Our food system accounts for around a third of all global emissions - so why has it hardly been talked about at previous COPs? The UN’s climate change conference brings together world leaders every year to try to bash out a deal to cut emissions and halt climate change. But so far, it’s been famously silent on food and farming. This seems absurd, even to a casual observer, and even more so when one considers the potential of food system landscapes to sequester carbon and lock it away. What on earth is going on then, and will this ever change? COP veteran, Prof Tim Benton (University of Leeds, Chatham House, and former UK Food Security Champion), is the perfect person to lead us through this conundrum. Tim has been to many COPs, worked with many governments on food system transformation, is regularly consulted by the UK’s Climate Change Committee, as well as being an author for the IPCC's Special Report on Land, Food and Climate. Tim will lift the lid on what really happens at COP, where food and farming sit in it all, how this might change in the future, and his hopes for this year’s COP28 in Dubai.
Interviewing him is Prof Neil Ward from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, and AFN Network+ co-lead (alongside Tim).
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‘Business-as-usual’ is dead. The world order – economically, politically, environmentally and socially – is being turned on its head and redrawn. Why then, when thinking about transforming our food system, do we tend to assume the world will just trundle on as it has before, leaving the UK free to carefully redesign its domestic production, supply chains and landscapes – rather than be forced to react to the world around it, at least in part? Prof Neil Ward, co-lead of the AFN Network+ and professor of rural and regional development at the University of East Anglia, paints a picture of four possible futures developed by the AFN Network+, that suggest how radically different the world might be in 2050. Based on these, he’ll go deeper into how the UK agri-food system might respond, how net zero could be aspired to under each, and what research gaps emerge.
Our food system accounts for around a third of all global emissions - so why has it hardly been talked about at previous COPs? The UN’s climate change conference brings together world leaders every year to try to bash out a deal to cut emissions and halt climate change. But it’s so far been famously silent on food and farming. This seems absurd, even to a casual observer, and even more so when one considers the potential of food system landscapes to sequester carbon and lock it away. What on earth is going on then, and will this ever change? COP veteran, Prof Tim Benton (University of Leeds, Chatham House, former UK Food Security Champion, and co-lead of AFN Network+), leads us through this conundrum. Tim has been to many COPs, worked with many governments on food system transformation, is regularly consulted by the UK’s Climate Change Committee, as well as being an author for the IPCC's Special Report on Land, Food and Climate. Tim lifts the lid on what really happens at COP, where food and farming sit in it all, how this might change in the future, and his hopes for this year’s COP28 in Dubai.
As global warming increases, young people currently in their teens, 20s, 30s, and early 40s will be the ones to bear the brunt of climatic changes, plus the responsibility of transitioning the agri-food system towards net zero by 2050. For those who are farmers, land managers and food producers, what challenges will they face? What opportunities might there be? What skills and education will they need? How will rural and farming careers need to be reimagined? How do young people feel about this, and what are their concerns? Dr Richard Byrne, senior lecturer at Harper Adams University and manager of the Rural Resilience Research Group, lead us through some of these questions, challenge the idea of what being a ‘farmer’ will mean in 2050, and how entrepreneurial young people today will be able to find opportunities in the years ahead. Sophie Gregory, first generation organic dairy farmer, and Luke Cox, vice chair of the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC), young farmer and agricultural professional himself, also outline their hopes, ambitions, worries, and thoughts on the future of farming for their generation.
This was a joint webinar between AFN Network+ and the NFYFC, held in National Young Farmers’ Week 2023.
Government needs a bold plan for net zero in agri-food. What can history and the civil service teach us about what change is possible?
Our food system has been through many revolutions before, but we need one now to tackle climate change and create positive change for nature and our health. Largely we know what needs to change and we know that government will need to take the lead – so what’s holding things up and how can this change?
In this webinar, Jill Rutter, a former senior civil servant now at the Institute for Government, helps us understand how Whitehall works, why it doesn’t always work, what its challenges are, and how these could be overcome for the net zero challenge. Neil Ward, Professor of Rural and Regional Development at the University of East Anglia and author of Net Zero, Food and Farming: Climate Change and the UK Agri-Food System, also challenges our understanding of what government is for and ask us to reimagine what is possible. He’ll take us on a whistle stop tour of previous food revolutions, and how the state shaped them.
Jill Rutter covers;
In this episode we head to Groundswell – the UK’s biggest regenerative farming festival – to take a look at the growing interest among farmers in regenerative and agro-ecological practices. We ask questions like, what are the biggest motivators for making on-farm changes, how do family and peer-to-peer support come into play, and what might enable more farming businesses to take that first step towards a lower input, more nature-based, more resilient system? We’ve got thoughts from farmers Clare Hill and Dan and Catherine Mercer, a round-up from rural podcaster Ben Eagle, and insights from a farmer poll, which we discuss with professor of sustainability Simon Willcock, of Rothamsted Research and Bangor University, who is also our AFN Network+ Champion researching producer behavioural change. As usual, the host is Jez Fredenburgh, our knowledge exchange fellow, based at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, at the University of East Anglia, and agri-food journalist.
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The UK’s carbon market is many things: Some say it offers huge potential to create multi-functional landscapes that sequester carbon, still produce food, and offer vital income streams to farmers and land managers. Others say it’s the ‘Wild West’, with unscrupulous companies, dodgy measuring tools, and the potential for land grabs and reduced food production. Which is it, if any, of these? And what really is the potential to use the UK’s farmland to sequester carbon? As a farmer, what are the challenges and opportunities of selling carbon? What’s the experience of those who’ve done it?
In this webinar we discuss all of this with our two speakers:
Emily Norton, former director of rural research at Savills and Oxford Farming Conference director, and now freelance consultant and commentator, is known for her knowledge, prodding questions, and critical thinking.
Jake Freestone, farmer and co-founder of The Green Farm Collective, a collaboration between six pioneering UK farmers who met via the Soil Farmer of the Year competition. In partnership with carbon broker, Trinity Natural Capital Markets, they are building a community of farmers and investors to supply and buy carbon.
Tree-planting is a key part of the UK government’s plan to reach net zero by 2050, with a commitment to plant 30,000 hectares of new woodland every year. But where will all these trees go, and how can we ensure food production is maintained? Agroforestry – through silvopasture and silvoarable systems, as well as better integrated hedges – may hold some answers. Cambridgeshire farmer, soil scientist, and UK agroforestry pioneer, Stephen Briggs, has successfully integrated fruit trees and arable crops: The result has been improved resilience to economic and weather shocks, healthier soils, better water retention, and increased productivity. In this webinar, Stephen shares his insights from his farm and working with agroforesters around the world. Stephen covers:
In this episode we’re asking – what’s holding the UK food system back from making the scale of change needed to tackle the climate crisis, and where should we focus research to help unlock it? We’re at the AFN Network+ Big Tent conference in Leeds, delving into some possible future scenarios and what a net zero agrifood system would look like under each. We talk to Daniel Zeichner, Labour’s shadow Defra minister, Tim Benton, our co-lead and a professor of population ecology and sustainable food systems at Leeds University and former UK Champion for Global Food Security, plus farmers, chefs, researchers, and ecologists. Asking the questions is Jez Fredenburgh, knowledge exchange fellow at AFN Network+, based at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, and an agri-food journalist.
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We need to eat differently – for the planet and our own health too. This much is becoming increasingly clear as report after report shows that cutting emissions from the agri-food system hinges on dietary change. But what determines our food choices, and what are the lessons for policy makers, health, education, food companies, retail, and the wider food system? Prof Charlotte Hardman, Psychology of Eating Behaviour in the Department of Psychology, Institute of Population Health, at the University of Liverpool, sheds some light on this important topic.
Prof Hardman covers;
- Setting the scene – mapping UK dietary inequalities, health and food insecurity
- The psychology determinants of healthy and sustainable food choices
- The role of poverty, inequality and the cost-of-living in our food choices
- Why UK poverty and high living costs are barriers to achieving net zero in agri-food
- Learnings from schools, food banks and other lived experiences
- Lessons for policy makers, retail, food brands, health and education professionals
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UK Research has funded this Network+ with the support of these 4 councils:
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)