Major shift in UK land use needed to deliver Net Zero emissions

Posted: Wednesday 12th February 2020

The UK has committed to becoming a Net Zero economy by 2050. Meeting that goal requires a transformation in land use across the UK. Government must confront the rapid changes that are now needed, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says in its first ever in-depth advice on UK agricultural policies.

In 2017, land use – including agriculture, forestry and peatland – accounted for 12% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, with the right support, farmers and land-managers can reduce these emissions by almost two thirds. This transition is necessary for Net Zero, it will create net benefits for the UK and leave our land more resilient to the changing climate.

The Committee’s new report, Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK, presents a detailed range of options to drive emissions reductions in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is published at a time of significant change, as the UK leaves the European Union and the Common Agricultural Policy. In Westminster, new Agriculture and Environment Bills are being introduced this month. Similar legislation is planned in Scotland and Wales – opening the way to the steps recommended by the Committee.

Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, 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.”

The Committee’s in-depth analysis shows that emissions from UK land use can be reduced by 64% to around 21 MtCO2e by 2050. The report demonstrates that this can be achieved without producing less food in the UK or increasing imports from elsewhere.

There are five objectives for new policy:

The Committee is proposing a mix of regulations and incentives to drive these changes and provide land managers with the long-term clarity they need. The actions identified would release around one-fifth of agricultural land for actions that reduce emissions and store carbon.

The Committee’s assessment shows that these measures carry a total cost of around £1.4 billion per year, generating wider benefits of £4bn per year. Much of this funding can be provided privately – the total cost should be met through a combination of public and private funding. This will be a key consideration for the Treasury in its Net Zero Review of costs. At present, the UK deploys £3.3bn each year through the Common Agricultural Policy.

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April 2021

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