Environment and Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:56 pm on 1st May 2019.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East 5:56 pm, 1st May 2019

We need action on so many fronts to tackle this climate emergency, but time is limited so I will speak about just one. Unsurprisingly, it is about the fact that 30% of our global greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to our food system.

If we do not make changes, the food and farming system will singlehandedly use up our Paris climate agreement emissions budget within the next 30 years, yet there is still a woeful failure to rise to the challenge, and there is no excuse. There have been endless wake-up calls, including from the UN, the IPCC, EAT-Lancet, Chatham House, academics from Harvard and Oxford, and many more—I have a big pile of reports in my office—yet politicians are still hitting the snooze button.

Lots of things contribute to the climate impact of our food system: the use of fossil fuels and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers on farms, methane emissions from ruminants, transportation and refrigeration. If food waste were a country, it would have the third largest carbon footprint, behind China and the USA. However, the biggest impact is from land use. Some 48% of UK land is used for animal agriculture, and 55% of that is used for animal feed, rather than for growing food that is directly eaten by humans. The destruction of the Amazon rainforest is driven by industrial farming, which destroys habitats, biodiversity and natural carbon sinks.

It has been more than 10 years since I held a debate in Westminster Hall on the environmental impact of the livestock sector. To say that the reaction I got then was hostile is an understatement, but it now feels like there is a breakthrough. This breakthrough is being led by the public, and the private sector has responded to that public demand. It is not being led by politicians. I really think we need to rise to the challenge and start talking about it. We need a net zero emissions target by 2040 in the Agriculture Bill, which the NFU now backs. We also need to reward farmers who reduce their carbon footprint, to plant more trees and to store more carbon in the soil—and yes, we need to accelerate the trend towards healthier, more sustainable diets by reducing red meat and dairy consumption by at least 30% by 2030.

Last night, my hon. Friend Darren Jones and I attended an event in Soho hosted by the Meatless Farm Company, which is calling for people to sign up to a meatless consumption target. It commissioned research by Joseph Poore of Oxford University that showed that if people replaced one read meat meal a week with a plant-based meal, it would cut UK greenhouse gas emissions by some 50 million tonnes—that is a reduction of 8.4% or the equivalent of taking 16 million cars off the road. I call on all the politicians in this place who profess to care about climate change to take up that challenge.