Log in | Register

Land use policy should reward those who mitigate climate change

Words: Laura Edgar
Climate change

Reform is required to make sure that land is a more effective carbon store. Landowners that deliver such climate mitigating objectives should be rewarded.

Climate change impacts are already altering the land’s use, says the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). Past policies governing the use of UK land have been fragmented and incomplete.

The committee’s report, Land use: Reducing Emissions and Preparing for Climate Change, finds that new land use policy must promote radically different uses of UK land, because the current approach “is not sustainable”.

“If land continues to be used as it has been in the past, it will not be able to support future demand for settlements or maintain current per capita food production; nor will we be prepared for the warming climate.”

Incremental changes will not deliver climate goals, says the committee.

Therefore, the government recommends that new land use policy should promote transformational land uses and reward landowners for public goods that deliver climate mitigation and adaptation objectives. New policies should reflect better the value of the goods and services that land provides.

Alternative uses can be economically beneficial for farmers and land managers but the government needs to provide them with help in the transition. This includes skills and training, as well as help with high upfront costs and long-term paybacks of investing in alternative uses. Barriers to the take-up of innovative farming practices should be addressed to improve productivity.

Lord Deben, chairman of the committee, said: “Land is our most precious natural asset, but the way we use land in this country needs fundamental reform. We must ensure our use of land helps to reduce the emissions that are warming our atmosphere. We must also improve the resilience of the land to climate change. New legislation on agriculture and the environment provide us with a unique opportunity to reward landowners and farmers for actions such as tree planting, restoring peatlands and improving soil and water quality.”

A second report by the CCC, Biomass in a Low-Carbon Economy, considers the roll of biomass in tackling climate change. It finds that sustainably harvested biomass can play a significant role in meeting long-term targets.

It suggests that the UK should increase the volume of carbon stored in our forests and land, and rules that govern the supply of sustainable sources of biomass for energy needs to be improved.

“We need a new conversation about the role that biomass can play in helping to meet the UK’s climate change targets. If supply of biomass is more strictly governed, its use can be sustainable and it can play an essential role in reducing emissions, locking away carbon in plants and soils. Unsustainable supplies of biomass have no place in our future energy mix,” Debden added.

Biomass UK, part of the Renewable Energy Association, support the committee’s findings.

“Well-regulated biomass can provide benefits for forestry, agriculture and our energy system, backing up technologies like wind and solar. In the future it will be combined with carbon capture to actually remove carbon from the atmosphere – a crucial role if we’re to stop climate change.

“We have always worked with government to develop world-leading sustainability regulations. We’ll look closely at this report’s policy recommendations to ensure biomass continues to cut carbon emissions, support forests and stabilise the energy system long into the future.”

Guy Shrubsole, campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: "This is a wake-up call for a complacent government that we must completely transform the way we use land to avoid climate breakdown and make space for nature.

"As the Committee on Climate Change says, we need to free up land from agriculture by eating much less meat and dairy, and stop landowners burning and degrading peat bogs – our single biggest carbon store.

“We also need to reforest far more of Britain than the government's current puny tree-planting targets – going beyond what this report calls for and doubling forest cover to lock up carbon and help prevent floods."

The reports can be found here on the CCC website:

Land use: Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change (pdf)

Biomass in a low-carbon economy (pdf)

Image credit | Shutterstock