United Kingdom 'must significantly change way land is used to reach net zero'

James Marshall
January 26, 2020

We recognise that to meet United Kingdom net-zero targets and, more pressingly, the Scottish Government's own target of 75% reduction by 2030, we face a challenge.

A report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says major land use changes will be needed to enable the country to reach its legal target of "net zero" emissions by 2050.

The CCC said in the report that there should be levies on fossil fuel suppliers, airlines and other carbon-emitting industries to pay for the costs of the programme.

People should cut the amount of beef, lamb and dairy produce they eat by a fifth to combat climate change, a report says.

In order to meet the UK's net zero goal roughly a fifth of agricultural land that is now used for traditional farming production - such as rearing cows, pigs, and sheep - would need to be given over to natural carbon storage through afforestation and peatland restoration over the next 30 years, including the planting of around 120 million trees every year, the report estimates.

Agencies involved in delivering the bulk of the changes say they will also use natural flood defences such as trees, leaky dams, wetlands and salt marsh.

We now waste 13.6 million tonnes of food annually and the CCC says this needs to be reduced by at least 20%, and depending on progress in other sectors it may need to be reduced by a further 50%. They say there's already been a reduction of around 20% in the past two decades.

President of the National Farmers Union (NFU), Minette Batters said: 'When it comes to farming, we need to focus on the whole agricultural system. "65 per cent of British land is only suitable for grazing livestock and we have the right climate to produce high quality red meat and dairy", she said.

"At farm-level, positive uptake of efficiency measures around livestock and crop production, soil testing, nutrient management, energy crops and the integration of woodlands into farming businesses to create shelterbelts or a new income stream will all have a greater role to play alongside the continued provision of safe, healthy, local food".

The CCC's chief executive Chris Stark said it was important to recognise that United Kingdom pasture-based livestock production had one of the lowest greenhouse carbon footprints of any such system in the world. "This means grassland can not be used continually to offset methane emissions from livestock", they argued.

"She said: "[The report] highlights that emissions from United Kingdom beef are half that of the global average. They should deal with animal manure better, and reduce food waste.

Encouraging bioenergy crops - expand the planting of United Kingdom energy crops to around 23,000 hectares each year.

The report urges a ban on regular burning on peatland, and a ban on peat extraction. Its spokesperson Vicki Hird said: "The emphasis on energy crops to feed power plants is risky - it could damage biodiversity and ecosystems as well as our food security".

NFU president Minette Batters also pointed out that the report acknowledged that "British farming produces some of the most sustainable food in the world, highlighting that emissions from United Kingdom beef is half that of the global average".

To achieve this, emissions from agriculture, land use and peatlands must be drastically cut by a factor of three, according to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

The re-wilding campaigner George Monbiot said the report contained "feeble half-measures".

He said this was to both "catch carbon and to help us adapt to what are now inevitable climate change impacts".

"People in the United Kingdom are already reducing their red meat consumption".

"A 10% reduction in cattle and sheep numbers by 2050 is likely to be much smaller than the shift that's going to happen anyway, without the help of the measures the committee proposes".

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Other reports by Click Lancashire

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