Cutting the climate impact of land use: annex

April 2019
Caterina Brandmayr Caterina BrandmayrHead of climate policy020 7630

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A joined up policy framework to drive decarbonisation
Here we discuss our policy recommendations, featured in Cutting the climate impact of land use (April 2019), in more depth.

The main policy areas needed to achieve an integrated, strategic approach to low carbon land management are listed below. A set of policy enablers are also needed to underpin delivery.
The range of measures needed to achieve low carbon land use
Stimulate low carbon best practice Shape demand for low carbon food and biomass production Policy enablers
Advice and incentives to land managers
Industrial strategy and regulation
Food strategy
Trade policy
Spatial mapping
Metrics for sustainable land management and food production
Emissions accounting

Stimulate low carbon best practice

Regulation ensures a baseline for low carbon, sustainable land management that all land managers should meet. It should be supported by appropriate enforcement mechanisms, building on the findings of the Stacey Review.[1]

Given that a voluntary approach has, so far, not resulted in the required uptake of low carbon options, emphasised by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), and that not all land managers may participate in the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, the government should also raise the regulatory baseline to ensure that measures are implemented across the board to tackle all the main sources of agricultural emissions.

At present, soil management requirements are only included in cross compliance under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. This approach has failed to affect adequate action across the UK and, at any rate, these requirements are at risk of being lost under the new ELM scheme. Therefore, the government should set requirements to improve soil management and mandate nutrient management plans for arable farmers. These plans help to ensure that fertilisers and organic residues are used as efficiently as possible, whilst preventing the risk of over application and pollution.

Regulatory requirements should be progressively tightened over time to avoid the most damaging practices and drive the uptake of low carbon options.

What needs to happen now:
  • Ensure effective enforcement of the regulatory baseline. This should build on the findings of the Stacey Review
  • Strengthen the regulatory baseline. While the Clean Air Strategy sets out some of the regulations needed to cut ammonia emissions, regulation should also drive the uptake of measures that are currently encouraged through voluntary initiatives and cross compliance (eg to promote better animal health and energy efficiency). In particular, the government should include in regulation the requirements currently set out in cross compliance GAECs 4-6 to improve soil management and should make nutrient management plans mandatory. [2]
  • Ban practices that contribute to the further degradation of peatland. This would include: banning burning for recreational purposes; bringing forward the ban on peat extraction; and setting interim phased targets to end the sale of peat.[3],[4]
  • Designate and protect carbon rich soils. These could be included as part of the Nature Recovery Network the government has promised to deliver as part of its 25 year environment plan.
Advice and incentives for farmers and land managers
Under the new ELM system, farmers should be given clear incentives for sustainable food production alongside other environmental outcomes, including climate change mitigation. The scheme should encourage land managers to employ a range of options, including:
  • Low carbon farming practices, as set out by the Committee on Climate Change
  • Agroforestry and afforestation
  • Restoration and the sustainable management of upland and lowland peatlands.
The ELM system should provide for a nationally consistent approach to climate change mitigation which builds on both the CCC’s recommendations and spatial data on the potential across England (and the devolved nations). However, it should also provide for sufficient local flexibility. The national level assessment should inform the development of local area and farm plans, whilst integrating local priorities and supporting farmers to implement the most appropriate measures.

But action should not be delayed until full implementation of the ELM system in the mid-2020s. The government should act now to promote low carbon land use and support farmers and land managers to invest in the low carbon transition. Furthermore, alongside implementation of the ELM in 2025, additional policy is required to drive climate action through afforestation and peatland restoration.

What needs to happen now:
  • Transitional support should be directed to the public goods that Defra wants to reward under the future system, climate action being a central objective. To deliver them, Defra should encourage a range of measures beyond the purchase of equipment and technology, such as crop diversification, improvements to soil health, proper nutrient management and agroforestry. These measures will not only improve the environmental performance of the land, but will also support greater farm resilience.
  • Defra should identify the best policy route to incentivise low carbon practices in livestock farming. Options to reduce emissions include selective breeding and the use of novel feeds. Livestock farming accounts for 70 per cent of agricultural emissions and Defra should put in place an effective mechanism to support emissions reductions, either through the ELM system or through other targeted funding.
  • Alongside regulations and incentives, farmers should be provided with advice from trusted, impartial advisors. This advice should be tailored to the individual farm and should support the uptake of innovative measures. It is critical that it is made available during transition period to the new ELM system, when farmers will be adjusting to a radically new governance framework.
  • An England Peat Strategy should set out a clear roadmap to restore peatlands.  This should be backed by interim targets, a concrete plan for delivery and new funding. Based on the CCC’s analysis, 17 per cent of degraded, intensively managed lowland peat should be restored by 2030. Building on the work of the Lowland Peat Task Force, Defra should set out clear policies to address emissions from lowland peat, including options for partial rewetting.
  • Financial and non-financial barriers to tree planting should be addressed as soon as possible. As outlined in the CCC’s 2018 report to parliament.
What needs to happen in the medium term:
  • Climate action should be a central objective of the new ELM scheme. The system should be designed to provide a nationally consistent approach to climate change mitigation, based on the CCC’s recommendations and spatial data on mitigation potential of different areas.
  • The government should establish priority areas for afforestation and ecosystem restoration, based on robust spatial mapping. These areas could form part of the Nature Recovery Network or could be designated as part of an expanded set of Forestry Investment Zones. These areas should be linked to clear (financial) incentives for climate action and be consistent with biodiversity objectives
  • The ELM system, existing support schemes and new incentive systems should support the higher rates of tree planting and ecosystem restoration needed in these areas to get the UK on track by 2030. These incentive schemes could be part funded by Net Gain, as well as through the use of carbon markets (such as the Natural Infrastructure Schemes we have previously proposed).[5]
Innovation will be necessary to achieve many of the climate change mitigation options across farming, forestry, carbon sequestration and ecosystem restoration. Research into breeding will be critical for crops, livestock and afforestation, supporting more productive and resilient plants and lower emitting cattle. Novel feeds and better animal health can further cut emissions from the livestock sector, while advances in precision farming and development of low carbon fertilisers could reduce the emissions from chemicals use.

Innovation will also be critical for developing the monitoring and support tools that will underpin land use policy and support the development of markets for low carbon food and biomass, including the policy ‘enablers’ we discuss in our report, and for the establishment and scaling up of the low carbon industries that will be supplied by UK land uses.

Defra funding for innovation fell by two thirds between 2004 and 2017. While the Agri-Tech Strategy and the Industrial Strategy Challenge fund support innovation in some of these areas, delivering the emissions reduction outlined in the CCC’s scenario will require much greater efforts to accelerate new solutions and their adoption in the field.[6]

What needs to happen now:
  • Boost innovation funding and support in areas that can deliver immediate mitigation, as well as longer term, more radical options; this could include providing funding for groups of land managers (R&D syndicates) that want to develop and trial novel practices.
  • Promote innovative practices through advice to farmers and transitional support funding.
  • Support early uptake of more innovative low carbon practices and technologies, on the basis of a qualifying business plan, supported via match funding from government or through co-investment between land managers and food supply chain actors.[7]

Shape demand for low carbon food and biomass production

Industrial strategy, innovation and regulation
Supply chains will be important in developing the markets for the outputs of low carbon land use practices. The Industrial Strategy has the potential to drive positive change in these supply chains, but departments across government will have to work together to make sure this opportunity can be realised.

Food sector
In the food sector, there is a clear economic case for improving both resource productivity and the environmental impact of food production. WRAP estimates that food waste in the manufacturing sector costs businesses £1.4 billion a year, whilst the cost of waste in the hospitality and retail sectors reaches £2.7 billion a year (though some suggest these figures could be much higher).[8] The Industrial Strategy could drive a significant reduction in food waste throughout these supply chains. Moreover, raising performance in this sector could benefit less affluent parts of the country, where employment in the food manufacturing sector is concentrated.[9] Alongside resource efficiency in food manufacturing, improving the environmental impact of food production will ensure the long term resilience of food businesses by supporting a more sustainable use of natural assets. However, for these impacts to be identified and managed, a corporate accounting system to monitor the sector’s environmental footprint is needed.

Construction sector
The Industrial Strategy can also strengthen resource productivity in the construction sector. Low carbon materials like timber provide long term storage for carbon sequestered through afforestation and help to avoid the emissions associated with high carbon materials like steel.[10] In the UK, there are already examples of buildings with up to nearly 80 per cent less embodied carbon than conventional buildings, which were built at no extra cost.[11] The UK currently imports most of the wood products it uses, but establishing low carbon best practice in the UK’s construction industry would help to establish a market for commercial forestry in the UK and increase the sector’s resilience.[12]

Finally, if biomass is to play a role in the UK’s decarbonisation efforts, the CCC recommends that, alongside innovation, government policies should support the transition away from use for biofuels in surface transport and current use in heating and power generation, to applications that instead enhance emissions sequestration through the use of carbon capture and storage.[13]

What needs to happen now:
  • BEIS and Defra should establish a partnership to engage the food supply chain in reducing food waste through resource efficiency and process innovation. This could build on the Courtauld Commitment but should ensure more ambitious, government-backed targets, which could be informed by carbon audits and a systematic mapping of food waste along supply chains. Furthermore, the government should work with the food sector to establish a corporate accounting system to monitor their environmental footprint. This could build on natural capital accounting being developed by Defra and the ONS, and should support companies in the food supply chain to promote low carbon best practice in the field.[14]
  • Require developers to conduct whole life carbon assessment as part of planning process, to monitor embodied emissions alongside operation emissions in buildings, as currently proposed for projects referable to the London mayor.[15] Low carbon construction should also be encouraged as part of the government’s construction sector deal and publicly procured projects should set reduction targets to provide an early market for low carbon construction methods.
  • Invest in the innovation of low carbon foods and high value biomass applications in construction and energy. The government should support innovation in low carbon foods (including laboratory grown and novel plant-based meat alternatives), construction methods (including offsite construction) and to support higher value applications for bioenergy, as set out in the CCC’s report on biomass[16] (including development of enabling technologies such as carbon capture and storage technology).
  • BEIS, Defra and the Department for Transport (DfT) should identify the role of biomass in the future decarbonisation trajectory. This should be in line with the CCC’s recommendations to prioritise applications that provide the biggest sequestration potential, in sectors where there are no other viable low carbon alternatives, and provide a roadmap to deliver these applications.
What needs to happen in the medium term:
  • Introduce a mandatory corporate accounting system for food supply chain businesses. This should monitor their environmental footprint, to drive strategic investment in sustainable food production.
  • Set reduction targets for whole life emissions (including embodied carbon) to encourage the wider uptake of low carbon construction practices and materials.
  • BEIS, Defra and DfT should revise their policies in line with the roadmap for biomass use, to move from current uses toward long term best use in combination with carbon capture and storage (in line with the CCC’s recommendations).
Food strategy
Achieving the dietary shift outlined in the CCC’s scenarios requires an integrated, cross departmental strategy that drives plant-based eating and the consumption of less and better meat.

An obvious starting point would be to introduce mandatory procurement standards for caterers in public institutions as part of Defra’s forthcoming Food Strategy. Moving to a low carbon diet does not have to cost more. In Copenhagen, public procurement policies have driven a reduction in meat consumption and an increase in the purchasing of seasonal and organic products at no extra cost.[17]

The government should also work with the hospitality and retail sectors to widen the adoption of low carbon diets. This could involve using labelling, which could build on the monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV)/metrics system that farmers and supply chains will be using in their reporting protocols, to enable consumers to clearly identify low carbon, sustainably produced foods. It could also include developing early markets for low carbon livestock.

Importantly, promoting a shift to healthier diets should be complemented by farm support to shift production to meet this new demand.
The Food Strategy should also reduce food waste. Defra and BEIS should work together to improve business resource productivity, as outlined in the previous section, and cut food waste from households, which reached 7.3 million tonnes in 2015.[18] While some food waste is unavoidable, most can be prevented. In the UK we waste 53.4 kilogrammes per person per year on average, compared to 11 kilogrammes in the Czech Republic and 13 kilogrammes in Slovenia. Cutting waste would support low carbon land use by maximising the productive use of resources that went into producing the food and avoiding unnecessary demand for additional food production.[19]
What needs to happen now:
  • Set mandatory procurement standards for public institutions to drive consumption of low carbon, sustainably produced foods and a shift to more plant based eating and less and better meat
  • Work with the hospitality and retail sector to promote healthier, low carbon diets
  • BEIS and Defra should establish a partnership to engage the food supply chain in promoting resource productivity (see above)
  • Mandate the separate collection of food waste in England, as proposed in the Waste and Resources Strategy.
Trade policy
The future interaction between land use and trade policy will be critical to achieve a long term vision for a low carbon, sustainable land use. 

The government is currently considering future trading relationships. Half of the food consumed in the UK is imported, so it is vital that future trade policy does not undermine production at home or drive environmental degradation abroad by opening up domestic markets to cheap and unsustainable products from countries with demonstrably lower environmental standards.

Trade policy should support the highest environmental standards and the UK should seek strategic alliances with countries that share similar aspirations. New trade deals must not only incorporate robust provisions on food standards and animal welfare, but should also include strict criteria on a range of environmental issues. Careful consideration should be given to how trade deals will protect against issues like deforestation, water stress and the use of chemicals. All new trade deals should incorporate robust non-regression mechanisms.
What needs to happen now:
  • The government must ensure all future Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) promote high environmental standards, are subject to comprehensive economic, social and environmental impact assessments and incorporate robust non-regression mechanisms
Invest in enabling measures to guide action

Spatial mapping
Land is a limited resource. As such, decisions about how to use it are inevitably constrained by various trade-offs. These decisions should, as far as possible, be informed by spatial evidence of the land’s potential to deliver a range of environmental outcomes.

Many of these outcomes are best (or sometimes only) achieved at the landscape and regional level. For example, the restoration and sustainable management of peatlands will require catchment scale interventions to restore optimal hydrological conditions, while interventions to boost biodiversity require systems integration.[20] Similarly, the climate change mitigation potential of trees strongly depends on their location, as the soil type and previous land uses will affect the rate of carbon sequestration.

Better spatial planning of climate mitigation action would also provide better value for money. It would enable a more strategic use of public and private funding; it would improve the cost efficiency of schemes through economies of scale and it could encourage collaboration between land managers.

A national, spatial assessment of overall opportunities and targets should be combined with local, bottom up consideration of possible interventions. It would provide a tool for local, democratic engagement and decision making. Spatial mapping of opportunities should also underpin the ELM system, by supporting local area plans and providing guidance to land managers on the optimal delivery of public goods. It should also inform the designation and protection of carbon rich ecosystems, many of which are currently unprotected, as well as the establishment of Forestry Investment Zones and future priority zones. That way, the government can drive afforestation and make sure ecosystems are restored and created in the most appropriate places.

What needs to happen now:
  • The government should commission integrated mapping of the potential for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and other environmental outcomes sought in the 25 year environment plan, building on the latest technological advances, including earth observation and data science.
  • Spatial mapping should inform the development of the ELM system and future designation of priority zones for afforestation and ecosystem restoration and creation.
Metrics for sustainable land management and food production
Low carbon land management should be informed by a robust MRV framework. This should establish a baseline and metrics to monitor performance towards a range of environmental outcomes and build on previous work on natural capital accounting. On climate mitigation, specifically, the government should establish a network of long term experimental sites where low carbon land use management can be measured and monitored. Analysis of these sites could then be used to assess the impacts of low carbon management on greenhouse gas emissions and a variety of other ecosystem services. It would allow the impacts of land management to be quantified by measuring activity data (ie the management change that has taken place) and then be used to support climate change mitigation action as part of the ELM system. [21]

Importantly, to align decarbonisation efforts with supply chain operations, the government should ensure that metrics and MRV requirements are, as far as possible, consistent across policy areas. This will support farmers by ensuring efficient reporting for regulatory compliance, supporting management decisions and effective participation in the ELM scheme. It will also enable them to meet supply chain reporting requirements, while not overburdening them with multiple reporting systems (a challenge that was highlighted in the Stacey Review). It would also provide an effective and consistent set of metrics for businesses in the food supply chain to report against.

What needs to happen now:
  • The government should establish a robust MRV framework to support delivery of the ELM scheme and regulatory enforcement.
  • The government should work with farmers and supply chains to ensure alignment of metrics, as much as possible, in reports on low carbon food production and land management.
Establish a gold standard for emissions accounting
Land use can play a critical role in decarbonisation, but the emissions accounting system still does not reflect the true impact of this sector. In the absence of an adequate accounting regime, international efforts to cut emissions will be undermined.

The UK has already begun to improve its approach to emissions accounting. For example, it has committed to include emissions from wetlands from 2021-22. But there are other areas where emissions accounting still needs improving.  Building on its world leading research centres and long standing climate leadership, the UK should establish a gold standard in emissions accounting.

There are three main areas where this should inform policy. The first is bioenergy. The CCC suggests that biomass could play a significant role in meeting long term climate targets, but warns that without stronger MRV systems, the current international accounting system does not properly encourage importers and exporters of biomass feedstocks to protect the carbon stocks of the exporting country. Even under improved EU accounting rules, which apply at a national level, it is not clear that emissions from individual supply chains are properly governed.

The second area that should be addressed relates to emissions from imported livestock feed. Currently, the UK emissions inventory only accounts for territorial emissions from the livestock sector, ie emissions associated with production processes that take place within the boundaries of the UK. However, the UK’s agriculture sector is, to a large degree, dependent on feed (like grain and soya) imported from third countries and the emissions from the production of these feedstocks are not currently reflected in the UK’s inventory. This may distort the assessment of land use implications linked to different forms of farming, and should therefore be integrated in an overall assessment of emissions reduction options.

Finally, the emissions associated with UK food consumption should be monitored and used to inform policies targeting demand side measures to decarbonise land use, ensuring that efforts to promote a low carbon farming sector in the UK are complemented by policies that encourage healthier diets and do not simply result in exporting emissions associated with high carbon foods to countries with more limited means to take climate action.

[1] Dame Glenys Stacey, 2018, Farm inspection and regulation review
[2] Defra, 2019, The guide to cross compliance in England 2019
[3] Scottish Government, 2007, Module 5 estimates of carbon loss from scenarios of accelerated erosion of peats
[4] CPRE, 2018, Back to the land: rethinking our approach to soil
[5] Green Alliance, 2019, New routes to decarbonise land use with Natural Infrastructure Schemes
[6] Committee on Climate Change, 2018a, Land use: reducing emissions and preparing for climate change, p64
[7] Green Alliance, 2018, Setting the standard
[9] Relative concentration of industry is highest in Lincolnshire, Cornwall and Yorkshire, data from 2015
[10] CIEMAP estimates that use of low carbon materials in construction could cut embodied emissions by 28.1MtCO2e over the course of the fifth carbon budget. Green Alliance, 2018a, Less in, more out.
[11] Green Alliance, 2018a, op cit.
[12] Low carbon products and construction skills will have significant export potential deeper carbon reduction are pursued worldwide. For example, incoming legislation such as the Buy Clean California Act, may soon require low carbon credentials to be able to export into certain markets, Giesekam, 2018, Reducing carbon in construction: a whole life approach,
[13] CCC, 2018b, Biomass in a low carbon economy
[14] The Natural Capital Committee (NCC) has already developed a corporate accounting template, including a set of standards, see NCC, 2019, State of Natural Capital Annual Report 2019,
[15] Greater London Authority, 13 August 2018, Draft new London Plan showing minor suggested changes,
[16] Committee on Climate Change, November 2018, Biomass in a low-carbon economy
[17] Green Alliance, 2018b, City consumption: the new opportunity for climate action
[18] Green Alliance, 2018a, op cit
[19] As discussed in the previous section, there is a complex feedback between food consumption and production.
[20] J Lawton et al, 2010, Making space for nature: a review of England’s wildlife sites and ecological network, 
[21] So that it would not be necessary to measure carbon change and greenhouse gas emissions at every site undergoing a low carbon land management.

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