Reversing the long term decline of the natural environment is a complex challenge. We are generating new thinking and building powerful new alliances to support political leadership for nature's recovery.
Decarbonising land use Policy solutions to cut emissions from agriculture and land use
Reducing emissions from agriculture and other land uses will be vital for the UK to meet its decarbonisation commitments. Yet, although there are clear opportunities to cut emissions, this is one area of climate action that has so far been overlooked.
Brexit is likely to bring significant disruption to the sector, but the changes coming are a chance to put the spotlight on the climate impacts and decarbonisation opportunities of agriculture and other land uses and rethink the policy framework to mitigate them.
With input from an expert steering group, chaired by Sir Graham Wynne, we are exploring options for immediate policy action as well as longer term interventions to ensure that land use and agriculture play their full part in cutting emissions in the UK.
Natural Infrastructure SchemesIn partnership with the National Trust
Agriculture is under increasing pressure to maximise production, whilst reducing its environmental impact and eliminating dependence on public subsidy. Many farming businesses are operating at the limit of their profitability, often to the detriment of soil health, water quality and biodiversity. Farmers are in a unique position to restore and protect the natural environment, but there is no commercial basis for the provision of natural services from farmland.
In partnership with the National Trust, we have developed a Natural Infrastructure Scheme (NIS) to lever private money for positive environmental land management. The mechanism was first proposed as a way to deliver ‘slow, clean water’ in places where consortia of farmers and land managers could reduce flood risks or improve water quality by changing the management of their land. Our final report New routes to decarbonise land use investigated how the scheme could also be used to achieve land based carbon reductions.
Food and Nature Task ForceIn partnership with Nestlé, Co-op, Sainsbury’s and Tesco
The UK's food production industry, including farmers, caterers and supermarkets, is worth over £100 billion a year to the UK economy. However, environmental degradation threatens to undermine the industry while new trading relationships and farm support post-Brexit could reshape the sector.
These challenges need a comprehensive response. Government action will be needed to reverse environmental decline, but long term solutions also require collaboration between farmers, food manufacturers, retailers and NGOs.
Green Alliance founded the Food and Nature Task Force in 2017 to stimulate collaboration and partnerships along the food supply chain. The task force's first report, Setting the standard: shifting to sustainable food production in the UK, argues that post-Brexit agricultural policy needs to put sustainable food production at the heart of any new support scheme.
Members of the Task Force are Nestlé, Co-op, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, with support and advice from Jonathan Hughes, CEO of Scottish Wildlife Trust and co-founder of the World Forum on Natural Capital, and David Fursdon, owner of Fursdon estate and chair of Beeswax Dyson Farming.
See also: Natural partners, our 2016 report which explored how nature conservation and natural capital approaches can work together to manage pressures on the UK's environment.
Horizon DebatesExploring the key tensions in food and agriculture
Population growth, climate change, technological progress and Brexit will all profoundly affect how Britain’s land is farmed. The pace and scale of change could be immense. The UK government’s 25 year plan for the environment, and the Secretary of State’s proposal to focus future farming subsidies on paying for environmental public goods, have created a sense of optimism that these changes could be positive, reversing decades of environmental decline.
But how positive should we really be feeling? Do environmentalists properly understand the ethical trade-offs inherent in embracing technology in food and farming? Is progress on the environment possible without properly engaging the public in a discussion about food and diets? And is political support for ambitious environmental action strong enough to withstand claims that it is coming at the expense of farmer livelihoods, food security and food prices?
During the first half of 2018 Green Alliance will organise a series of three debates exploring important questions about the future. Hearing from different expert perspectives, the debates will interrogate what the changes could mean for our environment and our national identity.
The first of these debates 'Is technology in a force for good in food production?' will look at the ways in which novel foods and agricultural technologies could benefit the UK’s natural environment. It will discuss the social acceptability of different technologies and their ethical implications.
The second debate will ask the question 'can Brexit deliver cheap, high quality food to the British public?', and the third debate will explore 'What does taking carbon seriously mean for future UK land use?'
Each debate will take place in central London between April-July 2018, in front of an audience of around 60 experts from NGOs, businesses, academia, government and politics.
Natural investmentFutureproofing food production in the UK
Food production and agriculture are vital to the UK economy. Food prices have fallen by nearly a quarter since 1980, to the expense of the people and natural systems that produce it.
This period has also seen prolonged and severe declines in the environmental health of farmland, characterised by soil degradation and erosion, and the chronic decline of important species.
Unsustainable farming practices have created unacknowledged costs and risks for food businesses.
Our report, Natural investment: futureproofing food production in the UK, proposes a new model for policy makers, based on the concept of environmental efficiency, which enables food businesses to maintain the natural assets they depend on and bolster the long term economic resilience of the UK food and farming sector.
Flooding is a big problem in the UK and one that is getting worse with climate change. In November 2016, we revealed that England's current approach to flood risk is contradictory:
• nearly four times as much money spent on land management that ignores or even increases flood risk, than on land management that helps to prevent flooding; and • twice as much money spent on dealing with the after effects of a flood than on hard flood defences
This funding is skewed towards short-term reactive responses that ignore the central role of land management in building flood resilience. Our report, Smarter flood risk management in England: investing in resilient catchments, makes three recommendations that would lead to a greater level of resilience for either the same or lower cost than current approaches, including to establish a dedicated fund for natural flood management.
This project was supported by the John Ellerman Foundation.
The Great AccelerationHow should the UK respond to the decline of natural systems?
Our journal,Inside Track, invited Professor Will Steffen of the Stockholm Resilience Centre to describe the findings of his research into the phenomenon known as the Great Acceleration: the fast increasing impact of human activities on natural systems since 1950. It also featured articles by a former senior civil servant, the National Trust and Nestlé on how government, the public and business in the UK should respond. Sue Armstrong Brown also set out the immediate plans for Green Alliance's new Natural Environment theme.