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Land-use and balancing greenhouse gas emissions from food production

Audio file of the paper contributed to the Royal Society discussion meeting 'Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture: meeting the challenges of food security and climate change'

Year of Publication2011

Abstract:Crop and livestock production systems are a source of greenhouse gases (primarily methane and nitrous oxide) and targets for their reduction in the UK have been established. However an exclusive focus on GHG emissions, rather than net land use-impacts, may not be the best way to incentivise and achieve the dual objectives of both climate change mitigation and meeting a projected increase in the demand for food. To achieve a better balance, assessments are required of the minimum level of emissions that should be achievable from food production systems specifically designed to be both efficient in terms of GHG emissions and to deliver the diverse food requirements of the future UK population (estimated to peak at c70 million). This exercise would enable efficiency benchmarks for production of particular commodities to be set and also allow a determination of where importation, as distinct from home production, would be more efficient in terms of GHG emissions per unit of production. Arrival at a minimum annual figure for GHG emissions in this way would enable a spatially explicit determination of land use requirements to be achieved for primary food production. This, in turn, would provide the basis for optimisation of residual land use for activities designed to be positive in terms of carbon capture and storage or fossil fuel substitution (biomass-derived energy, forestry, permanent pasture, amenity spaces, peat conservations etc.). The implementation of policies related to land use as well as food sourcing and financial support for carbon capture and storage schemes beyond the realm of UK governance should ideally be founded on a soundly based estimate of the imbalance (over some appropriately determined time scale) between emissions (as CO2 equivalents) due to primary food production and net carbon fixation in other land-based or aquatic ecosystems.

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