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Supporting Scottish Agriculture

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 6th March 2019.

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Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Once again, we are debating a motion on farming policy that fails to address the crisis that climate change poses to our farms, coastlines, communities and future generations in Scotland. During the debate in the chamber on 10 January, I made it clear that the Greens cannot support any future farm support system or farming policy that does not address climate change as a core principle. Our position has not changed on that matter.

I lodged an amendment to the motion for debate in January, calling for agriculture to play a key role in addressing the climate emergency that we face and for farming support payments to be used to develop a net zero emissions sector in Scotland. The cabinet secretary failed to speak to my amendment once in that debate, so I am still unsure why the Government voted against it, but an explanation from him of why the Government is so opposed to climate change mitigation forming a core principle of our farm support system would be welcome today.

I know that I am not alone in my frustration about that. This week, the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee published our stage 1 report on the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill, which included the following observation:

“the area where divergence from UK Committee on Climate Change advice is most apparent is in relation to agriculture policy. In this case”— the most recent climate change plan—

“the CCC recommended an approach which was subsequently rejected by the Scottish Government without an explanation provided to justify the decision.”

Our report says that,

“In its most recent report ... the CCC again noted: ‘Not all our recommendations have been implemented. In the agriculture sector, ambitions for emissions reduction have been further scaled back from the draft Plan.’”

The body that was established specifically to advise Government on its climate change plan has made it clear that we are going in the wrong direction and ignoring its advice.

Our report on the bill goes on to recommend that

“the Scottish Government give urgent consideration to the agriculture sector ... and take a holistic approach to emissions accounting, recognising the activities across the sector that play a positive role in reducing emissions, such as afforestation and peatland restoration, and highlighting the opportunities that can arise by developing new rural support mechanisms that encourage this.”

I am looking at John Scott, who will recognise those words—he is nodding sagely in the corner.

That recommendation from a Parliament committee makes it clear that we are not, as some would accuse us, heaping undue blame for emissions on the agriculture sector. Agriculture is both a cause of and a solution to climate change emissions. By leaving out climate change from our discussions of agricultural support, we deny the fundamental role that the industry can play in mitigation and we shut off a potentially valuable source of funding for our farmers. We also deny the farming sector the chance for a just transition, which was discussed on a number of occasions in evidence to the committee. Agriculture was singled out for its vulnerability. A just transition will not come about by ignoring the difficult conversations.

We must recognise the wide range of approaches that are currently in the sector and ensure that we not only promote but financially support the best examples of low-carbon farming in Scotland. The answers are out there in the industry already—initiatives such as the nature friendly farming network, which was established by farmers themselves, are leading the way in low-carbon, sustainable farming, and I find it incomprehensible that they should not be rewarded for their approach to climate change in our future farm support system.

We are working towards a position in which most of us in the chamber agree to the public money for public goods approach to subsidies. What bigger public good is there than being part of the solution to climate change and helping Scotland to achieve net zero emissions?