We are facing a climatic and natural emergency

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This week in the Scottish Parliament, much of my work has focused on the impact of the climate crisis and biodiversity crisis on our country.

Seagulls have been driven inland by the climate crisis.  Inset: Karen Adam.
Seagulls have been driven inland by the climate crisis. Inset: Karen Adam.

Across Banffshire and the Buchan coast, we are already witnessing the unsettling effects of these twin crises. We are hardest hit by storms, tides and coastal erosion.

Acres of woodland across my constituency have been lost to unprecedentedly high winds. The migration of urban cod and gulls had a remarkable impact on the lives and livelihoods of my constituents.

And while many are aware that we have a climate emergency, not all of us know that we are also facing a natural emergency.

Professor Dee Thompson, Principal Adviser for Biodiversity and Science at NatureScot on the Rural and Islands Affairs Committee, told me that while “there is a growing recognition of the natural emergency, we still have a long way to go”.

He told me, “What happened with the gulls is a disaster, but because of what happened in the sea. The gulls’ food base has declined for many reasons, so the gulls have had to move inland. So they move to towns and cities that are not adapted to breeding.”

“The gulls are now very good at tracking schoolchildren as they know there will be food ready for them.”

What we’re seeing with the gulls is just a symptom of climate change. The broader realization that climate change is contributing to nature’s crisis and therefore to the problems we face on our doorstep, and our farmers, more than anyone else, cannot be overstated. They witness these changes in real time and understand the changes that are taking place.

Sustainable and renewable agriculture is at the heart of the Scottish Government’s vision for agriculture. And rightly so. The twin climate and biodiversity crises are existential. They will present both challenges and opportunities for farmers in Scotland, and if we are to ensure that there are fewer of the former and more of the latter in the years and decades to come, it is essential that we act with our climate goals and net zero ambitions in mind.

Agriculture accounts for about a quarter of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions. Throughout history, Scotland has been a breeding ground for innovation. Our transition to net zero, building infrastructure that can withstand the climate and biodiversity crises and protecting our food security all depend on innovation.

Feed additives that have the potential to reduce methane emissions from dairy cows and sheep is one such innovation, and a £100m investment in Scotland, focused on reducing methane emissions from agriculture, would go a long way to reducing agriculture’s contribution to climate change.

But we can and must do more. He spoke to a farmer in my circle about his decarbonization efforts, and he told me about his attempts to convert his fuel to hydrogen. One of the sticking points was that the technology didn’t exist yet. The high costs and heavy modifications to his machines eventually caused him to carry on as before. Our farmers are ready to do their part, but they need our help. Our food security depends on them.

We have seen many disruptions to global food supply chains, most recently Russia’s horrific war in Ukraine. The Covid-19 pandemic has posed some very difficult challenges to the global food system. And although these effects were not unique to Scotland, the effects of a hard Brexit imposed on Scotland could have been avoided.

The UK government has caused massive and irreversible damage to our world class food and drink industries and rural and coastal communities. I commend the Minister for her continued and tireless engagement in combating the skills shortage in post-Brexit agriculture.

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