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December the 5th was World Soil Day. Not so relevant to a busy leather industry you may think but, actually, it is likely to become a vital element if an honest discussion about the future is to follow the Paris Climate Change conclusions.
To mark the day, the Sustainable Food Trust published a report* on the state of the world’s soils, and it was not easy reading. Globally, half of the soils are classed as degraded, or severely degraded, and this puts carbon into the atmosphere. At the same time, it means that these soils will not be able to produce food into the future. At some stage the land needs to be returned to grassland so it can build up resources of carbon and nitrogen, sequestrating carbon. Livestock is needed to make this effective and to make grassland economical.
A co-author of the report, Richard Young, argues that the consumer has been badly confused by the FAO report from 2013 that presented livestock as being responsible for 14.5% of global warming. He says this is “seriously misleading and untrue”. The report confused emissions from land use change with those from animals directly and, furthermore, it only looked at land use change in South America during the ten-year period considered. It did not consider land use change anywhere else in the world. By comparison, the UK government figures suggest that all agriculture, of which livestock is just a part, contribute only 9%.
Of course even this figure assumes acceptance of the methane produced from the enteric fermentation from ruminants as being an issue. Richard Young argues that it needs to be discarded as the carbon sequestered by the grass land more than balances it, but Simon Fairlie goes further. The IPCC assessment of 2007 demonstrates that since 1999 methane levels in the atmosphere have remained level, despite a big growth in livestock numbers. If there was a link, it has more than likely broken.
Indeed, as I have written before, Simon Fairly argues that the fossil fuel industry has been lobbying against atmospheric emissions from livestock for many years to deflect attention away from our failure to reduce consumption of fossil fuels. To support this point, during the Paris meeting last week The Society of Concerned Scientists and Greenpeace announced they had clear evidence that scientists at two top US Universities were paid to write articles and papers supporting coal and carbon dioxide in developing countries, and to do so without disclosing their source of funding.
As the VW saga rolls on our faith in the integrity of business and academia has been damaged.
In the leather industry, we must fight hard to get the true facts out about every part of our supply chain, which in the light of Paris is far more sustainable than a plastic from fossil fuel. If we do not put the facts out there, no one else will.
Listen to the podcast here: Good soil equals sustainable leather
Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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