International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

Climate Change and Scottish Agriculture: An End to the Freedom to Farm?

International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

Volume 18, issue 3 (2011), pages 181-198

Authors: Alan Renwick and Anita Wreford
Affiliation: Scottish Agricultural College, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

ISSN: 0798-1759


As enshrined in the 2009 Climate Change Act, Scotland has one of the most ambitious and binding targets for greenhouse gas reductions in the world. By 2050 it has committed to reducing emissions by 80%, with an interim target of 42% by 2020. The agricultural sector is a significant source of emissions within Scotland and therefore has been set a specific target – to achieve a 1.3 mt reduction by 2020. The approach adopted within Scotland to achieve these targets can be defined as a Voluntary Environmental Programme involving actions focussed on extension and incentives. Improving the efficiency of the agricultural sector is seen as the primary way to reduce emissions, thereby placing little or no constraint on the development of farm businesses. Following the method for classifying policy actions developed by Pannell, the approach adopted is shown to be appropriate (with certain caveats) given the nature of the changes required and the impact on private firms and wider society. However, fundamental challenges are shown to exist in actually relying on this approach in practice. These relate to achieving the required levels of participation and the monitoring and measurement of the proposed changes to farming practices. The industry’s response to the 2007–2008 food price spike bears witness to the fact that even if these challenges are overcome, any gains made are susceptible to changes in practice and land use driven by an improved market situation. For these reasons, the article concludes that tighter restrictions are likely to be placed on farms to ensure that the targets are met and these are likely to constrain the choices of land managers.

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