COP 26 is now repeatedly in the headlines and for the UK has assumed even more importance with the Government’s Net Zero target. Just recently, the designation of Alok Sharma, the new Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, as Minister for COP26, as well as venue issues has brought it to mass attention. This is the 26th Conference Of the Parties, the governing body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, launched in Rio in 1992, and the body that created the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and the Paris Agreement in 2015. The COP monitors progress and negotiates targets for tackling climate change. Over 200 countries are parties, and the last event, COP25, had about 25,000 delegates. The dates are set, 9 - 19 November 2020 and (at least at the moment) so is the venue, Glasgow.
What impact is this likely to have on UK agriculture and agricultural land? Potentially, a lot. The government sees UK agriculture as an area where there needs to be carbon reduction as does the Committee on Climate Change, by which they mean the net reduction of actual carbon dioxide emissions, or emissions of other gases such as methane that are given an equivalence to carbon dioxide. We know that to hit the Net Zero carbon emissions in 2050, which by the way, is now enshrined in UK law, there is an expectation among the sector that the government will be involved to provide the necessary support and drivers. The opportunities to nudge or directly mandate farming and other rural land uses offered by ELMS as it takes the place of the CAP means that there are plenty of potential government levers that can be pulled to influence rural land use and to encourage or require those uses to be consistent with decarbonising UK agriculture. The encouragement of large-scale tree planting, peat conservation and the adoption of more carbon-sensitive farming practices is by now well recognised in the sector.
As the host country for COP 26 the UK government will want to be seen to be delivering success. This seems likely to increase its willingness to drive rapid change in agricultural land use, with a particular focus on decarbonisation, so keep an eye forthcoming proposals over the next 6 months.
Alok Sharma can make Cop26 a success – but does he have the will?