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CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain 2030 report – baaaa

by Mel Starrs on July 15, 2010

in Publications & Standards

The CAT Zero Carbon Britain 2030 report which came out 16 June 2010 has some interesting ideas in it, but I wasn’t immediately convinced by this one (as reported in the Ecologist):

Thirteen million hectares in Britain are used mainly for grazing livestock and growing feed for them. By cutting the numbers of cows (by 80-90 per cent) and sheep (by 80 per cent) we can cut methane emissions from livestock and switch the land to fast-growing energy crops like short rotation coppice. These can be used to produce heat and power.
It would mean a diet of less beef and lamb (50 per cent less meat and dairy produce overall) and a countryside landscape of fewer sheep-dotted fields and more tall woody crops.

News analysis – Zero carbon Britain: how to get there in 10 steps – The Ecologist

Now I wasn’t debating the cows here, but the sheep. Sheep are generally (barely) profitable on land which has little other use. Now, I’m no expert but surely coppicing requires a similar kind of land to crops – fairly flat and easy to harvest? Am I wrong? Most sheep farms are up rocky hills, surely?

image

This is the kind of countryside I think of, when I think of sheep farming. The report does allow for:

20% of sheep, with those remaining mostly in hill and upland areas;

There are carbon advantages in going vegetarian, but sheep provide wool, which is a very useful resource (clothes, insulation, lanolin etc). We would need to replace the calories from lamb with vegetable matter. The graph below is from the CAT report:image

What’s missing from this graph is number of calories per tonne. For example, a kilo of lamb (raw leg joint) provides approximately 1680 calories. A kilo of potatoes (raw) provides approximately 720 calories. A kilo of apples provides about 480 calories. And of course we could start to look at protein involved too. It starts to get very complicated. If anyone has some good references (preferably not nef, I need someone else to compare to them), please leave me a comment.

Having skimmed through the food chapter I think the ‘sheep’ aspect may have been exaggerated by Ecologist – I must read it in more detail but I’m information rich, time poor right now, so if someone else can do so and summarise I’d be very grateful!

Apart from this tiny niggle, the rest of the ideas are fairly standard fare (for me anyhow – I understand the report is not necessarily aimed at those of us immersed in this stuff every day). I confess I haven’t read the report cover to cover (384 pages), but relied on reporting elsewhere to get the highlights.

Anyone read it and have any comments? As always, comments open

  • kate de selincourt

    I find that the Food Climate Research Network (fcrn.org.uk) have a relatively thorough and even-handed take on these issues. They try to account for the ‘opportunity costs’ of any proposed changes, and also point out what they haven’t taken into account; a rare honesty I think.

    I tried to think about this a bit a year or so ago for an article looking at both biodiversity and carbon impact (which in the end was squeezed out of the publication – so I never finished it, sadly!)

    But I did gain the impression that we could have a smaller ‘flock’ and also that upland sheep could be grazed less intensively – despite what you might think, much sheep farming involves bought-in food, and also a lot uses lowland that could grow beans or willow coppice. If the upland stocking density was lower and the lowland numbers were lower it seems probable that land could be spared for direct food production or other uses (– though in my recollection from brief excursion into sheep farming, much of supplement would appear to be molasses, so international issue, see below. Still I don’t mind eating that myself!)

    This would mean fewer sheep in total, less lamb but still some, probably higher quality meat – but cost per animal wd probably have to rise a lot, as the supplementary feeds are like so much of food production, using fossil fuel to ‘energy subsidise’ sheep farming, to increase production not just per hectare, but probably also per hour of labour.

    Oh and just to complicate it a bit more, there is a “traffic” between upland and lowland sheep, through the seasons, and for breeding purposes.

    that aside, less intensively grazed land would probably ‘produce’ more biodiversity, good in itself of course, but there is also scope for timber production (to be sequestered in building materials?)rather than S.R. coppice. Or if you can part company with current labour costs and availability, ‘agroforestry’ options such as fruit/nut/fuel production from hedgerows present themselves.

    One of the main CO2/farming issues identified by FCRN seems to be the exported CO2 impact of importing grain and soya, including a lot from S America, with one-off and ongoing carbon costs from loss of forest cover, ploughing peatlands etc.

    So if we reduced our ruminant herd to what we can support on our own annual growth of grass (and clover etc – v important as N fertiliser also c-intensive in production, then gives off climate forcing nitrogen gases when spread) sorry where was I — if we reduced our ruminant herd to what our grazing can support, then there could in theory be a double bonus overseas.

    BUT then what you find when you start thinking about this is that without an unimaginable level of international co-operation, the soya we didn’t buy would probably be snapped up by, let’s say, Chinese cattle farmers to up their beef yields ie we might lose a lot of the gains elsewhere.

    At this point I start to get brain ache. But Tara Garnett at FCRN is made of intellectually sterner stuff, and I do commend her reports on the subject to anyone who is interested. I don’t think FCRN was involved in the CAT report – think they might have missed a trick there, perhaps they could go to them next time.

    Kate de S

  • kate de selincourt

    I find that the Food Climate Research Network (fcrn.org.uk) have a relatively thorough and even-handed take on these issues. They try to account for the ‘opportunity costs’ of any proposed changes, and also point out what they haven’t taken into account; a rare honesty I think.

    I tried to think about this a bit a year or so ago for an article looking at both biodiversity and carbon impact (which in the end was squeezed out of the publication – so I never finished it, sadly!)

    But I did gain the impression that we could have a smaller ‘flock’ and also that upland sheep could be grazed less intensively – despite what you might think, much sheep farming involves bought-in food, and also a lot uses lowland that could grow beans or willow coppice. If the upland stocking density was lower and the lowland numbers were lower it seems probable that land could be spared for direct food production or other uses (– though in my recollection from brief excursion into sheep farming, much of supplement would appear to be molasses, so international issue, see below. Still I don’t mind eating that myself!)

    This would mean fewer sheep in total, less lamb but still some, probably higher quality meat – but cost per animal wd probably have to rise a lot, as the supplementary feeds are like so much of food production, using fossil fuel to ‘energy subsidise’ sheep farming, to increase production not just per hectare, but probably also per hour of labour.

    Oh and just to complicate it a bit more, there is a “traffic” between upland and lowland sheep, through the seasons, and for breeding purposes.

    that aside, less intensively grazed land would probably ‘produce’ more biodiversity, good in itself of course, but there is also scope for timber production (to be sequestered in building materials?)rather than S.R. coppice. Or if you can part company with current labour costs and availability, ‘agroforestry’ options such as fruit/nut/fuel production from hedgerows present themselves.

    One of the main CO2/farming issues identified by FCRN seems to be the exported CO2 impact of importing grain and soya, including a lot from S America, with one-off and ongoing carbon costs from loss of forest cover, ploughing peatlands etc.

    So if we reduced our ruminant herd to what we can support on our own annual growth of grass (and clover etc – v important as N fertiliser also c-intensive in production, then gives off climate forcing nitrogen gases when spread) sorry where was I — if we reduced our ruminant herd to what our grazing can support, then there could in theory be a double bonus overseas.

    BUT then what you find when you start thinking about this is that without an unimaginable level of international co-operation, the soya we didn’t buy would probably be snapped up by, let’s say, Chinese cattle farmers to up their beef yields ie we might lose a lot of the gains elsewhere.

    At this point I start to get brain ache. But Tara Garnett at FCRN is made of intellectually sterner stuff, and I do commend her reports on the subject to anyone who is interested. I don’t think FCRN was involved in the CAT report – think they might have missed a trick there, perhaps they could go to them next time.

    Kate de S