Reaching Net Zero and restoring nature - what do we need to do?

Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma

Today, 20 October 2023, a new study has revealed how land can be used to restore nature and help us meet net zero targets, whilst also producing food and timber sustainably. In this blog, Arfon Williams, RSPB Cymru’s Head of Land and Sea Policy, explains how Wales’ land can provide some of the solutions to reaching net zero.

2050 will be an important year for Wales. Along with the rest of the UK, we have a target to cut down our greenhouse gas emissions and reach net zero by this date. With just over 26 years to reach this ambitious target, we have a lot of work to do.

To reach net zero, big changes will be needed across all sectors and industries in Wales. This includes how we manage and use our land. If it’s done in the right way, it can reap huge benefits for nature, climate and people.

That’s what a new study by RSPB and partners, revealed today, The Land Use Scenario Project (LUSP) Shows how Wales’ land can play a crucial part in reaching the Welsh Government’s climate and nature targets, while also ensuring that we can grow healthy and sustainable food.

A strategic approach - what does this mean?

The study argues that a strategic and sustainable approach to land management is needed. What we mean by this is, it is important to take a joined-up approach to ensure that the way we manage land helps us to reach net zero targets, restore nature, produce food sustainably and benefits society more widely.

What does the study show?

We’re already seeing the impact of climate change on land and how we manage it, including in Wales. For example, major floods are more common, and the hotter summers are increasing the risk of wildfires and droughts. With this in mind, the study considers nine different scenarios that combine a variety of measures for reducing the effects of climate change.

These measures include nature-based solutions, such as restoring degraded peatlands and creating new woodlands. Another example is making changes to the way we farm which would help lower greenhouse gas emissions, such as transitioning to electric farm machinery.

The impacts of each scenario on greenhouse gas emissions, birds, and food and timber production up to the year 2050, which is the Welsh Government’s net zero target, are then assessed.

The research shows that the scenarios with the most ambitious nature-based solutions delivered the largest emissions reductions. Four scenarios come close to, or achieved, net zero within Wales’ and the wider UK’s ‘agriculture, forestry and other land use’ sectors. In other words, the more nature-based solutions there are, the greater the emissions reductions.

Under these ambitious scenarios, habitat for woodland birds increased but farmland birds lost out, highlighting the importance of nature and environmentally friendly farming schemes in helping to improve the quality of the remaining farmland habitat for nature.

Food production also decreased under these scenarios, as agricultural land shifted to other uses. However, these production decreases can be reduced by tackling waste throughout the supply chain and better aligning healthy and sustainable diets with what our farmland produces.

The need for this type of food system reform, in response to climate change as well as loss of wildlife, is already well-understood and highlighted in reports like WWF Cymru’s A Welsh food system fit for future generations and the Dasgupta Review, which points to the need for a global response.

What do we think?

This important study shows that there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to solving how land is used and managed. However, what is clearly highlighted is the importance of the Welsh Government approaching land use strategically.

A strategic approach to land use must also include the implementation of the Welsh Government’s new Interim Habitat Wales and Sustainable Farming Schemes and its woodland creation targets. It’s vital that we do this, if we are to support farmers and other land managers transition to sustainable food and timber production, while also protecting and restoring nature and contributing to net zero targets.