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Climate

Financing nature-positive transition in the agriculture sector

A more sustainable solution is required for the UK’s food system writes Maria Carvalho, NatWest Group's Head of Climate Economics and Data.

The financial sector can play a crucial role in helping to develop a more sustainable UK food system.

Time for change

The UK’s food system is under increasing pressure. The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, alongside the economic pressures of rising input prices mean longer-term, more sustainable solutions are needed for farmers, consumers and the planet.

However, while farmers and landowners often recognise the long-term benefits of working in a greener way, they may not be able to make the sometimes significant, near-term infrastructure investments needed for sustainable transition plans.

For example, energy efficient mobile and stationary capital equipment, and renewable energy systems, such as solar or anaerobic biodigesters for biogas production, all come at a substantial and potentially prohibitive initial outlay for farmers

Bridging the investment gap

As such, I believe the financial sector can, and should, play a crucial role in helping to develop a more sustainable UK food system.

  • By actively scaling the information and access to green finance specifically tailored to farmers and food producers, private finance can bridge the investment gap between the costs of implementing regenerative farming practices and the commercial benefits these will eventually bring.
  • The financial sector can also be part of validating the transition to more nature-positive farming, bringing a creditworthiness perspective to these efforts. By recognising that emission reduction efforts by farmers will make their businesses more attractive to their retail customers as well as helping to reduce risk, banks can subsequently reflect this in the cost of their lending.

financing is also needed to provide innovative solutions in managing farms and the industrial food system.

  • Banks can be positively involved at other parts of the supply chain by partnering with food retailers to provide transition finance to their farmers to reduce emissions in a way that is comprehensive and scalable. This can be mutually beneficial for the farmer and the buyer. For example, by using accurate measurements for on-farm reduction and sequestration schemes, food businesses can verifiably reduce their own scope 3 (supply-chain) emissions through their direct financial support to farmers.

 

  • More broadly, financing is also needed to provide innovative solutions in managing farms and the industrial food system. For instance, satellite data can support farmers in sustainably managing their farms within a broader ecological system, while also preparing for extreme weather shocks and adapting to long-term weather effects.

 

  • There is increasing interest in how digital solutions can make the entire food system more efficient through data analytics, balancing supply and demand to reduce the amount of food that is wasted. Blockchain solutions can also enable traceability and transparency on the carbon footprint and sustainable outcomes achieved through the farming and processing of food – an issue increasingly important to food retailers and consumers.

Climate Matters

Our Climate Matters publication features a foreword from COP26 President, The Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, and articles from our Head of Climate and ESG Capital Markets, Caroline Haas on carbon credits, as well as our Head of Climate James Close on what drives his passion for climate change.

Read now (PDF 3.9MB)

NatWest Group could potentially have a key role to support farmers in the transition to net zero regenerative food systems.

Providing practical solutions for farmers

As one of the largest bankers to the UK’s farming sector and a dedicated partner to UK food retailers, NatWest Group could potentially have a key role to support farmers in the transition to net zero regenerative food systems.

With agriculture representing 1.2% of NatWest Group’s gross lending¹ but the largest sectoral contributor to the bank’s total financed emissions, our ambition to help our farming customers reduce their collective carbon footprint is also a vital part of our own ambition to at least halve our financed emissions by 2030.

Relief measures:

A key tenet of our proposition is to provide practical solutions for many of the challenges that food producers face. For example, NatWest Group has offered a package of relief measures for existing farming customers to help with rocketing fuel, feed and fertiliser costs. This includes capital loan repayment holidays, overdraft extensions and loans to help farmers pay for resources that have spiked in price.

 

Green loans:

Our green loans are available with no arrangement fees to provide more affordable lending for sustainably focused capital investments including renewables, emissions reduction and methane capture and utilisation.

Direct Partner Support:

We also offer direct support for agricultural customers via access to our national partner network of industry bodies, foundations, valuers, land agents and technical experts.

 

The Global Farm Metric:

We want to help farmers to measure their sustainability impacts. This information is useful for their customers as well as providing data to improve farm operations. NatWest Group and the Sustainable Food Trust have been collaborating to support the development of the ‘Global Farm Metric’ (GFM), a standardised framework to help farmers measure the sustainability of farming and food production.

After a test pilot in 2021, this is now being expanded to create a digital solution that will help farmers measure, plan and track the impact of their interventions to improve the sustainability of their farms. Bringing expert insight from the financial sector, NatWest Group is helping to further develop the GFM as a single platform through which farmers in the UK and beyond can meet multiple sustainability data requests such as audits or requests from retailers, banks or governments.

 

Carbon Credits:

Finally, we’re aware that the UK’s landmass and agricultural sector can be a valuable means of capturing carbon – and it doesn’t need to be at the expense of food production. Our Carbonplace platform for trading carbon credits aims to be a powerful enabler of the market for high-quality carbon credits. We want to make this available for UK farmers if they wish to create an additional source of income using a platform that is easy to interact with and also fully transparent. In this way, we aim to help accelerate the flow of private-sector capital to complement public finance towards turning habitats from carbon sources to carbon sinks.

Caution about this article. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the ones of Maria Carvalho and do not necessarily represent the views of the NatWest Group. This article (i) has been prepared for information and reference purposes only; (ii) is intended to provide non-exhaustive, indicative and general information only; (iii) does not purport to be comprehensive; and (iv) does not provide any form of legal, tax, investment, accounting, financial or other advice. Click here to read the full Climate Matters document that contains cautionary statements relating to this content. (PDF 3.9MB)

Please see NatWest’s 2021 Climate-related Disclosures Report for those views and other information including about our financed emissions and heightened climate-related risk sectors.

 

Disclaimer:

This is for media use and not a financial promotion.

 

Information about Green Loans

Green Loans with no arrangement fee are open to applications from eligible UK businesses with an annual turnover of less than £25m (other than for eligible UK Real Estate Finance businesses for whom alternative eligibility criteria may apply) who are seeking to take out a loan to acquire assets that fall within the eligible list developed by the bank and subject to review and change on an ongoing basis. Security may be required. Fees (other than arrangement fees) may apply. Over 18s only. Subject to status, eligibility and approval. Business use only. Any property or asset used as security may be repossessed or forfeited if you do not keep up repayments on any debt secured on it. Failure to comply with the terms of the loan agreement could lead to an event of default under the loan and (depending on their terms) may also impact other facilities of the borrower. Terms apply.

 

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