Meeting the UK's climate change commitments: options for carbon mitigation on agricultural land




Abstract. Under the Kyoto Protocol, the European Union is committed to an 8% reduction in CO2 emissions, compared to baseline (1990) levels, during the first commitment period (2008–2012). However, within the overall EU agreement, the UK is committed to a 12.5% reduction. In this paper, we estimate the carbon mitigation potential of various agricultural land-management strategies (Kyoto Article 3.4) and examine the consequences of UK and European policy options on the potential for carbon mitigation.

We show that integrated agricultural land management strategies have considerable potential for carbon mitigation. Our figures suggest the following potentials (Tg yr−1) for each scenario: animal manure, 3.7; sewage sludge, 0.3; cereal straw incorporation, 1.9; no-till farming, 3.5; agricultural extensification, 3.3; natural woodland regeneration, 3.2 and bioenergy crop production, 4.1. A realistic land-use scenario combining a number of these individual management options has a mitigation potential of 10.4 Tg C yr−1 (equivalent to about 6.6% of 1990 UK CO2-carbon emissions). An important resource for carbon mitigation in agriculture is the surplus arable land, but in order to fully exploit it, policies governing the use of surplus arable land would need to be changed. Of all options examined, bioenergy crops show the greatest potential. Bioenergy crop production also shows an indefinite mitigation potential compared to other options where the potential is infinite.

The UK will not attempt to meet its climate change commitments solely through changes in agricultural land-use, but since all sources of carbon mitigation will be important in meeting these commitments, agricultural options should be taken very seriously.