Climate change

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Climate change

News and views from the RSPB on climate change and what you can do about it.
  • Why Meat Free Mondays are a must for food security and climate change

    Lucy Bjorck, RSPB Senior Agriculture Policy Officer

    Food security means different things to different people. To a subsistence farmer in a developing country it means producing enough food for their family for a year. For a low wage worker it means having cash to buy enough healthy food to feed the family. And for us middle class westerners – it probably means very little.

    The relationship of food security with climate change is equally double edged. Agriculture is a major greenhouse gas (GHG) source, responsible for 17% to 32% of GHG emissions (the high end when including land use change, mostly deforestation which is devastating for biodiversity). Livestock production accounts, directly and indirectly, for a large proportion of these emissions[i].

    And climate change also affects agriculture, expected to reduce global crop production by more than 10% by 2050[ii] and likely to reduce marine production as well[iii].

    We need to feed more people, better, meet our climate targets and, at the same time, producing our food is getting harder. So how can we make sure that everyone has enough to eat, agricultural emissions go down, and we reduce farming’s impact on nature?

    The initial response to worries about food security often looks for ways to produce more food and, for climate change, to make current methods more efficient. But whilst these routes may help a bit, they don’t address the root of the problem. Food security is about more than the total amount of food: it encompasses what we produce, how we produce it and how we access our food. The solutions are as much social and political as they are technical.

    This is becoming more widely understood. Academic and advisor to Government, Professor Tim Benton, recently summed this up:

    “... we’ll never grow our way into food security: the more food we produce, the more we’ll waste and over-consume, ...degrade the environment and issues of equity and access will remain. To solve these problems, we need to recognise local and planetary boundaries and grow food sustainably within them...”

       Andy Hay / RSPB

    Lapwings can share farmland with lower-intensity

    A Nature Climate Change article last month showed that closing ‘yield gaps’ (the difference between yields between best-practice agriculture and average yields in each agro-climatic zone) will not be enough to prevent further agricultural expansion and deliver emissions reductions unless we improve diets and reduce food waste.

    This chimes with growing evidence and consensus about reducing the amount of meat we eat, if we are to stay within safe emission limits and nourish a growing global population. There are other benefits, too: a global transition to a low meat diet to meet health goals would lower our costs to reduce GHG emissions to meet a ‘safe’ 2°C global temperature rise by about 50% by 2050.

    Farming livestock contributes 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions and covers a staggering 75% of all anthropogenic land use[iv].  Worldwide,  it's estimated that 30% of biodiversity loss is due to livestock yet equally, many of our priority species rely on livestock grazing. Many people eat more than they need for a healthy diet, creating a public health problem on a par with cigarette smoking, with annual costs of over £6 billion for the NHS, and rising to an expected cost to the economy of £50 billion annually by 2050.

    So it’s clear that we need to make a change! You’ll no doubt have come across campaigns such as such as Meat Free Mondays and Part time carnivore encouraging us to eat less meat. Culturally of course, this is a difficult area and initiatives are needed not just from the ground up, but also by government to lead people towards healthier and more sustainable eating habits. There’s huge potential in this approach, for nature, for the economy and for our own lives – as well as our health, eating less meat helps our wallets too, freeing up cash which we may then choose to spend on more sustainably produced food and supporting wildlife friendly farmers.

    At the RSPB we’re working, with others, to help deliver a new recipe for food, farming, nature and public health – click to the Square Meal web pages and let us know what you are going to do differently!

    [i] Ecological Livestock, Greenpeace - Pelletier & Tyedmers 2010, Bellarby et al 2008, IPCC 2007

    [iv] “An astonishing 75% of the world’s agriculture land” is devoted to raising animals, including both the land used to grow crops for animal feed and pasture and grazing lands (Foley et al 2011).

  • Connecting Energy, Protecting Nature


    Ivan Scrase, RSPB Senior climate Change Policy Officer

    Building the energy infrastructure that Europe needs to tackle climate change can, and must, be achieved with wildlife and nature in mind. So shows our new report Connecting Energy, Protecting Nature launched in Brussels this week.


    Photos ©

    In particular we address the energy 'projects of common interest' (PCIs) which the EU selects and promotes as the highest priority investments. These PCIs benefit from 'streamlined' permitting procedures and access to EU funds. As flagship EU projects, it's vital that these projects showcase a joined up approach that meet the range of Europe's objectives, including environmental sustainability.

    We had a novel ‘fishbowl’ debate at the launch, with four to six seats are arranged in the middle of the room, and people from the audience joining and leaving the centre to add to the ongoing discussion. Antonella Battaglini, CEO of the Renewables Grid Initiative, which kindly organised the launch event, maintained diversity in the fishbowl's ecosystem. Contributors from DG Environment, National Grid and REE (the UK and Spanish grid operators), BirdLife and many others either volunteered for the fishbowl, or got harpooned by Antonella. 

    Two issues emerged clearly for me. First, while there are ways to protect nature and get environmental NGOs behind the grid projects that are clearly needed, those people who live in the places where new lines are planned often have different views. There are risks of creating an unfortunate 'environment versus people' dynamic on the ground – perhaps a local expression of the outdated (yet all too alive) 'nature versus economy' thinking that survives in the some high level political circles.

    Second, Europe needs a vision and a project for a sustainable energy system. As long as EU infrastructure plans remain a patchwork of national priorities, and regulation continues to be implemented in an incomplete and inconsistent way across Europe, progress will be slow, inefficient and difficult. Without real vision, and no attempt to inform and inspire the public, opposition on the ground will persist, allowing unnecessary or damaging projects to continue to come forward.

    Our report makes recommendations for everyone involved - for the EU, national governments, industry, regulators and NGOs. By working together we hope to help Europe to deliver the infrastructure we need in harmony with nature, and with public support. 

    Click to read Connecting Energy, Protecting and do give us some feedback!



  • Regular burning of English upland peatlands must stop: new study shows damage much worse than thought

    There’s new science on the burning of upland peatlands and which is getting a good airing in both the media and climate change circles

    Every big scientific project needs a good acronym these days and the Leeds University team hits the spot with EMBER - Effects of Moorland Burning Ecohydrology of River basins. And in line with the acronym, the results show that the damage that burning heather has on wildlife, climate change and the environment is far worse than previously thought, and more wide ranging - water run-off from burned peat harms aquatic life in the rivers that spring from these uplands. In short, managed burning has a profound impact on the life support systems of the peatlands in our hills.

    Crucial to climate change, the study affirmed that that heather burning warms and dries out the peat it grows in, causing the peat to disintegrate and release large quantities of stored carbon dioxide. Burning also hampers the growth of the Sphagnum mosses that are fundamental to the peaty wetland ecosystem that stores, rather than emits, carbon. EMBER co-author Professor Joseph Holden sums it up “Altering the hydrology of peatlands so they become drier is known to cause significant losses of carbon from storage in the soil. This is of great concern, as peatlands are the largest natural store for carbon on the land surface of the UK and play a crucial role in climate change. They are the ‘Amazon of the UK’.”

    Intensive burning and drainage measures on a Natura 2000 deep peatland site in the Pennines

    That’s why the RSPB, together with 12 other organisations, is asking Government to work to ensure that we triple the area of English upland peatlands that are managed properly for their peatland ecosystems and services. That’s another 200,000 hectares – and with new upland agri-environment schemes being developed and finalised, extra funding from Scottish Government for Scotland’s peatbogs, and a Welsh Government plan to restore all Wales’ bogs, and international biodiversity targets for 2020, there’s no better time for Government to act for English upland bogs.

    This will not wait: we need action on carbon emissions and peatland ecosystem restoration now. And as our short report shows it’s an easy win for climate, for wildlife and for the benefits people and society get from healthy upland peatlands. So, Defra, let’s do it.