Major changes to UK land use needed to tackle climate change, advisers warn

23rd January 2020 | Commercial Energy

A levy on airlines or fossil fuel companies could be introduced to help pay for a huge boost to woodland planting, Government climate advisers have urged. The Committee on Climate Change made the recommendation in a new report calling for major and urgent changes to how land is managed to help the UK reach its legal target to cut emissions to net zero by 2050.

A fifth of agricultural land needs to be taken out of production and freed up for natural methods of storing carbon such as more woodlands and trees, the first in-depth report on land use from the committee urges. Encouraging people to cut the beef, lamb and dairy they eat by a fifth – which the committee said was a “modest” reduction within Government health guidelines – will help cut greenhouse gases and free up land for storing carbon.

Climate change

Around 30,000 hectare or 100 million trees a year need to be planted from 2023 up to mid-century, a significant increase on today’s levels of planting, which were around 13,000 hectares last year. A system similar to the subsidies which have boosted renewable energy in recent years, with auctions for contracts for planting and guaranteed long-term payments for land managers, could deliver the required increase.

An alternative method would be a carbon trading scheme, and either policy could be paid for by greenhouse gas-emitting industries such as fossil fuel providers or airlines, the report suggests. Public money should also go to creating and managing woodlands, planting trees and boosting hedgerows which deliver other benefits such as flood prevention and wildlife habitat.

The study also said half the country’s upland peat areas must be restored, alongside a quarter of lowland peat areas. The Government must ban damaging practises such as rotational burning on peatland – used by grouse moor managers to boost new heather for red grouse – and peat extraction, with sale of peat for horticulture also banned.

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