Delivering Clean Growth through Sustainable Intensification

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The UK Government’s proposed approaches to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets by both 2032 and by 2050 are outlined in policy documentation such as the Clean Growth Strategy (UK Government, 2017) and the 25 Year Environment Plan (UK Government, 2018). The Delivering Clean Growth through Sustainable Intensification project (DCGtSI) was commissioned by Defra to better understand the appropriate mitigation methods that could be applied to English farming to meet climate and productivity targets in the future. Even mitigations methods (MM) that have a positive return are not necessarily taken up widely and need an effective set of incentives to encourage their adoption. Farming is a confluence of multiple decision-making strategies and the various goals of individual land use managers, limited biophysical capacity and financial leverage affect progress towards established targets and ambitions.
The objectives work were to:
1) Identify the most promising greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation approaches with the highest technical potential
2) Refine these approaches through the lens of social acceptance and farm level testing in order to ensure uptake of the most feasible technologies
3) Define feasible trajectories for English farming up to 2050 (with lessons for other UK farming communities) under 3 mitigation scenarios
4) Establish mechanisms for policy intervention to meet 2050 GHG goals for English farming systems (with lessons for other UK farming communities)
These are achieved through four work packages:
Work Package 1: Synthesis and extension of knowledge on mitigation methods appropriate for on-farm adoption. The most appropriate mitigation measures were developed through a series of steps, namely i) augmenting a previous list of 297 MMs developed since 2008 (and updated most recently in 2015 (Eory et al., 2015)) with an additional 32 measures that had become more viable since 2015; ii) a review for applicability of these MMs led to a 'medium' list of 85 measures that could be applied on farm in England; iii) assessment of these MMs against the level of confidence in abatement potential, their technical feasibility and the risk of negative environmental impacts from their adoption with detailed descriptions of their key features. In addition, Defra requested a further number of MMs to be added which led to a final list of 39. Broadly these MMs covered cropland management, grazing land management, management of organic soils, restoration of degraded lands, livestock management, housing and manure, land use change, energy efficiency and a category covering ‘others’, such as vertical farming. The MMs’ potential abatement and cost-effectiveness (financial cost of GHG saving) in England were estimated. Generally, the most promising measures in terms of cost-effectiveness were those around: agro-forestry, the correct use of liming of cropland, biological N fixation in grass, nitrification inhibitors, cattle breeding, ruminant health and 3NOP. The Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC) was reviewed and scrutinised by three independent expert reviewers to ensure the evidence and its implementation is robust.
Work Package 2: Improving the understanding of social factors surrounding these mitigation measures. The final list of MMs from WP1 provided the basis for establishing the barriers to uptake in more depth. A two phase approach was applied. Firstly a stakeholder consultation and workshop were used to identify the appropriate MMs for each farming sector, based on their suitability and applicability within their commodity supply chains. This involved circulating the MMs for scrutiny to 25 industry stakeholders, such as Natural England, Agricultural Industries Forum and the NFU. The results of these interviews were synthesised at a stakeholder workshop. The workshop produced a refined list of MMs for presentation to farmers at 6 sector-specific workshops where farmers ranked them by feasibility and effectiveness. Farmers also ranked incentives for encouraging adoption and considered barriers to uptake. The sectors engaged were: arable crops including vegetables, combinable crops, lowland beef and sheep, less intensive beef and sheep, upland livestock and specialist dairy.
Work Package 3: Develop a set of three scenarios setting out alternative mitigation strategies. The adoption scenarios from WP2 helped to inform a social science driven model ofmitigation trajectories up to 2050. Three scenarios were identified by Defra, namely a scenario which focuses solely on maximising GHG mitigation; a scenario which focuses solely on minimising on-farm cost; and a scenario which focuses on maximising co-benefits. Each mitigation method was assessed against possible drivers - identified in WP2 - to derive a potential uptake level from the present adoption of MMs (low, medium and high). These assumptions were tested at a workshop with policy representatives and NGOs. Trajectories were then developed across England and by region (Table 1).
Table 1: Mitigation in 2050 for each scenario and region.
2050 Mitigation Mt CO2e
East of England
South West
Yorkshire & Humber
High Mitigation
Low Cost
The high mitigation trajectory would lead to the highest saving of just under 14 Mt CO2e. Against the latest (2018) estimates for the Agriculture sector GHG emissions ( see: ) this constitutes a reduction – at the high mitigation scenario - of 50%. For the low cost scenario this is 27% of current emissions from agriculture, and 31% for the co-benefits scenario. Though note that some of the MMs cover land use change and waste management so not all of the emissions reduction would be reported in the Agriculture sector of the inventory. The results provide some inference on the wide variability of strategies for intervention as well as regional indications of which set of measures would be most effective. This argues for a regional approach to implementation which may mean that mitigation would require both integrated landscape and farm level approaches.
Work package 4: Establish mechanisms for policy intervention to meet 2050 GHG goals for English farming systems.
The scenario results offer parameters for intervention towards achieving net zero carbon by 2050. The scale of reductions is dependent on the long-term goals of policy. The suite of current policies and interventions for the uptake of sustainable agricultural methods were reviewed. Building on the findings from the literature, an online survey was designed to elicit Defra policy makers’ knowledge and experience regarding the suitability of the interventions for supporting mitigation methods. Whilst we recognise the growth in private sector-led incentives, e.g. carbon accounting and labelling, this was not within the scope of the exercise. The survey examined specific MMs but there was an overall agreement for an approach that mixes regulation and voluntary interventions.
In particular the use of fiscal incentives initially but then raising the regulatory baseline to set sustainable practices as standard practice. Clear – and early – sight of these regulatory goals and timeframes would potentially lead to increased uptake of these fiscal incentives as a tool to engage decision-making and structural change. As a backdrop the switch over the next decade from basic payments to Environmental Land Management schemes and other initiatives will change the rationale for agricultural support. This may encourage increased adoption and awareness towards these mitigation measures. Hence, the transition needs to be managed by clear messaging with long-term consistency to encourage acceptance of a future farming industry promoting sustainable methods that are of direct benefit to UK society. It should be noted the results are based on internal commentary from Defra policy, not necessarily reflecting external stakeholder views. The results help give an indication of what interventions may be needed to delivery varying levels of uptake to achieve the mitigation scenarios presented, but do not fully reflect those which are being developed by Defra, this work is ongoing.
Original languageEnglish
Commissioning bodyUK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Number of pages20
Publication statusPrint publication - 15 Aug 2022


  • MACC
  • GHG


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