UK must plant new woodland twice the area of Sheffield each year to reduce climate impact of land use

Embargo: 00:01 Thursday 25 April 2019
Caterina Brandmayr Caterina BrandmayrHead of climate policy020 7630

More ambitious action, including planting 70,000 hectares of new woodland per year and banning peatland burning, needs to start now to halt the climate impact of farming and land use, according to new analysis.
New research today from the think tank Green Alliance finds that major changes are needed now to meet the NFU’s target of net zero carbon emissions from land use by 2040. [1]
UK greenhouse gas emissions from farming and other rural land uses were over four times those from UK industrial processes in 2016.[2]
It is predicted that, without concerted action, the sector could be one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the UK by 2050.
Although other sectors, like industry and power, have been targeted by government climate change policies, decarbonising land use has not been a clear objective of EU or UK agricultural policy. 
Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture have not fallen since 2008.

A new strategic approach would not only cut emissions, but significantly improve the ability of natural systems to store carbon.
The changes needed include:
  • Planting the equivalent of twice the area of Sheffield in trees each year across the UK. [3]
  • A programme of extensive peatland restoration and ending damaging practices, including extraction for horticulture and peatland burning. 
  • New support for lower carbon farming methods, backed up by changes to consumer and business demand and trade deals which specify high environmental standards. [4]
 These changes could cut nearly 60 per cent of the emissions from land use over the next decade.
Other positive side effects would be to enhance biodiversity, reduce flood risk and increase the resilience and productivity of farming.
The report finds that a rapid rollout of low carbon measures should be made across the system, on both the supply and demand sides, with a shift to healthier diets helping to support land use change.
Any delay will be costly if there is further degradation and potentially “the fundamental eradication of soil fertility”, as environment secretary Michael Gove has warned.[5]
Sir Graham Wynne, former member of the UK Committee on Climate Change, said:
“Climate action is a big opportunity for UK farmers and land managers. If we get it right, new, low carbon models of land management will make farms more productive and resilient to the effects of climate change.”
“Delay will only make the challenge greater and more expensive. It takes time for trees to grow and soil to recover. This transformation needs to start now, not in the future.”
Caterina Brandmayr, senior policy analyst at Green Alliance, said:
“UK farmers and land managers will be the main agents in rapidly cutting greenhouse gas emissions from land use. But the government needs to give them a stronger business case to act and support them through the transition, with incentives to innovate.” 
“New investment via post-Brexit agriculture support will be important. However, as Defra’s new Environmental Land Management system won’t come into play until 2025, transitional support arrangements should also have low carbon aims.”

Caterina Brandmayr, senior policy analyst, Green Alliance (available for interview), 020 7630 4516
Notes for editors
About Green Alliance
Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank, focused on ambitious leadership for the environment. With a track record of 40 years, Green Alliance has worked with the most influential leaders from the NGO, business, academic and political communities. Our work generates new thinking and dialogue, and has increased political action and support for environmental solutions in the UK.
[1] Green Alliance, Cutting the climate impact of land use, April 2019
This report was supported by an expert steering group chaired by Sir Graham Wynne, Green Alliance trustee and former member of the UK Committee on Climate Change Adaptation Sub-Committee. The steering group members were: Professor Tim Benton, Ruth Davis MBE, Professor Dame Georgina Mace and Professor Peter Smith.
A full methodology for the numerical analysis is available at
[2] The Committee on Climate Change, 2018, Land use: reducing emissions and preparing for climate change estimates that 47 MtCO2e came from agriculture and the related land use sector in 2016. This estimate includes net emissions from peatlands and excludes buildings, infrastructure and urban green spaces as well as emissions from machinery and off-road farm vehicles. According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, 2016, UK greenhouse gas emissions, final figures, emissions from industrial processes in 2016 were 10.5 MtCO2e.
[3] The area of Sheffield is about 36,700 hectares. The report estimates that 70,000 hectares of new woodland are needed per year to get on track to achieve a net zero agriculture and related land use sector.
[4] Measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from farming include preventing and treating livestock disease, novel feeds to reduce methane from cattle and sheep, more efficient use of nitrogen fertilisers including the use of legumes to fix nitrogen in soil, and better manure storage and treatment for example by anaerobic digestion. Farmers can also increase the amount of carbon stored in plants and soils, for example using agroforestry, reducing tillage intensity, and growing different crops or grasses to draw down carbon into the soil.
[5] The Guardian, UK is 30-40 years away from 'eradication of soil fertility', warns Gove, 24 October 2017

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