If there is one thing the global coronavirus pandemic has shown, it is that an international crisis can happen quickly. That same devastation is already happening for certain parts of the world when it comes to climate change. It will happen here too. A recent study suggests that ocean ecosystems could start to collapse as early as 2030s, followed by tropical and temperate ecosystems starting to collapse in the 2050s (Trisos, C and Pigot, A 2020). We cannot underestimate how devastating that will be for the planet as a whole and it should not be ignored.
We are heading down the right path, but far too slowly. We recently saw the UK break the record for the number of coal-free electricity days (Evans, S 2020). More importantly, we are seeing countries propose a green economic recovery from coronavirus (Farand, C 2020). These economic stimulus packages have to be used in a green way. How they are spent will influence the world we live in for decades to come. Climate scientists and economists have been clear; the next six-months will decide whether we can make the Paris Agreement (2015) target of stopping global mean temperate warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius. If we achieve this, we save lives and stop global warming from impacting millions of people – it is as stark as that.
I believe there has never been such an important moment in human history as now when it comes to farmers building resilience within their businesses. Climate change will affect everyone, especially in a world that has an internationally connected food supply chain. The UK current imports roughly 40% of its food and farmers often rely on imported products like fertiliser and pesticide. If we do not take quick and drastic steps to halt global warming, these supply chains could start to collapse as countries look to consolidate their resources – which includes food production. Therefore, it is vital that farmers transition into farming systems which aim to build as much resilience within them as possible. By resilience, I mean not relying on high inputs of synthetic fertiliser and pesticides. Reducing machinery use and not using as much diesel. Looking at transforming the farm into a renewable energy one. Being able to weather drought and flooding better. All while trying to find ways of being productive.
What sort of steps can farmers take to build resilience? First of all, a complete change of mind set is needed across the whole of the industry. We need to recognise the importance of good functioning ecosystem services and what they provide to food production. There needs to be better support for those who want to transition into resilient systems – from government, the supply chain and the public. There must be better and more targeted regulation alongside good policies that help the sector transition. There needs to be more inclusivity and a wider appreciation for diversity in ideas and people. We have to look at adding value to food products at the farm gate – we need to value food more. This begs the question, how can we encourage the public to buy more seasonally and locally? We also need to rethink the relationship between farmers and the rest of the industry. The science and advice provided on-farm has to be independent and not linked to sales targets of chemicals. This all requires bold steps and will not come without risks and bumps along the road – but it is crucial. Ultimately a more resilient farming sector is a more productive and stable one in the longer-term.
Embracing change is never easy, especially when that change is most likely vital for the survival of your business and livelihood. All change comes with difficulties and risks which are hard to push past mentally. But it is important to know that you are not alone and that there are thousands of people who will support you. Community and helping one another will be a part of that change – both learning from each other and supporting through difficult times. But that change can also be a positive on your life too. A more sustainable and resilient business can be more productive and stable. One in which you are more profitable and with a better bottom-line. And one where you can sit back and realise that you are producing food to feed people, while helping to build environmental resilience for the better.
Trisos, C and Pigot A (2020) ‘Climate change could cause abrupt biodiversity loses this century’. The Conversation online: https://theconversation.com/climate-change-could-cause-abrupt-biodiversity-losses-this-century-135968
Evans, S (2020) ‘Analysis: Great Britain hits coal-free electricity record amid coronavirus lockdown’. The Climate Brief online: https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-great-britain-hits-coal-free-electricity-record-amid-coronavirus-lockdown
Farand, C (2020) ‘South Korea to implement Green New Deal after ruling party election win’. Climate Homes News online: https://www.climatechangenews.com/2020/04/16/south-korea-implement-green-new-deal-ruling-party-election-win/