Green News

Global climate strategies 'don't add up': Greta Thunberg hits back at White House critics

Global climate strategies 'don't add up': Greta Thunberg hits back at White House critics

Teenage activist claims 'it doesn't take a college degree in economics' to realise world is on course to blow a hole in 1.5C carbon budget

Greta Thunberg has today hit back at her critics in the White House, arguing the global economy is on course for more than 1.5C of warming given the gap between the remaining carbon budget and "fossil fuel subsidies and investments don't add up".

The teenage activist has been in Davos this week alongside a host of global leaders and CEOs of major corporates at the World Economic Forum's annual summit, where she has made a series of characteristically impassioned pleas for climate action and fossil fuel divestment.

But after Thunberg's widely-reported speech at the Forum on Tuesday in which she warned that "our house is on fire", she faced a backlash from a key member of President Trump's team in the White House, who dismissed her concerns as ill-informed.

During a press conference at the WEF this morning, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was asked for his thoughts on Thunberg's calls for divestment from fossil fuel companies, to which he reportedly joked: "Is she the chief economist? Who is she? I'm confused."

"After she goes and studies economics in college she can come back and explain that to us," Mnuchin added.

But Thunberg hit back with a thinly-veiled riposte to Mnuchin this afternoon, arguing on social media that "it doesn't take a degree in economics to realise that our remaining 1.5C carbon budget and ongoing fossil fuel subsidies and investments don't add up".

"So either you tell us how to achieve this mitigation or explain to future generations and those already affected by the climate emergency why we should abandon our climate commitments," she added.

The row follows Trump's own appearance in Davos earlier this week, which saw him give a rambling speech about the US economy and energy security, while hitting out at what he called "alarmists" and "perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse".

However, the White House's stance on climate change has looked particularly isolated in Davos, where one of the key driving topics has been climate action and sustainability. Klaus Schwab, the Forum's founder and executive chairman, last week called on top business leaders ahead of the summit to commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier and the past week has seen a raft of fresh commitments and new climate initiatives from leading global businesses.

'A golden opportunity': Inside the CCC's blueprint for climate-friendly food and farming

'A golden opportunity': Inside the CCC's blueprint for climate-friendly food and farming

The UK's climate advisory body has tabled an ambitious set of policy measures to deliver net zero farming – here are the key takeaways

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has today unveiled what its chair Lord Deben described as "one of the most important reports that we have ever produced". Given the body has previously detailed how the entire UK economy needs to transform itself so as to fully decarbonise within three decades, it is a bold claim, but it still seems justified.

Focused on delivering net zero emissions from UK land-use and agriculture, the landmark report sets out a vast menu of recommendations that would amount to a massive overhaul in the way agricultural land is managed right across the UK. It has the potential to change the very look and feel of the UK's 'green and pleasant land'.

"A change in land-use is absolutely essential if we're going to meet our now statutory requirement of reaching net zero by 2050," Lord Deben argued, making no apologies for the wide-reaching proposals that arise from the watchdog's work.

The report has significant implications for diets, trade, landscapes, and the natural world, and its solutions are likely to be startling, and potentially even controversial for those most directly affected - namely farmers and meat lovers.

Yet, with a new government that boasts both a strong majority and a steadfast public commitment to delivering on the UK's net zero target as it gears up to host the crucial COP26 Climate Summit - and Brexit enabling a once in a generation shake-up of farming subsidies and policies - there has never been a more opportune moment to rethink the UK's approach to land management and embark on a new journey to climate-and-nature-friendly agriculture, according to the CCC.

The timing is not a coincidence. "We have very deliberately published this report at what we see as being the moment of maximum opportunity when it comes to new policies for agriculture," Chris Stark, CEO of the CCC, tells BusinessGreen. "We have never had a moment like this, or certainly in the last 40-50 years, to influence policy. So this is a really golden opportunity for the government. We can shore-up the future of the agriculture sector so we have a more productive sector overall, and we can help meet climate goals."

Here, BusinessGreen explores the key recommendations from the CCC report, while also looking at some of its implications and the reaction it has already provoked.

On a diet

For the first time, the CCC has in today's report offered advice that is not just aimed at the government, but also sketches out in more detail changes that citizens would need to make to their lifestyles. If the UK is to reach net zero emissions by 2050, it states, people should expect to reduce their meat and dairy intake by around 20 per cent over the next 30 years, in order to help free up more agricultural land for other climate change mitigation efforts.

Animal-based protein sources - particularly pork, beef, and lamb - generally have greater greenhouse gas emission footprints than plant-based sources, and a reduction of 20 per cent in consumption of these meats is well within current healthy eating guidelines, the CCC points out. Indeed, it is widely accepted Britons could on the whole do with eating less red meat and more vegetables and nuts for health reasons alone. Taking expected population growth over the coming decades into account, a 20 per cent reduction in meat consumption would imply a 10 per cent fall in cattle and sheep numbers by 2050 compared to 2017, freeing up more land for other activities.

But it is also important to note that the UK's livestock has among the lowest carbon intensity in the world. So for consumers it is not just about eating less meat, but ensuring that when they do eat meat, it is higher quality meat reared in Britain, the report stresses. A flurry of imported meat from the likes of Brazil or Indonesia - places with some of the most carbon intensive meat in the world - could prove a disaster for the UK's net zero ambitions.

At the same time, the UK's mountain of food waste remains both an economic cost and a major greenhouse gas contributor. So by cutting food waste by 20 per cent per person on top of reducing pork, beef, lamb and dairy consumption, the UK could save an estimated seven million metric tonnes of on-farm CO2 emissions by 2050, according to the report.

Not that such a shift will be easy to achieve. The calendar may be at the tail-end of the most high-profile 'Veganuary' to date, with more and more people in the UK reducing their meat intake as supermarkets and food retailers rush to get in on the plant-based eating trend. But as Stark points out, there is a long way to go before Briton as a whole can say it is adhering to climate-friendly diet.

"It is true that we are changing our diets, but probably not yet at the pace that would bring that 20 per cent fall by mid-century," he says.

Some green groups have already indicated that cutting meat consumption by just 20 per cent by mid-century is insufficiently ambitious, arguing the UK should be looking to make much faster strides in slashing meat consumption and handing over land for rewilding projects.

But the CCC notes that a 20 per cent cut in meat consumption still requires a significant change is lifestyles, and if some people are already making the change, not everyone is going to be happy about it. To spur the shift, therefore, the CCC recommends a host of 'nudging' policy options. These include 'no-regrets' actions from the government such as making all public sector catering menus offer plant-based options every day, harnessing product labelling to encourage greener food choices, and creating greater accountability for businesses by developing clear and robust metrics, introducing mandatory reporting requirements if necessary.

But behavioural change on this scale is new territory for both the CCC and governments, and it is hard to know what might work. So, if nudges do not deliver the sought for changes then, stronger regulation - maybe even including a tax on meat - may be deemed necessary in the future.

"We think it's possible to do most of this, if not all of it, with nudge policies - such as better labelling and better signalling," explains Stark. "But it's also worth saying that if those nudge approaches don't work, then the government will have to look at harder edge policies because we need land to be freed up so that we can have natural stores of carbon."

 

 

Net Zero Farming

Clearly, such a sizeable reduction in meat intake and livestock populations would have a significant impact on the farming sector, and so today's report attempts to provide a blueprint for a brand new job description for farmers.

It is important to note that the National Farmers Union (NFU) itself has declared it is fully supportive of the net zero transition, having set a target for the sector to become net zero by 2040. But there are clearly some tensions over what any shift away from livestock might mean for farmers, and the NFU has been keen to press the importance of British beef, lamb, and dairy to consumer diets.

"I believe British farmers are very much part of the solution," NFU president Minette Batters said in response to the CCC's report today. "We want to be the model for climate-friendly food production around the world - food production that continues to include nutritious beef, lamb and dairy products for the world to enjoy as part of a healthy, balanced diet."

 

For its part, the CCC believes net zero is achievable without any reduction in food production in the UK. What it recommends, however, is a shift in the mix of food produced: primarily, towards more fruit and vegetables.

Such a shift in food production would also need to be coupled with a major increase in the production of other products on agricultural land. For example, 23,000 hectares of bioenergy crop cultivation each year, 30,000 hectares of tree planting, and a 50 per cent increase in upland peatland restoration, are all envisaged, alongside a move towards greener on-farm practices, such as controlled fertiliser use, flood protection measures, and improvements to soil health.

"There's a double task here for farmers," says Stark. "One is to, if you like, retrain to become 'carbon stewards'. And the other is a more obvious goal to become more productive as a sector."

The NFU is well aware of the need for the sector to boost its productivity, and members of the trade body and other farming stakeholders were closely consulted during the process of drawing up today's report, the CCC claims. Moreover, with the government having already set out a rough framework through the Agriculture Bill that would see farmers rewarded for delivering 'public goods' such as tree planting, flood protection, and peatland restoration after Brexit, there is a clearer sense than ever that everyone is broadly keen to move in the same net zero direction.

"I don't think we are in such an adversarial position any longer," argues Stark. "In fact, one of the things I'm very keen to see is that this report really should end the discussion of 'farming vs the climate' - this is about encouraging that sector to come along on the journey to reduce emissions."

Whether that broad consensus and joint action towards net zero emissions emerges in practice, however, remains to be seen, especially if the reality of reduced demand for meat and dairy products materialises as planned. Plus it is fair to say that not everyone is happy with the CCC's findings. Several green groups believe the report does not go far enough towards encouraging meat reduction, tree planting, and rewilding. Journalist George Monbiot - a long-standing critic of the mainstream farming industry - was particularly scathing today.

A battle may lie ahead, but some form of broad consensus will be mission critical to building a climate-friendly approach to agriculture and land management in the UK.

 

Funding and policy framework

Agriculture currently accounts for around 12 per cent of UK greenhouse gases, and it believes two-thirds of these emission could be eradicated by 2050, with the remainder offset by carbon sequestration efforts within the sector. But a key question remains as to what policy and funding levers are needed to realise that ambition.

First off, the CCC estimates the cost of its net zero recommendations would be roughly £1.4bn per year, although it stresses this investment would reap wider societal benefits - such as for public health, air pollution, climate change, and outdoor space for recreation - of £4bn per year. So in that sense, it's a no-brainer. Add in the fact the UK currently spends £3.3bn a year on farming subsidies through the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which the country will leave when it exits the bloc later this year - and the economic case for sweeping reform becomes even more compelling.

But as the CCC is well aware, a robust funding and policy framework needs to be put in place to ensure a fair deal for farmers and land managers who are expected to drive wide ranging changes across the agriculture sector. It therefore suggests using market-based measures to incentivise tree planting, similar to measures such as Feed-in Tariffs and clean energy contract auctions that proved so successful in catalysing the UK's renewable energy industry. Forestry could also be included in a carbon trading scheme, perhaps funded through a levy on high carbon industries such as aviation or fossil fuel producers. And, separately, public funding should encourage further steps, such as low carbon farming practices and skills training, peatland restoration, climate mitigation, and adaptation measures, the report recommends.

For its part, the UK government is making multiple moves in this direction, albeit at a level that critics maintain is insufficiently ambitious. Last year Ministers launched a new £50m market-based tree planting scheme offering land managers long-term contracts to fund CO2-sequestering tree efforts. Work is also on-going through various biodiversity offset schemes and green farming innovation funds. However, while such moves are very welcome they leave a lot of urgent work to do at all levels of government across the UK, according to Stark.

"What's clear from current policies we have at the moment is that we are not going to deliver the right outcomes," he explains. "We see gaps in policy, voluntary initiatives in particular which haven't delivered, a patchy framework of support for farmers and landowners, and a mix of devolved competencies for Defra, the Sottish Government, Welsh Government and the Northern Irish government."

"We need the government to make land-use change an object of policy," Stark adds. "That is a big step, and not what we have at the moment. Incremental steps are not going to cut it, and there is plenty of opportunity to do that."

The task ahead certainly poses tough questions for both devolved governments and most obviously the ruling Conservative Party, which is under huge pressure to develop a world-leading climate strategy ahead of COP26 which it is co-hosting in Glasgow later this year. Lest we forget, the UK is not at present on track to meet its existing carbon budgets for later this decade, and green businesses and innovators are crying out for clear policy signals to get started on delivering net zero. With a Budget on its way from the Chancellor that will reportedly have climate change action at its core, and flesh still needed on the bones of the government's post-Brexit farming policies, there is certainly a lot more to expect in the coming months. But, as ever, the devil will be in the details, and the urgency and scale of the net zero transition cannot be stressed enough. A huge amount now rests from a land use perspective on the both the passage of the Agriculture Bill and, more importantly, the effective and fast tracked enactment of the subsidy reforms it is meant to enable.

It is a point that Lord Deben was particularly keen to stress when speaking to the media yesterday.

"For me this is a key moment, because we are now moving from good-hearted determination, commitments and electoral discussions to delivery," he said. "And what we shall now be seeking to do as the Committee on Climate Change, is to ensure that delivery takes place. It is statutorily necessary, parliament has to read these ends, it now has to fall to governments to supply the means. So for us, this is a moment of very considerable pressure because the work has been done, the opportunity is there, and the government has the ability to deliver in a cost effective way."

Diets, lifestyles, economic and trading arrangements are all already changing, and are set for much greater disruption in the coming years as climate impacts bite harder on supply chains. But today, the CCC has once again offered a hard-nosed, realistic prospect that, if government and businesses act quickly, the UK could pioneer a net zero transition that delivers huge economic, environmental, and public health benefits.

Wild solutions: Public bodies back CCC call for expansion of forests, peatlands, and wetlands

Wild solutions: Public bodies back CCC call for expansion of forests, peatlands, and wetlands

The Environment Agency, Forestry Commission and Natural England have voiced strong support for several key recommendations outlined in today’s Committee on Climate Change land use report

Nature-based solutions such as planting forests, protecting peatland, and restoring natural habitats should provide a central pillar in the UK's strategic response to the climate emergency, the Chairs of England's three environmental public bodies said this morning.

The announcement comes as the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) publishes its highly anticipated report on land use in the UK, which provides a raft of detailed recommendations on how the UK should overhaul its management of farm and natural land to help draw down greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

Key to the CCC's recommendations were a series of nature-based solutions related to forests, peatland, and farmland, which the UK's three public environment bodies - the Forestry Commission, Natural England and the Environment Agency - will play a key role in implementing. The Chairs of these bodies today welcomed the recommendations and pledged to develop a coordinated strategy to deliver on them.

"In meeting the climate change emergency, it will be vital to reduce emissions from power, heating and transport. It is equally important, however, that we combine these efforts with plans for the protection and recovery of the natural environment," said Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England. "Given the scale of the challenge, a joined-up approach that embraces nature's recovery is not an optional extra, but must be central to the whole plan, to both catch carbon and to help us adapt to what are now inevitable climate change impacts."

Central to the CCC's recommendations is a call for large-scale woodland creation, in line with government plans to increase tree planting rates by up to 30,000 hectares a year by 2025, working with devolved authorities, landowners and local communities to do so. New forests would take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, reduce the impact of flooding, and support the recovery of native woodland wildlife populations, experts claim.

"The climate emergency has highlighted the role forests play in absorbing carbon dioxide, while we also remember the breadth of their benefits," said Sir Harry Studholme, Chair of the Forestry Commission.  "We are encouraging farmers and land managers to invest in tree-planting, and through schemes such as our recently launched Woodland Carbon Guarantee we are making sure we tackle climate change through nature-based solutions, while also providing a long term financial incentive to increase their carbon capture."

Alongside expanding Britain's forests, the public bodies also backed the CCC's call to protect and restore the UK's peatlands, which store more carbon than all other types of vegetation in the world combined. Nature England is actively restoring peatland on sites that it owns, it said, as well as supporting other landowners to do the same. A full England Peat Strategy will be published this spring.

As well as cutting emissions, the UK needs to take action to mitigate escalating climate impacts. Central to such climate resilience efforts will be managing flood risk. Alongside traditional flood defences, the bodies detailed how they will develop nature-based solutions to minimise the impact of flooding, including planting trees and restoring natural habitats such as wetlands, sand dunes, and saltmarsh, which can remove carbon from the atmosphere and improve wildlife habitats at the same time as reducing the impact of floods.

"As we're seeing with tragic bushfires in Australia and some of the extreme weather in the UK over the past few years, the climate emergency can no longer be underestimated," said Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency. "We must do everything we can to not only tackle climate change, but also adapt to its impacts, including the increased risk of drought and flooding here in the UK. Building hard flood and coastal defences will always be important, but as our draft FCRM strategy shows, natural solutions like restoring wetlands to store flood water and planting trees to hold water in the soil will play an increasingly important role in the future - all whilst taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere."

Another approach highlighted by the environmental bodies is to encourage the use of alternatives to carbon intensive materials, for example promoting the use of timber products in construction while moving away from concrete and steel.

Finally, the bodies emphasised the importance of taking a strategic approach to land use, avoiding potential adverse impacts for communities while ensuring developments in renewable energy and other infrastructure do not mean compromising on nature-based solutions.

Published today, the Committee on Climate Change report is likely to prove controversial with some sectors due its call for a radical overhaul of the UK's "unsustainable" approach to managing farmland. The climate advisory body warned people may need to reduce their meat and dairy intake by at least a fifth if the UK is to meet its 2050 net zero goal, freeing up land for natural carbon storage through afforestation and peatland restoration.

Such efforts could be achieved through market-based measures to reward farmers and land managers who move towards such low- and negative-carbon farming land use activities, the CCC said.

The CCC report and the positive response from key public delivery bodies comes as the government prepares to pass its landmark Agriculture Bill, which aims to reform farming subsidies post Brexit so as to incentivise land owners to enhance a range of ecosystem services, including natural carbon sequestration and improved flood management.

Meat giant Tyson Foods launches 'sustainable protein' coalition

Meat giant Tyson Foods launches 'sustainable protein' coalition

Coalition includes leaders from “all forms of protein” will meet to discuss ways to increase global protein supply

Tyson Foods, the world's second-largest meat processor, has this week announced it is convening a new 'Coalition for Sustainable Protein' in a bid to collaborate with the rest of the protein industry so as to sustainably increase global protein supply.

Announcing the move at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Tyson Foods said the coalition would "unite stakeholders across the food and agriculture sector to identify and implement new and creative solutions to sustainably feed the world's growing population".

In particular, it will consider how to reduce food waste, increase access to protein, and safeguard eco-systems. The first meeting took place at the Swiss resort this week, it added.

"As one of the world's largest food companies, we want to help ensure the responsible production of affordable, nutritious food for generations to come," said Noel White, chief executive officer of Tyson Foods. "We're introducing this Coalition because we know that we cannot achieve this alone.  Collective commitment and immediate action are needed to deliver the greatest impact on the future of sustainable food production." 

Tyson Foods did not give details of which companies and organisations would be part of the coalition, confirming only that it would include representatives of "all forms of protein", as well as experts from academia, non-governmental organisations, and financial institutions.

The move is the latest sign the meat industry is feeling the pressure as growing numbers of consumers embrace plant-based food options, often for sustainability reasons, and agricultural supply chains face mounting climate impacts. Animal agriculture is responsible for around 14 per cent of global emissions, due largely to the deforestation of land cleared for raising cattle and methane emissions from cows.

In developed countries consumers concerned about the climate impact of their diet are eating less meat, often switching to plant-based substitutes that are more closely resembling meat than ever before. Tyson Foods itself has said in the past it wants to "fully compete" in the alternative meat space, which includes meat-mimicking products such as the Beyond Meat and Impossible burgers.

Part of the company's strategy is to invest in food tech start-ups. Earlier this week it was named as a backer of Memphis Meats, the US-based start-up growing cultured meat from cells. Memphis Meats said it had raised $161m in its Series B funding, with backers including Japan's SoftBank Group. Richard Branson and Bill Gates have already invested in the start-up in a previous round.

Memphis Meats said it would use the cash to build a pilot production plant, with the aim of launching its cultured meat, poultry, and seafood products on the commercial market. "Memphis Meats is revolutionising how meat is brought to every table around the world," said Uma Valeti, co-founder and CEO. "We are providing compelling and delicious choices by producing real meat from animal cells, its natural building blocks. Cell-based meat is poised to dramatically expand humanity's capacity to feed a growing global population while preserving our culinary traditions and protecting our planet."

'We ask for fairness': Von der Leyen warns countries to price carbon or face border tax

'We ask for fairness': Von der Leyen warns countries to price carbon or face border tax

European Commission President warns nations it will tax products imported into EU unless a “global level playing field” is established

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has delivered a warning to high-emitting nations that Europe could impose a carbon border tax "in the name of fairness" unless they implement carbon pricing systems of their own.

Speaking yesterday at Davos, Von der Leyen said she would prefer the world to operate under a global carbon pricing system, which she said would create a "level playing field" to help nations decarbonise.

But she insisted the EU is prepared to consider implementing a carbon border adjustment, an idea set out in its European Green Deal, which would be applied to products from certain sectors and countries which "do not share" the EU's climate ambitions.

As well as preventing carbon 'leakage', a carbon border tax is part of the Commission's strategy for ensuring climate action does not come at the expense of Europe's economy. But such a proposal is controversial, not least because it could breach World Trade Organisation rules if not carefully designed and could inflame trade tensions with the US and China. Major emitters like China are likely to be hardest hit by any carbon border adjustment, which is likely to be first applied to sectors such as steel. 

"There is no point in only decreasing greenhouse gas emissions at home if we increase the import of CO2 from abroad," Von der Leyen said. "It is a matter of fairness towards our business, towards our workers, and we will protect them against unfair competition."

The Commission President praised states like California for implementing comprehensive carbon pricing mechanisms, and said China has also taken "the first steps" towards implementing a carbon pricing system.

But she said carbon pricing must become a comprehensive "global trend" in order to create a fair system for curbing emissions from manufacturing. "If you engage with Europe you will find a reliable partner working for a more sustainable world," she said. "But we ask for fairness in return."

Europe is plotting a path to becoming net zero carbon by 2050, the most ambitious of any continent in the world. The European Green Deal sets out how it plans to achieve this target, by mobilising $1tr of investment to make Europe a frontrunner in clean technologies, low-carbon industries and green financing.

'Nature is not an asset class': Prince Charles calls for 'evolution' of economic model

'Nature is not an asset class': Prince Charles calls for 'evolution' of economic model

Heir to the throne launches Sustainable Markets Council to bring together industry leaders to drive breakthroughs in decarbonisation

The Prince of Wales has announced plans to host a series of industry roundtables that will bring together experts, executives, and investors to identify ways to rapidly decarbonise the global economy.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos yesterday, Prince Charles said he hoped to help build a new "systems-level" framework to that "ground markets in a high-purpose mission".

"If there is one critical lesson we must learn from this crisis, it is that nature is not an asset class," he said. "Nature is in fact the lifeblood of our financial markets, and as such we must rapidly realign our own economy to mimic nature's economy and work in harmony with it."

He also argued that the global economy could be on the cusp of a tipping point. "After nearly 50 years of championing this cause I cannot help feeling that finally we are ready to change our trajectory," he added. "For my part I have made sustainable markets my priority for 2020 - actually beyond, however long it takes."

Backed by the World Economic Forum, Prince Charles said he would convene a series of industry roundtables in the coming months covering sectors such as aviation, automotive, carbon capture and storage, shipping, forestry, financing, digital technology, renewable energy, battery storage, fisheries, cement & steel, and agriculture.

"At the end of which I shall probably be dead," he joked.

He said he hoped the roundtables would help "bring the right people together" to help remove roadblocks hampering decarbonisation. "We all know the problem, and increasingly we agree on the direction," he said. "2020 is the time for solutions and practical action."

The Prince also called for a wider "evolution" of the global economic model to better incorporate the value of nature. The approach would include requiring every business executive to think about environmental protection, outlining a pathway to net zero, and adopting common reporting standards for climate-related issues. He also called on policymakers to work together to reverse "peverse" subsidies and improve incentives for sustainable alternatives, make it easier for consumers to choose sustainably, and boost investments in game-changer technologies.

 "What good is all the extra wealth in the world gained from business as usual if you can do nothing with it except watch it burn in catastrophic conditions?" he asked.

Latest Job Listings