Alternatives to tree planting can achieve equivalent reductions in emissions while also delivering a broad range of benefits, the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) has said.
The union has outlined these benefits at the Plaid Cymru conference, which takes place today (Friday, October 6) and tomorrow (Saturday, October 7) in Aberystwyth.
Hosting a fringe event today, the FUW said tree planting is just one of the many ways in which net Welsh carbon emissions can be reduced.
The FUW highlighted that in 2019, Welsh energy production was responsible for 10,953,000t of CO2 emissions.
Offsetting this, union’s officials stressed, would require around 1.1 million hectares of land to be planted with trees.
FUW president Ian Rickman said: “If all current Welsh emissions were to be offset by tree planting, this would require an area around twice the size of Wales to be planted with trees.”
Rickman said there are a number of alternatives that can be adopted on-farm to achieve the equivalent reduction in emissions and that many can have multiple benefits – not only for individual farms but also on Welsh society in general.
“These could include renewable energy production, other forms of carbon storage and sequestration or improving livestock efficiency,” he said.
“As we move towards the final consultation phase of the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS), we want to see a scheme that looks at farming and climate change as a collective rather than in isolation.
“For instance, planting trees and offshoring our food production to places with far worse emissions and environmental standards will actually make matters worse on a global level.”
Delegates heard from the FUW that for large numbers of farms, meeting the 10% tree cover requirement would severely impact on their viability and capacity to produce food, while for certain categories of farm meeting such a requirement would be impossible.
Under current proposals, this would prevent them from being able to access any form of support through the SFS, the union said.
“We know that the Welsh government recognised a number of farm types and land categories where meeting this threshold would not be possible – but far more concessions are needed if large numbers of farm businesses are to avoid severe impacts,” Rickman said.
“Tree planting is just one of the many ways in which net Welsh carbon emissions can be reduced.
“We want to see an SFS that has flexibility so farmers can engage with a scheme that works for their businesses and achieves the outcomes Welsh government are looking for.”
The FUW also highlighted that, under its plans, the Welsh government also aims to see Wales meet 100% of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2035.
However, as demand for electric vehicles and other alternatives to fossil fuels increases, electricity demand is also set to increase, the union said.
FUW head of policy, Dr Nick Fenwick, said: “It’s estimated that this will increase demand for electricity in the UK by around 10% of current UK production by 2030, rising to between 20% and 33% by 2050 and increasing production of hydrogen for use as an alternative to fossil fuels in certain vehicles will also increase demand for electricity (which is used to create hydrogen).”