Last week, I wrote an assessment of how well the UK Government was doing against the ten commitments in the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature but I waited to give my verdict on point 5 designed to “align our climate policies with the Paris Agreement”.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister announced his plan for a green industrial revolution which means we now have a much better idea of how the UK Government plans to tackle climate change over the coming decade.
In this blog, I want to explain why the UK Government needs to develop a more sophisticated approach to tackle emissions from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF).
Our overall response to the Prime Minister’s plan was positive. Our Chief Executive, Beccy Speight said:
“There is much to applaud in the Prime Minister’s plan that could help transform our economy and build back better and we are particularly pleased to see the recognition that nature itself can provide many solutions to the climate crisis. Only yesterday the RSPB released a report showing how damaged peatland is producing as much carbon as all HGVs on British roads. Investing in locking up carbon by restoring habitats such as peatlands must be a top priority and receive substantially more investment. It is also important to ensure new nuclear, offshore windfarms and tree planting schemes are in the right places and do not harm sensitive wildlife. The PM’s announcement suggests the UK has the potential to provide the global leadership needed to #ReviveOurWorld.”
The report that Beccy referred to was produced in partnership with WWF and can be read here. It’s headline finding is that across the UK landscapes and habitats (especially peatlands, woodlands and grasslands) lock up >16 billion tonnes of CO2e which is more than 130 years’ worth of current road transport emissions in the UK. In addition, the UK has the potential to use natural spaces to absorb and/or lock up an additional 123 million tonnes by 2030. It was notable that the section on nature, unlike most of the other points in the Prime Minister’s plan, did not include a figure to quantify the contribution that investing in restoring nature could have in tackling climate change. It implies either that the work has not been done or that its contribution are considered to be marginal.
Yet, our report and further analysis by WWF suggests that the UK should be much more explicit about the significance of reducing emissions from LULUCF. What’s more, it should back it up with the finance and policy change required to address this challenge.
WWF has estimated that LULUCF in the UK can contribute 6-7% of the emissions reduction needed from now by 2030. This is drawn from new WWF analysis that shows that the UK could deliver 72% emissions reductions from 1990 levels by 2030. This is the ambition that we believe is needed to meet the UK Government’s target (enshrined in law as of 2019) to be net zero by 2050. Currently, the Prime Minister’s plan would (according to Carbon Brief) still fail to match the ambition outlined in the fifth carbon budget but that only constitutes c57% emissions reductions from 1990 levels by 2030. This budget was of course set when the target in law was 80% reduction by 2050 so it is clear that greater ambition will be needed and we expect the Committee on Climate Change to confirm this when it publishes its advice on the sixth carbon budget next month.
So, the state of habitats like peatlands grows in significance. This is why we have been arguing for greater investment in restoration (estimated by Wildlife and Countryside Link to be c£1 billion annually) and why we need legal and policy reform to ban practices that damage these habitats such burning vegetation on peatlands or the sale of peat for horticulture use. These are long standing concerns, but it does appear that ministers are edging towards making the right decision on at least one of these issues. Just last week, in a Westminster Hall debate, Biodiversity Minister Rebecca Pow said that “on balance and in general, in the UK the burning of vegetation on blanket bog moves the bog away from its original wet state, and risks vulnerable peat bog habitats becoming drier and turning into a heathland habitat”. This chimes with our own evidence review on the subject - see here.
Her fellow Defra Minister Zac Goldsmith went further last year when he said, “There has been an attempt, through voluntary initiatives, to scale back — to reduce and eventually eliminate — the burning of fragile and important peat ecosystems, but that has not proven 100% successful as had been hoped. We are developing a legislative response to the problem”.
The transition to a net zero economy will require Ministers to make tough decisions and find the right level of investment. Last week’s plan while good is not yet sufficient. Tough decisions made today will not only enhance the UK’s international leadership ambitions – crucial given the UK hosts the global climate summit next year – but will also mean that we play our part to the full in tackling the nature and climate emergency.
The time to act is now.
*image is courtesy of my college, Dave O'Hara (rspb-images.com). It shows smoking ground on the edge of a fire June 2018 which started on a neighbouring grouse moor to RSPB Dove Stone Nature Reserve and slowed down enough to be put out against a wet sphagnum filled gully on RSPB/United Utilities land in the Peak District.
Well, he can bloody make a start by ending any plans to build yet another nuclear power station right on Minsmere's doorstep. His plans might sound fine but he's repeatedly proven he's an untrustworthy liar, telling people only what they want to hear.
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