Thursday, October 28, 2021
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Now is the time to deal with the carbon bubble

Recent events have shown that tackling climate change has moved from being an ‘add on’ in running a business to now becoming mainstream.

A fringe concept six years ago, climate change has gone mainstream so quickly that more than 60 per cent of countries now have some sort of net zero goal, along with investors managing nearly $37 trillion (€30.4 trillion) and at least 20 per cent of the 2,000 largest publicly listed companies.

Just how far it has moved as a core business issue was shown in a recent court judgement involving Shell. The giant oil company was ordered by a Dutch court to cut its emissions emissions by 45 per cent by the end of 2030 compared with 2019 levels. This was despite Shell’s ‘sustainability policy’ stating that the company was already on the way to lowering its emissions.

The court disagreed and instead imposed the emission cuts adding that the ruling would have “far-reaching consequences” for the company and may “curb the potential growth of the Shell group”.

The judge added that “the interest served with the reduction obligation outweighs the Shell group’s commercial interests”.

It’s a remarkable decision in that it shows that if companies are deemed not to be making steady progress towards lowering emissions then the court can intervene with its own targets. The judgement will have implications across the global fossil fuel sector.

Farming is also a global player, a significant emitter of greenhouse gases and the UK Government has a sustainability policy intent on reaching net zero by 2050. Could UK farming face a court judgement where cuts could be imposed on the sector?

It’s unlikely and farming does have the advantage that in capturing gases in soils, hedgerows and forests, that it is in fact part of the solution to reaching net zero. It’s a good position to be in but only if UK farmers can demonstrate that strong and measurable targets are being made and met.

In general, farmers who are efficient in using bought in feed and fertiliser, who manage slurry well, have low replacement rates and can calf heifers/slaughter beef at 24 months can do little more.

But how many could do more? Wouldn’t it be great if farmers were seen not just as providers of the nation’s food but as ‘first responders’ in meeting climate change targets.

Locally, Cranswick Country Foods, Cullybacky, has become the first NI food processor to be designated as carbon neutral. The business has moved to sourcing 100 per cent of its electric from renewable sources, installed a heat recovery system and installed LED lighting. It ensures the site is well on its way to net zero carbon and that its sustainability policy is not gathering dust on a shelf but is fully part of its business.

While the NI climate change Bill(s) are debated, let us be guided by science and by the need to take affirmative action to ensure that farming meets its obligations, rather than having courts intervene and force the targets onto the sector.

The push to net zero will only increase and will be driven by consumers, retailers and in turn by processors. The sooner we as farmers engage with climate change and include it as part of the overall business then the easier to transition it will be.

Over the past 20 years we have witnessed the dot.com bubble and the property bubble. Neither ended well and harsh lessons were learned. Let’s deal with the carbon bubble now.

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