Net zero farming standards to address global emissions gap

Net zero farming

Net zero farming now has a new standard method to cover land-related carbon emissions and removals.

Net zero farming targets are vital as land-intensive sectors such as food, agriculture and forestry represent nearly a quarter (22 per cent) of global greenhouse gas emissions, the largest emitter after energy.

The new Forest, Land and Agriculture (FLAG) Science Based Target Setting Guidance provides businesses in land-intensive sectors with a method to tackle the impact of climate change in key areas that have not been addressed before.

The framework has a whole sector approach covering everything from deforestation to diet shift and 11 mitigation pathways for major commodities with high carbon footprints including beef, palm oil, dairy, poultry, timber and wood fibre.

80 per cent of the mitigation potential from land use change is from stopping deforestation. Companies setting FLAG targets are required to publicly commit to zero deforestation no later than 2025 in order to meet net zero farming targets.

More than 410 companies with land-intensive operations have committed or set targets through the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and almost half are publicly reporting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – 38 per cent are committed to setting net zero farming targets.

However, few account for land-based emissions (i.e. emissions from forestry and agricultural production, land use change and land management, included on-farm vehicle and fertilizer production) in their targets or disclosures due to the lack of available guidance and methods. The SBTi FLAG Guidance shows businesses how to accelerate decarbonisation of land emissions to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

“The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the wood used in the houses where we live and the medicines that heal us are available thanks to the forests, lands and agriculture that sustain us,” said Martha Stevenson, WWF senior director for the SBTi. “However, the commercialisation of our natural environment is a significant source of emissions and is also the sector most vulnerable to the effects of global warming.

“Heat waves and droughts have become more frequent and intense. Storms have gotten stronger and floods more destructive. This is already causing serious damage to ecosystems, threatening food security, human health, businesses and economies around the world – especially in emerging countries. To avoid the devastating impacts of the climate crisis and to build resilience in the most vulnerable communities, cutting land-related emissions must be a priority.”

Companies within land-intensive sectors (e.g., food/forestry) or those with land-related emissions that contribute 20 per cent or more of their overall emissions will now be required to set FLAG science-based net zero farming targets.

In addition to a near-term FLAG target, covering immediate emissions reductions for the next 5-10 years, companies are encouraged to develop a long-term net-zero FLAG target to achieve deep emissions cuts of at least 72 per cent before 2050, aligned to the SBTi Net-Zero Standard.

More than half of the mitigation opportunity in the land sector is from carbon removal activities. The SBTi FLAG Guidance requires companies to account for GHG removals, like soil carbon sequestration and improved forest management, in their near-term net zero farming targets. Removals are not a substitute for deep emissions cuts.

“The next few years are critical in our efforts to address the climate crisis, and this guidance addresses 22 per cent of global emissions that have largely been ignored to date,” said Christa Anderson, director at WWF and co-lead of the SBTi FLAG project. “Companies should incorporate this guidance into their planning and take action now – stop deforestation and improve land management practices – if we are to have a sustainable future tomorrow.”

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