Earth Day, is celebrated on April 22nd every year, it sets out to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide. This year’s theme is ‘Invest in Our Planet’ with the focus on building a healthy, prosperous, and equitable future. Our latest insight looks at different ways of investing in our planet and promoting sustainability and highlights some of the most pressing environmental challenges we face and how we can all do our part to create a more sustainable future for our planet.
Human activity is causing an unprecedented loss in our global biodiversity and natural ecosystems. This poses a detrimental loss to the ecosystem services that nature gives us, such as clean air and water, climate regulation, and food security. According to IPBES, (2019); 14 of the 18 assessed categories of ecosystem services have declined since 1970 and the rate of species extinction is between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the normal rate (WWF, 2023). With these factors in mind, it is now more important than ever to invest in nature; so that we can preserve our natural habitats; protect endangered species, and keep the many benefits that ecosystems give us.
Introducing a nature-positive market for investments can help deliver environmental targets and help promote public support for conservation. A report by the Green Finance Institute (2021) identified a financial gap for nature-related outcomes in the UK. For protecting and/or restoring biodiversity- committed government spending is currently £700 million/year. However, there is also a 19 billion shortfall in funding that’s required to meet public policy like the 25-year Environment Plan (DEFRA, 2021). This indicates that unless further funding is provided- either through private investment or government funding; biodiversity targets cannot be met.
Earlier this year; the UK government introduced its Nature Markets framework; which highlights that private investments in nature can be funded through the creation of credits that can be bought or sold. The adoption of net gain principles in planning and development provides headway in ensuring that human impacts to nature can be mitigated and even improved. The introduction of Biodiversity Net Gain in the UK planning legislation offers the opportunity for private investment into off-site and on-site habitats, which require a 10% net gain compared to baseline levels. Although this scheme offers many opportunities for mitigating biodiversity loss and helping the UK to reach its environmental targets; individuals can also invest in conservation by supporting local groups; charities and even encouraging wildlife in their gardens.
Earth Day is dedicated to raising awareness and inspiring action to tackle the various environmental challenges facing us, and this year’s theme is ‘Invest in Our Planet’. This is an opportunity to convey the importance of improving our environment now, to give future generations a better and safer life.
In 2020, I wrote my final-year university research project on the state of the UK’s agricultural biodiversity. At the time of writing my report, the UK was in the transition period of leaving the European Union and was reforming the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which determined how much income support, agricultural support, and rural development funding farmers received. This was a crucial opportunity for the UK to redevelop the current support system for farmers, improve environmental protection and enable a transparent and fair food supply chain.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals highlight the need for better agricultural practices to safeguard biodiversity and ecosystem services for future generations. Therefore, a key element to be addressed in the reform was how to improve biodiversity in agriculture. One way of doing this is by accentuating the type of direct payments and grants that are available to farmers, in order to improve their environmental stewardship and overall agricultural biodiversity.
Agriculture accounts for 72% of the total land area in the UK and brought in £4.7 billion in 2018. Conserving agricultural land will be key in ensuring biodiversity is not lost through degraded soils, pollution from chemical fertilisers, and unsustainable farm management. In 2011, DEFRA published a report titled ‘Biodiversity 2020: A Strategy for England’s Wildlife and ecosystem services’ which detailed ways to halt overall biodiversity loss over the next decade. Priority actions included: using an integrated approach to conservation; improving public involvement; reducing environmental pressures by improving land management practices; implementing incentives and schemes; and conserving genetic diversity.
Three land management practices that can aid in conserving biodiversity are:
The use of these sustainable agricultural practices will be key in supporting the rural economy while reducing the environmental impact of farming and promoting food security.
Three years on from my research project and the CAP has now been replaced by the Agriculture Act, passed in November 2020. Shortly after, DEFRA published ‘The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024.’ This set out plans for a range of schemes, including initiatives to increase biodiversity, restore landscapes, promote animal welfare and increase productivity through investment in new equipment and technology.
Investing in the protection of agricultural biodiversity on farms must be a top priority in ensuring the sustainability of farming in the UK. Land management schemes will allow farmers to increase their environmental stewardship, but they must be actively engaged with the programme in order for progress to be made. Therefore, it is down to the government to ensure effective policies are enacted to safeguard biodiversity and our farms for the future.
The UN reports that food systems account for nearly one-third of global GHG emissions. In the UK agriculture alone was the source of 11% of total GHG emissions. However, back in 2020, the National Farmers Union set an ambitious net zero target for agriculture.
The food system is complex, with interrelations between human health (both under and over-nutrition), ecosystems, climate, consumption patterns, and supply chains all at play. Covid-19, wars, and the increasing recurrence of extreme weather events have highlighted the importance of achieving a resilient and sustainable food system that can provide sufficient supplies of affordable food, and allow fair economic returns whilst protecting the environment.
Having worked on development projects in the food value chain, including vertical farms, poultry farms, fresh-prepared-food factories, and fulfillment centres it is evident that there are key barriers and opportunities to allow the transition to a sustainable food system. My particular interest is innovative farming technologies that can support reducing the consumption of water, chemicals, and land use.
Investing in Innovative Technologies
Vertical Farming is an automated system that grows vegetables and herbs in artificially lit buildings, often using hydroponics – these systems can yield more crops per square metre than traditional farming or greenhouses.
Innovation Agri-Tech Group claims that their vertical farming uses 95% less water, and no soil, pesticides, or chemicals. This seems like a positive where the space for farming is not available such as in urban areas.
Vertical farming seems like an effective solution to global food insecurity, yet it is heavily reliant on energy prices, without complete reliance on renewable energies these farming techniques are still at considerable risk.
Drones and In-field Technologies
Ongoing advances with in-field connected technologies and drones allow for real-time data collection and sharing. This enables monitoring of crops or livestock to distribute resources such as water, and fertilizer, as necessary. Early detection and modelling of diseases, and pests can also help protect farmers’ operations. Examples include a “granular drone” which monitors conditions within stored cereal grains to reduce losses, aerial drones can also allow the use of precision application of pesticides to reduce the use when needed.
Robots are also part of the solution, allowing the planting of seeds, removal of weeds, and crop monitoring at an individual plant level rather than field level. The use of robots removes the need for heavy machinery. Heavy machinery compacts the soil, which can increase surface water runoff (and carry pollutants), and makes the soil more vulnerable of erosion, importantly for the farmers themselves this also lower yields.
At the farm level, investing in innovative technologies to adapt to increasing demand, and changing climate, whilst ensuring that practices are sustainable is critical. Yet, it is the food mile emissions account for nearly one-fifth of total food-system emissions – so what realistically as consumers else can we do?
Invest your efforts in more sustainable consumer options
Food mile emissions account for nearly one-fifth of total food-system emissions as such for consumers it then makes sense for us to do our part too. Here are some ideas you can try:
Reducing Food Waste:
Conscious Food Purchasing