The 26th United Nations climate change conference ("COP26") takes place in Glasgow at the beginning of November. The COP (Conference of Parties) brings together countries from around the world for global climate summits.

The event is being hailed as a COP with significant importance. In 2015, it was this group that established the Paris Agreement where members agreed to limit global warming to below 2 degrees with an aim for a limit of 1.5 degrees. Under the Agreement, countries committed to bring forward national plans setting out measures they will adopt to reduce emissions, something that would be reviewed every five years. COP26 is significant, therefore, as the five-year update, due last year, was delayed due to the pandemic.

The Scottish Government has set ambitious targets for Scotland in relation to meeting the Paris Agreement limits. In relation to land use, however, it has to balance this with the importance of our food and drink, and farming sectors.

It has outlined its support for the food and drink sector in its strategy "Securing a green recovery on a path to net zero" which acknowledges the sector's ambitions to increase the value of the sector to £30 billion by 2030. The Scottish Government also acknowledge that the food and drink sector contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and that it has to balance the impact our food production has on Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions with their climate change ambitions.

Land Managers have a role to play and an opportunity to work with nature to assist in meeting climate change targets. Many land management practices that are already in operation, such as soil management (avoiding poaching), hedge planting, reduced reliance on fertilisers, are already assisting Scotland's climate change ambitions.

The Scottish Government has increased the volume of climate focussed support available to land managers through the provision of advice, research & development, and targeted funding. Change is challenging, but the support available will assist in assessing current practices and identifying areas where improvements could be made. A shelter belt of trees, for example, might improve a wet area of farmland that was relatively unproductive in any event, whilst supporting existing livestock practices and benefiting the climate.

I wrote previously about the resilience of the agricultural sector in responding to the pandemic. The sector ensured food supply chains continued to operate and consumers responded by shopping locally. The pandemic provided an opportunity to change shopping habits with a positive impact on the climate.

The agricultural sector is facing change, but also opportunity. The sector has a key part to play in climate change through land use, The Scottish Government aims for the sector to have adopted all available low emission technologies such as maximising efficiencies, minimising inputs and maximising outputs, precision farming, optimal slurry and manure storage and usage by 2032.

It feels like everything is changing at once for the sector, but the change has come about at the right time. We have been anticipating a new agricultural support system following Brexit and the Scottish Government's climate focus will certainly shape that new system. The sector is well positioned to respond to the climate challenge and COP26 will provide a platform from which to demonstrate our ambitious targets and the measures being taken to deliver those.


Ryan Bowie