As a food crisis looms in the wake of the Ukraine invasion, green ambitions are forced to a lower priority, but can decision-making that doesn’t prioritise the climate crisis really function long-term?
COP26 promises of rewilding falter as food security threats loom
At COP26, Boris Johnson gave a speech in which he said that “we can plant hundreds of millions of trees – a trillion –it’s not technologically difficult” in that same speech, he described how “the world will find it incomprehensible if we fail”.[i] With regards to the latter, he was of course talking more widely about tackling the climate crisis in the broadest sense. Less than one year on from COP26, where these words were spoken, Boris Johnson’s ministers were last week reported to be discussing plans to abandon “the green crap”, referring to an £800 million rewilding scheme.[ii] At the time, Zero Carbon Academy reported on this scheme (found here). The scheme was met with resistance from some farming communities, with wildlife charities cautiously optimistic.[iii] Now, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs are set to reduce the promised £800 million a year down to £50 million over three years.[iv] The department explained that the crisis in Ukraine and the associated food price rises have recentred priorities to national food supply chain resilience.[v]
What does rewilding have to do with net zero?
Rewilding is a key climate solution that is both practical and uplifting, as well as cost-effective and available right now.[vi] A solution that will not only assist in limiting the extent and impact of climate change but will also improve biodiversity and make the planet a more liveable place.
Rewilding restores the general health and functionality of entire ecosystems by revitalising natural processes and encouraging the return of wildlife, allowing ecosystems to once again play their optimal role in the global carbon cycle. Rewilding can have a game-changing climate impact in this way.
Rewilding Britain describes five key climate benefits of rewilding.[vii]
Source: Rewilding Britain
Can food security be addressed without prioritising the climate crisis?
Designing a national food strategy that considers an invasion of the 5th largest wheat exporter in the world whilst still prioritising rewilding promises that could undermine national food supply resilience is by no means a simple undertaking.[viii] Food security and the climate crisis are an interconnected nexus wherein each affects the other; even the staunchest of environmental campaigners may see a dip in their exuberance should food scarcity become mainstream, and in the same sense farming communities who seek to defend food security at all costs will so too be unable to do so should the climate crisis continue to run out of control.
There is concern in the new government food strategy that the short-term gains may well undermine long-term strategies to manage the climate crisis, Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said:
“It would be a complete and utter disgrace if the government broke the promise that it has made time and time again to restore nature across large areas as part of the post-Brexit agricultural transition. There is no such thing as food security if nature is in decline.“[ix]
Even the strategy itself made arguments that undermined the scaling back of the rewilding scheme. It is pointed out that land use volume does not directly equate to output, with 57% of output coming from just a third of the farmed land.[x]
The Crown Estate, responsible for the management of land and seabed around England, Wales & Northern Island, aim “to create lasting and shared prosperity for the nation” and recently released its annual report.[xi] Their annual report, a 140-page document, mentions rewilding just once; this is in the context of increasing pressure on rural agricultural holdings to adapt to serve an environmental need.[xii] The report does, however, refer to biodiversity throughout, and as part of this, there is a call for the balance of sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices against other land use and nature recovery.[xiii]
The extreme opinions that have come out of, first, the scheme’s announcement and, second, its scaling back, have highlighted a culture of othering. It is true that the nation needs to eat; it is also true that the nation must tackle climate change, and it is therefore of paramount importance that the two are no longer treated as opposing or separate arguments.
*Zero Carbon Academy (www.zerocarbonacademy.com) aims to become the ‘go-to’ resource for the learning, information and community that individuals need to assess, plan, execute and monitor their organisation's migration towards a Zero Carbon footprint.
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