CCC says major shift in UK land use needed to deliver net zero

The UK meeting its 2050 net zero target will require a transformation in land use across the country, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said.

On 23 January, the CCC published a report, Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK, marking the first time it had provided in-depth advice to the government on UK agricultural policies. Calling for government to rise to the rapid changes that are needed, the CCC set out how land use – including agriculture, forestry and peatland – accounted for 12% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2017. It claimed that by 2050, this could be reduced by 64% to 21MtCO2e, if the right support is given to farmers and land managers.

The CCC listed five objectives for new policy, including an increase in tree planting which would see UK forestry cover increased from 13% to at least 17% by 2050, involving the planting of around 30,000 hectares – 90-120mn trees – of broadleaf and conifer woodland each year. It also recommended encouraging low-carbon farming practices; restoring peatlands, which would see 50% of upland peat and 25% of lowland peat restored; encouraging bioenergy crops with a goal of expanding them to around 23,000 hectares each year; and reducing food waste and consumption of the most carbon-intensive foods.

Achieving such changes would call for a combination of regulation and incentives, the CCC explained, ensuring land managers have the long-term clarity they need while also leading to the release of one-fifth of agricultural land for actions that reduce emissions and store carbon. These include strengthening the regulatory baseline by extending the existing regulation to reduce on-farm emissions and using new legislation to further regulate agricultural emissions, as well as a new market-based measure to promote tree planting, either through auctioned contracts in similar fashion to those offered for renewable electricity or by including forestry in a carbon trading scheme. According to the CCC’s own assessment, it said the measures would cost around £1.4bn a year though would generate wider benefits of £4bn a year. It would take a combination of public and private funding, with the majority coming from private sources.

CCC Chairman, Lord Deben, said: “Changing the way we use our land is critical to delivering the UK’s Net Zero target. The options we are proposing would see farmers and land managers – the stewards of the land – delivering actions to reduce emissions. Doing so can provide new revenue opportunities for farmers, better air quality and improved biodiversity, and more green spaces for us all to enjoy. But major changes are required and action from government is needed quickly if we are to reap the rewards.”