MEP for UK Independence Party says EU decarbonisation policies could lead to food shortages – but is this correct?
By Ed King
European plans to cut carbon emissions could starve plants, Stuart Agnew, an MEP for the UK Independence Party warned his European colleagues on Wednesday.
“Are you aware that if you succeed in decarbonising Europe, our crops will have no natural gas to grow from,” he asked the presiding chair.
“We have to have carbon dioxide. This is madness. Absolute madness what you are suggestion. Our agriculture industry is going to suffer heavily if we attempt to bury carbon dioxide. It is absolutely mad.”
The attack was the latest from UKIP on EU-wide plans to tackle climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists say are the primary driver for rising global temperatures.
The EU’s 28-member states last week committed to cutting emissions 40% on 1990 levels by 2030 ahead of a proposed UN climate deal due to be signed off in Paris this December.
Agnew, a member of the National Farmers Union and formerly in the Rhodesian Army, describes himself as a “lone voice in speaking up for British farmers” in Europe.
A major report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year indicated crop levels would likely fall if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, which could lead to more floods, droughts and other extreme weather events.
It said global supplies of coffee would be badly affected, with major growing areas in Brazil and Africa under threat.
His comments led to a swift reponse on twitter from the EU’s climate and energy commissioner Miguel Arias Canete.
But does Agnew have a point about cutting levels of carbon dioxide, which have grown steadily since the industrial reovolution?
RTCC asked Richard Betts, who leads research into climate impacts at the UK Met Office, for his view.
“I don’t believe anybody is suggesting reducing CO2 concentrations to below late 20th Century levels. The most extreme ambition from anybody is from those who advocate reducing CO2 concentration back to 350 parts per million (ppm), which was the concentration in about 1990.
“Currently we are at about 400ppm. Whether the increase from 350ppm in 1990 to 400ppm now has had a noticeable beneficial effect on crop yields is an interesting scientific question, but since crops grew just fine at below 350ppm before 1990 then I doubt if it’s a huge issue.
“I do wonder whether the question is arising from a misunderstanding between concentrations and emissions. The ambition to cut emissions by, say, 80% would not reduce concentrations by that amount.
“CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere will remain near current levels for decades or longer even with very deep emissions cuts, so even reducing concentrations to 350ppm would be very difficult indeed. I do not think that a reduction of the supply of CO2 to crops is at all on the cards.”