to reduce this was
still an under-researched area.
UK Agriculture Emissions
from Livestock (direct)
|Livestock (enteric) emissions
|Unmanaged field deposition of manure
|Manure as fertiliser
Source Bob Watson, The Government response
to the Foresight Report on Food and Farming, Oxford Farming Conference,
55. The BBSRC told us about their research
which found that feeding cattle high sugar grasses helped to reduce
livestock emissions. Sainsbury's and Asda were reported to be
trialling this. Defra
is also funding some research into agricultural GHG abatement
to assess the potential for mitigation of livestock genomics and
breeding, reproductive efficiency and livestock dietary manipulation.
56. BBSRC said there was need for additional
experimental farm sites to carry out research so that "different
aspects of water run-off and greenhouse gas emissions can be measured
under different agriculture regimes in different parts of the
Research Institute is currently the only place carrying out farm-scale
research in this way in relation to lowland sheep and beef. We
visited the North Wyke Farm Platform where scientists are testing
the hypothesis that intensive beef and sheep production systems
can be developed with less impact on the environment. We discussed
the need to encourage consumers to eat less, better-quality meat.
57. We were impressed with the range
of practical research we saw at Rothamsted Research Institute.
There is an important role for ruminant livestock on less intensively-farmed
and environmentally valuable hills and uplands in the UK where
a significant reduction in livestock numbers would have negative
consequences for these environments.
58. The bulk of our meat and dairy
however is produced on lowlands, and if this is to continue, there
is a need for greater research effort and funding directed at
reducing emissions from more intensive beef, sheep and dairy farming
systems. Given the limited projected progress made in reducing
emissions from the agricultural sector as a whole, the Government
should identify, as a priority, specific actions which will ensure
the sector can meet national greenhouse gas reduction targets.
45 Committee on Climate Change, Managing the land in a changing climate,
Q41; Climate change making extreme rainfall in England more likely,
The Guardian, 30 April 2014 Back
Tim Benton (FSY 0054) para 16 Back
Qq16, 43 Back
Qq 70, 83 [Professor Beddington]; 125 [Peter Kendall]; 130 [Peter
Kendall, Tom Taylor]; 163 [Callum Murray] Back
NFU (FSY 0029) para 26 Back
Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee, First Report of
Session 2014-15, Winter Floods 2013-14, HC 240. NFU (XFL 0024)
para 8 Back
Food Security Ltd (FSY 0042) para 6 Back
Defra (FSY 0044) Back
Defra, Climate Change evidence plan, 2013 Back
IPCC, 5th Assessment Report, 14 March 2014 Back
IPCC, WGII AR5 Ch 14 Adaptation Needs and Options; IPCC WGII AR5
Ch 2 Foundations for Decision Making Back
Defra, Greenhouse Gas Emission Projections for UK Agriculture to 2030,
Defra (FSY 0056) Back