A COP26 event hosted by WWF this afternoon discussed the importance of agriculture in helping fight the climate emergency, and emphasised the need for more young people in farming.
Hosted in the WWF pavilion in the blue zone, "Nature: the unsung hero of the food system" consisted of a panel of three in-person, with others joining on Zoom, hosted by Lang Banks, the director of WWF Scotland. The event started with feature videos from three UK farmers from around the country. Denise urged world leaders to "take into account the massive benefit livestock bring to our countryside", whilst Johnnie explained that it is "cheaper to grow grass by moving cattle about in a particular way than by putting fertiliser on it". "My hope for COP26 is that world leaders realise what good land management can do for our environment," he concluded.
"My hope for COP26 is that world leaders realise what good land management can do for our environment."
Another Johnnie sat on the panel, a farmer from Kenya. He discussed the issue of pesticides on the animal life that surrounds farmlands, describing how bees were being killed from pesticide use. "Agro-ecology plays a big role in Kenya now," he went on.
The second panelist was Lorna Slater, co-leader of the Scottish Greens and recently-appointed Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity. Highlighting the big questions, she asked: "How do we better subsidise? We have to try to change the system. How do we get food security? How do we bring people to change their habits?"
An interesting element, and one that is more unique to discussions of nature and forestry, was the topic of carbon sequestration. A Nature article discussed whether sequestering of carbon may be one of the only ways to combat the climate crisis if other methods don't work, and today's discussion reiterated the "massive role [that agro-ecology has] to play".
"An element more unique to discussions of nature and forestry, was the topic of carbon sequestration."
From a farming standpoint, there is also the issue of the balance between reversing biodiversity loss versus the prosperity of farmers. James Owen, the deputy director of Land Management Reform in the Welsh government, talked about the importance of "incentivising" farmers, and "supporting education".
Using non-pesticide control measures is one of the ways in which farming needs to be reshaped, the discussion continued, and there are more "techniques and skills we need to learn". Nitrogen wastage is a further issue, as it's why fertilisers are added: "If we can keep [nitrogen] in the system naturally, we don't need to add it back in."
"Using non-pesticide control measures is one of the ways in which farming needs to be reshaped..."
Lorna Slater hammered the point home, though, that "the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis go together." Worrying, she said that the "biodiversity of Scotland has decreased by 24%, whilst we are trying to do something about it". The loss of animal, tree and sea species is devastating for our planet: as mentioned in the forestry talks at the start of COP26, trees are vital for the uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The shells of sea species are also incredibly important for the sequestration of carbon dioxide too, and so with thriving biodiversity, we come closer to combatting the climate crisis. Therefore, utilising the farming industry to help push increase our planet's biodiversity can only be a positive step in the progress being made to stop further temperature rises.
But farming, as pointed out by an audience member, is made up of an "ageing population". Therefore how can more young people be directed towards farming as a career?
Lorna described the huge number of jobs that can be created in the industry, and the need to "rejuvenate" farming generally. Discussing the "future of rural Scotland", she emphasised the "enormous opportunities there" with "tens of thousands of good jobs". We not only need to encourage young people, she said, but also to draw people looking for a "mid-career change" in towards the industry.
In short, the conversation was one extremely relevant to us as Scots: with our vast, rolling landscapes of greenery in the rural parts of the country, and with the immense produce that comes from Scotland, farming is an industry integral to the functioning of the country and, as emphasised today, the world. Making use of our farmland is a crucial means of ensuring lower emissions, as long as sustainability is placed at the fore.
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