Hi, I’m Angus Chalmers, Managing Director of RDP, a Gloucestershire-based marketing company specialising in agribusiness and animal health.
In the second instalment of The Inside Track series, I’ll be discussing the notable absence of land use and food production at the recent (and inaugural) Times Earth Summit.
In fact, shockingly, both topics only got the merest of mentions, which came as the event closed,
The Summit explained
The Summit explained
For those unfamiliar with the Times Earth Summit, it was a live, pan-industry event organised by The Times and The Sunday Times, which was positioned to coincide with COP27.
In its own words: “The Summit was designed to equip a business leadership audience with the latest in investment, science, innovation, finance, legislation and politics to inform decisive action on climate and nature for clean and resilient growth.”
Delegates (who were made up of business leaders, policymakers and NGO’s) could pose questions on five key areas (net zero and decarbonisation, how to secure clean energy, the economic opportunities of the just transition, the business of nature, and a final session on sustainable financing).
This, I think, posed a fantastic opportunity for land based businesses, spokespeople and representatives to step up and be heard. But they didn’t.
Companies and corporations were given the opportunity to check their sustainability strategies, benchmark against real world successes and understand the opportunities and drivers of science and technology.
All useful in agri-business terms, I would have thought.
The day was dominated by energy, but this was no bad thing. With fossil fuels being so expensive (and potentially interrupted), energy has become an even greater driver of the transition to green economies.
And this all goes hand-in-hand with big finance – which is, after all, where growth is driven. Because when lenders have a sustainability conscience, projects have to meet sustainability requirements to qualify – and so the finance industry becomes a huge driver of change.
What didn’t happen
It staggered me that neither land-use nor food production was mentioned at all, apart from almost the very last sentence of the event, by James Close, Head of Sustainability for NatWest.
To me this was not a fault of the conference organisers, but rather a sad indictment of our industry. Because to my mind, we spend a great deal of time talking to each other, rather than ensuring we have a voice in the places that matter – and this was one of those places.
You could argue that government matters, and of course it does. In fact, it matters now more than ever, since our decisions and policies are increasingly made in Westminster and the devolved administrations rather than Brussels. But commerce and big business are way ahead of policy – and it will be these decision makers that will impact the prosperity of our sector in real-terms.
Policy will undoubtedly have to provide the business environment, but it will be the free-market capitalists that will drive change. So where was our voice?
What we can do about it
As it stands, we simply aren’t on the radar in a way that’s effective when it comes to finance and broader economic policy. And I think that’s for us to reflect upon as a sector.
The drivers going forward will undoubtedly be the energy and finance sectors. The price of energy and the effect that will have on renewables – and therefore land use, with onshore wind, bio-digestors and solar, will mean agricultural land has a huge role to play – never mind its carbon, food, biodiversity, clean air and water and amenity roles.
So I suppose this is more of a question to the agricultural sector, as to how we address this?
How do we ensure that our voice on land use and food is heard on the right stages, and plays a role in big business drivers?
Which goes back to my original question around how we ensure that we actually have a say on the decisions made around land use and food security.
Big businesses are intertwined with the rural economy, so we need to make sure we are heard – after all, we are the experts and our thoughts, experience and advice will prove invaluable to the way we all work together in the future. We are part of the problem and also a big part of the solution.
But only if we raise our collective voice and have a say.
In truth I am not sure what I am calling for here, except to flag this up and say that it shouldn’t be this way and, in my opinion, needs to change.
If we want a thriving future we all have to do something about it – and that includes us. So we need to stand up and be visible.
If you have any questions about any of the issues mentioned here, get in touch. We’re always happy to hear from you, and always happy to help.