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Brexit 14: five post-Brexit perspectives – import food or produce more?

Richard Harvey, Owston, Rutland who founded Manor Farm Feeds in 1986, opens with a political perspective:

Does the UK really want to become totally dependent on imported food at a time when we are witnessing a worldwide trade war led by the power-hungry leaders of the major nations? Although our politicians are paying lip service to the future support of food production, the small print indicates otherwise.

Tracy Worcester, Director of Farms not Factories, prioritises food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection

In her latest newsletter she expresses fears of a post Brexit scenario of food imported to much lower production standards undercutting British dairy products produced to higher standards, with better welfare for the animals and workers involved.

In the last newsletter she reported that, despite the pleas of many cross-party MPs, a Tory majority (names on this list) rejected amendments to the Agriculture Bill in May, banning imports produced to lower standards of food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection than those required of UK farmers.

Former environment secretary Theresa Villiers is calling for food standards to be enshrined into the Agricultural Bill, but Liam Fox, North Somerset MP, threatened “the US would walk if this amendment were to become law in the UK ”

Food swaps are turbo-charging climate change: William Taylor (Farmers for Action, NI)

The Scottish Farmer newspaper reported that William Taylor (left) took a European Commissioner to task at a Balmoral Show about long-distance ‘food swap’ deals that are at odds with commitments to cut carbon emissions.

He used the example of lamb, where the UK is self-sufficient yet exports 35% and re-imports 35%, as he put it “purely for corporate gain, yet with absolutely no benefit to farmers or consumers in either country”. UK ships leave for France and North Africa with lamb cargoes and meet ships from New Zealand laden with lamb for the UK “This is turbo-charging climate change”

Local Futures, which has campaigned on this sort of ‘insane trade’ agrees – see their graphic below:

And stresses that a shift towards the local would protect and rebuild agricultural diversity

  • It would give farmers a bigger share of the money spent on food, and provide consumers with healthier, fresher food at more affordable prices.
  • It would reduce transport, greenhouse gas emissions and the need for toxic agricultural chemicals.
  • It would lessen the need for storage, packaging, refrigeration and artificial additives,
  • and it would help revitalize rural economies and communities in both the industrialized and the developing world.

Minette Batters, NFU president focusses on increasing self-sufficiency:

“The statistics show a concerning long-term decline in the UK’s self-sufficiency in food and there is a lot of potential for this to be reversed.

“While we recognise the need for importing food which can only be produced in different climates, if we maximise on the food that we can produce well in the UK then that will deliver a whole host of economic, social and environmental benefits to the country.

Home-grown food production must have the unwavering support of Government if we are to achieve this post-Brexit.”

Local Futures’ message is clear: “If the many social, environmental and economic crises facing the planet are to be resolved, start by rebuilding local food economies”.





Public health emergency: move some freight from road to water and reduce air pollution

“There are an estimated 11,000 deaths per year at the moment, but this will rise as the population continues to age”. (The British Heart Foundation (BHF) 

Summarising an Environmental Law paragraph:

  • Transport is the biggest source of air pollution in the UK.
  • In town centres and alongside busy roads, motor vehicles are responsible for most local pollution.
  • Surface transport is responsible for around a quarter of UK emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) – a major contributor to climate change.
  • Many areas still fail to meet national air quality objectives and European limit values for some pollutants – particularly particles and nitrogen dioxide.

As the shortage of HGV drivers in the UK has climbed to 59,000 and 64% of transport and storage businesses now face severe skills shortages, (according to a recent report by the Freight Transport Association) it is a good time to consider a shift from HGV to barge.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF), has warned that more than 160,000 people could die over the next decade from strokes and heart attacks caused by air pollution. Jacob West, executive director of healthcare innovation at the BHF, which compiled the figures, said: “Every day, millions of us across the country are inhaling toxic particles which enter our blood and get stuck in our organs, raising our risk of heart attacks and stroke”.

Bellona Europe (header below) comments that inland waterway transport has greater potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than road or rail, when discussing ways to make the mobility sector more clean and carbon-neutral.

“With air pollution contributing to around 40,000 deaths a year and four in 10 children at school in high-pollution communities, it’s clear that tackling air pollution needs to be everyone’s urgent business.”






Government alarmingly postpones action on climate change

Paul Simons adds to many ‘wakeup calls’ – writing about high temperatures, drought and wildfires.

On Thursday Spain broke the record for its highest temperature with 47.3C (117.1F) at Montoro, near Cordoba in the south of the country.

May and June were also phenomenally hot across Portugal, Italy, the Balkans, Greece and Turkey.

Heat and drought have helped to fuel wildfires in Spain and Italy, and wildfires near the seaside resort of Calampiso in Sicily forced the evacuation by boat of about 700 tourists on Wednesday night. In Greece the heatwave led the culture ministry to close archaeological sites around the country, including the Acropolis in Athens.

Together with a long-running drought, the heat has ravaged much of southern Spain, leading to a devastated wheat and barley harvest. If the arid conditions continue, there are also fears for the olive, walnut, almond and grape harvests and the wellbeing of livestock. Rainfall has been desperately low this year, but the country has been suffering from a lack of rain for five years.

Drought threatens to reduce cereal production in Italy and parts of Spain to its lowest level in at least 20 years, and hit other regional crops. Castile and Leon, the largest cereal growing region in Spain, has been particularly badly affected, with crop losses estimated at around 60 to 70%. While the EU is collectively a major wheat exporter, Spain and Italy both rely on imports from countries including France, Britain and Ukraine.

Deadly heatwaves for much of South Asia – yet many of those living there will have contributed little to climate change

The Guardian adds to the news from Europe: India recorded its hottest ever day in 2016 when the temperature in the city of Phalodi, Rajasthan, hit 51C. Another  study led by Prof Elfatih Eltahir, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, linked the impact of climate change to the suicides of nearly 60,000 Indian farmers.

The analysis, published in the journal PNAS, assesses the impact of climate change on the deadly combination of heat and humidity, measured as the “wet bulb temperature” (WBT). Once this reaches 35C, the human body cannot cool itself by sweating and even fit people sitting in the shade will die within six hours.

Prof Chris Huntingford, at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said: “If given just one word to describe climate change, then ‘unfairness’ would be a good candidate. Raised levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are expected to cause deadly heatwaves for much of South Asia. Yet many of those living there will have contributed little to climate change.”

Guardian journalists comment sarcastically, “But fear not: by 2040, no new diesel or petrol vehicles will be sold in the UK

This, apparently, is the appropriate timetable for responding to what a parliamentary committee calls a “public health emergency”. A child born today will be 23 by the time this policy matures – by then the damage to the development of her lungs and brain will have been done”.

Cold comfort

According to Professor Eltahir’s study, if emissions are reduced roughly in line with the global Paris climate change agreement there would be no 35C WBT heatwaves and the population affected by the 31C WBT events would fall from 75% to 55%. About 15% are exposed today.

A National Geographic article says most people agree that to curb global warming a variety of measures need to be taken. On a personal level, driving and flying less, recycling, and conservation reduces a person’s “carbon footprint”—the amount of carbon dioxide a person is responsible for putting into the atmosphere.

At present, lorries shifting identical goods in opposite directions pass each other on 2,000-mile journeys. Competing parcel companies ply the same routes, in largely empty vans – a theme explored by MP Caroline Lucas and Colin Hines in 2003 – the Great Trade Swap.

It describes airports as deadly too – yet government and opposition alike are ‘apparently hell-bent’ on expanding Heathrow, exploring airport expansion projects elsewhere and seeking post-Brexit trade deals with distant countries.

To reduce the risk of ever more extreme weather, we must reduce the amount of fossil fuel we are burning – and the measures taken will have other desirable consequences as the following cartoon shows:

Parliament must listen to its Committee on Climate Change – chairman John Gummer. As the East Anglian Times reported in June, its annual progress report calls for “urgent” plans to meet legal targets for carbon cuts by 2032 as greenhouse gases from transport and buildings continue to rise.

The committee advocates action to bridge the gap between existing policies and what is needed to achieve required emissions reductions by the mid-2020s – boosting electric vehicles and cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the heating of homes to help to meet UK climate targets.






Will shale gas undermine progress on tackling climate change?


In 2011, mechanical engineer Martin Quick wrote an article reviewing one aspect of the shale gas issue – fugitive gas emissions from fracking. It was published in the SGR journal and its findings are consistent with later studies.

He critically examined the rapidly expanding shale gas industry, in particular its claimed role in helping to reduce carbon emissions, noting that that shale gas has its downside, not least the significant levels of methane leakage that occur during extraction. This could critically undermine the claim that it is a low-carbon fuel.

While the problem of local water pollution has received a lot of attention, Quick focusses on methane leakage into the atmosphere. The nature of the extraction process means that it is difficult to prevent such leakage, so there could be serious implications for climate change:

“Methane has a global warming potential (GWP) of about 25 times that of CO2, assessed on the basis of the cumulative effect on the climate system over a 100-year timeframe.1 CO2 stays in the atmosphere 2 throughout this timescale, but methane has a much shorter ‘life’ – thus its warming effect is much greater in the short term than that of CO2.

“Methane also leaks from conventional gas and coal extraction and there is considerable uncertainly associated with estimates of all methane leakages. Robert Howarth and colleagues at Cornell University2 have compiled ranges for the percentage of gas leaking into the atmosphere through extraction, transport and distribution. These are 3.6%—7.9% for shale gas and 1.7%— 6% for conventional gas.

“Assuming that, in the longer term, best practice measures minimise gas escapes, and taking Howarth’s lower values in assessing climate change implications, methane leakage from shale gas production is about twice that from conventional gas. We can use these figures to compare the total greenhouse gas emissions (adjusting for different GWPs) for shale gas, conventional gas and coal.3 This calculation reveals that the total greenhouse gas emissions of shale gas are about 70% of that of coal, compared with the figure of 50% generally claimed for conventional gas.4 ”

An interesting passage on the role of carbon capture and storage follows – go to the article here:

Implications for future energy policy

“The indications are that huge quantities of shale gas could be available globally. However, analysis suggests that methane leakage from shale gas between extraction and combustion is significant enough almost to negate the claimed advantages of shale gas using Carbon Capture and Storage and could even make the climate change impact of shale gas comparable with that of coal.

“The oil and gas industry is currently lobbying heavily to greatly expand the exploitation of shale gas in many places around the world, including the UK. While using relatively small amounts of gas could assist in (for example) improving energy security, major reliance on shale gas would be counterproductive, especially as it could squeeze out further development of renewable energy technologies”.


1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007). Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Fourth Assessment Report (Working Group I).

2. Howarth R, Santoro R, Ingraffea A (2011). Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations. Climatic Change, vol. 106 (4), pp.679-690.

3. Ideally we would take account of the energy used in gas transport operations, but for simplicity we assume a relatively local gas source. For coal, an average of the emissions values for deep and surface mined coal is taken.

4. Derived using figures from Howarth et al (2011) – see note 2.

5. As note 4.

SGR Newsletter • Autumn 2011 • Issue 40