CCC report: UK environmental bodies commit to joint action

The chairmen of three Government environmental bodies have pledged to work together to deliver nature-based solutions to climate change, helping the government meet its ambition to reach net-zero by 2050.

The report ‘Land Use: Policies for a Net Zero UK’ published by the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) today (January 23) backed several nature-based solutions such as tree planting, peatland restoration, and low-carbon farming practices among a range of options to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint.

For example, new forests will take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and reduce the impact of flooding that is already being caused by climate change, while at the same time enabling wildlife recovery and the restoration of beautiful landscapes.

Similarly, the protection and restoration of peatland will prevent the release of greenhouse gases, while also helping rare species to expand their populations.

Response

As such, the Environment Agency, Forestry Commission and Natural England commit to collaborating their responses to the climate and biodiversity emergencies by:

  • Delivering large-scale woodland creation

Fulfilling the government’s plans to increase tree planting rates up to 30,000 hectares per year, across the UK, by 2025 – working closely with devolved authorities, communities and landowners – and ensuring that new and existing woodland is based on the right trees in the right place and is properly managed.

Meeting the tree-planting commitment will help to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, while also providing habitats for wildlife, better soil health and water retention, and recreational benefits.

  • Protecting and restoring peatlands

Peatlands have a vital part to play in tackling climate change, storing more carbon than all other types of vegetation in the world combined, and damage to peatlands is a major source of carbon emissions.

Natural England is actively restoring peatland on sites that it owns or manages and is supporting other landowners and managers in restoration. The government’s England Peat Strategy will be published in the spring, and we will implement its measures to protect and restore our precious peatland.

  • Supporting farmers towards net-zero

Working alongside the government in the development and delivery of the Environmental Land Management scheme, which will reward farmers for delivering public goods such as supporting wildlife and tackling climate change.

  • Working with nature to manage flood risk

Climate change is already causing more frequent and intense flooding. Alongside traditional flood defences, by planting trees, building leaky dams and restoring natural habitats such as wetlands, sand dunes and salt marsh, we can use nature to reduce the impact of floods while removing carbon from the atmosphere and improving habitats for wildlife.

This is already an important part of the Environment Agency’s draft FCRM strategy, and the Forestry Commission and Natural England will play a part in delivering this.

  • Taking a strategic approach to land use

Ensuring that nature-based solutions are used in places where they can be most effective, avoiding potential adverse impacts on the environment and communities, while also ensuring that developments in renewable energy and other infrastructure do not mean compromising on nature-based solutions. In other words, we will seek ways to go low carbon in our energy while at the same time going ‘high wildlife’.

  • Encouraging alternatives to carbon-intensive materials

Promoting and encouraging the use of timber products for construction and other industries will mean a move away from carbon-intensive materials such as concrete and steel.

This means that there is the potential to store millions of tonnes of carbon in the UK’s new and refurbished homes simply through the use of different building materials and techniques.

  • Pushing for action across the UK and abroad

We cannot act alone. At a UK level, we have already brought together representatives from Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to agree how we can work together on nature-based solutions for climate change, and are hoping to continue this collaboration with a further summit in the near future.

Hosting COP26 in Glasgow represents a one-off opportunity for the UK to turn the tide on the climate emergency.

The UK government is already working on a bold and ambitious agenda for the summit, and we will work with the government to ensure that nature recovery is at the heart of this.

‘Climate emergency can no longer be underestimated’

Environment Agency chairman Emma Howard Boyd said: “As we’re seeing with tragic bushfires in Australia and some of the extreme weather in the UK over the past few years, the climate emergency can no longer be underestimated.

We must do everything we can to not only tackle climate change, but also adapt to its impacts, including the increased risk of drought and flooding here in the UK.

“Building hard flood and coastal defences will always be important, but as our draft FCRM strategy shows, natural solutions like restoring wetlands to store floodwater and planting trees to hold water in the soil will play an increasingly important role in the future – all whilst taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

“2020 must be a year of ambitious climate action both at home and across the globe, and it’s only by working together and agreeing on collective action that we can both deliver net-zero and adapt to the climate future.”

Natural England chairman Tony Juniper said: “In meeting the climate change emergency it will be vital to reduce emissions from power, heating and transport. It is equally important, however, that we combine these efforts with plans for the protection and recovery of the natural environment.

“Given the scale of the challenge, a joined-up approach that embraces nature’s recovery is not an optional extra, but must be central to the whole plan, to both catch carbon and to help us adapt to what are now inevitable climate change impacts.”

‘Public interest has never been higher’

Forestry Commission chairman Sir. Harry Studholme added: “Public interest in trees has never been higher. The climate emergency has highlighted the role forests play in absorbing carbon dioxide, while we also remember the breadth of their benefits.

“They provide homes for birds and other wildlife, help to retain water in the soil to reduce flood risk, offer sustainable and profitable timber supplies and provide huge benefits for our health and wellbeing.

We are encouraging farmers and land managers to invest in tree-planting. Through schemes, such as our recently launched Woodland Carbon Guarantee, we are making sure we tackle climate change through nature-based solutions, while also providing a long term financial incentive to increase their carbon capture.

“But, while the importance of planting more trees cannot be underestimated, it is also vital that we nurture and manage our woods to allow them to thrive to the fullest extent.”