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Significant changes needed across Welsh food system and land use to achieve net zero - report

25 July 2023

Seven cows are photographed on a Welsh hillside
Any changes to agricultural policy must also ensure affected livestock farmers are supported, the report concludes.

Urgent and open debate is needed around Wales’ food system in order to achieve net zero, academics at Cardiff University conclude.

The Wales Centre for Public Policy (WCPP) has published its response to the Wales Net Zero 2035 Challenge Group’s first challenge question ‘How could Wales feed itself by 2035?’ The report examines the evidence and explores challenges facing the agricultural sector, which is set to be the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in 2035, as other sectors decarbonise more quickly.

Direct methane emissions from livestock currently make up 61% of agricultural emissions in Wales with manure management contributing an additional 14% of emissions.

By making significant adjustments to farming and land use, the paper argues that Wales could make up for lost time in the race to achieve net zero.

According to the evidence, some agricultural land will need to be used in ways that add to our carbon sinks, such as increasing our woodland, forestry and peat bogs. Reducing agricultural emissions will also require a reduction in livestock numbers.

The new Agriculture Bill will be a key mechanism for the Welsh Government to shape land management practices but, the report adds, there should be an increased focus on reducing overall emissions. Any changes to agricultural policy must also ensure affected livestock farmers are supported, the report concludes.

Dr Helen Tilley, WCPP Senior Research Fellow, said: “It is clear from our work on this topic that there are multiple, deeply entrenched and interconnected obstacles to the sustainability of Wales’ land use, farming and food systems; but the evidence also helps us identify some important opportunities for change.

“We must grasp these opportunities if we are to tackle what could be our greatest challenge yet for the sake of future generations. Achieving this will require policy makers, agriculture and other sectors to work together to find workable solutions, recognising the need to support Welsh farmers and communities.”

Dr Helen Tilley Senior Research Fellow, Wales Centre for Public Policy

WCPP, part of Cardiff University’s Social Science Research Park, has been commissioned by the Welsh Government to provide relevant evidence and expertise to inform the work of the Wales Net Zero 2035 Challenge Group.

Former Environment Minister Jane Davidson, who chairs the Wales Net Zero 2035 Challenge Group, said: “We welcome this report from the Wales Centre for Public Policy to help us develop our work.

“Our challenge as a Group, which has the wellbeing of future generations at its heart, is to identify pathways to accelerate progress to net zero while ensuring a nature-positive and just transition that safeguards communities.

 “This report reveals some concerning trends around Wales’ food system and encouragingly, also identifies measures to help tackle emissions and pollution leading to improved biodiversity and human health.”

Jane Davidson Former Environment Minister

“Whilst interventions can be explored around peatland, forestry and our coast, we must not shy away from the question of Welsh farming.

“Like many sectors, Welsh farmers are in a tough economic situation following Brexit and the conflict in Ukraine. We must work together to address the even greater challenge of climate change.”

The full report is available to view here.

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