The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has issued their latest report on the 23rd January 2020, focused on land-use policies that will support the transition to Net Zero. In particular, the report assesses the way we use our land today and the changes required in how we farm and use land in order to deliver the UK Government’s Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050.

The latest report “Land Use: Policies for a Net Zero UK” produces a range of findings, some of which, like previous CCC reports, will produce controversy. The report sets out how emissions from UK land use can be reduced by 64% (to 21MtCO2e), without compromising the twin challenges of not reducing food production in the UK and without increasing the food imports. The proposed policy framework includes five key objectives that can support the Government’s 2050 Net Zero goals, these are summarised as:

  • Increased tree planting – increasing UK forestry cover to 17% by 2050 through planting 30,000 hectares per year of broadleaf and conifer trees;
  • Low-carbon farming practices;
  • Restoration of peatlands – including 50% of upland peat;
  • Encourage bioenergy crops – including expansion of the UK’s energy crop production to 23,000 hectares per year; and
  • Reduction of food waste and consumption of the most carbon-intensive foods – with a focus on a clear reduction of food waste by 20% annually and the transition to lower meat consumption per person.

The policy landscape is forming so that farmers will be paid according to providing sustainability “public goods”, of which climate-sensitive farming is a key aspect of this. The CCC findings propose that agriculture could see a reduction of 20% in active land in order to re-use that land to drive down and lock up carbon. However, there are pragmatic ways to go about this, which minimise the impact on farmers and their businesses. For example:

  • Restoring peatland in the uplands can coexist with sheep farming, which is already heavily reliant on subsidies. Farmers will continue to be supported but with an emphasis on re-wetting and managing peatland to capture and store carbon, with sheep farming as a separate economic activity on that land. Restoring lowland peatland, for example in East Anglia, where it has been artificially drained, will be problematic and is likely to meet a great deal of resistance as it is on prime productive croplands.
  • Trees are likely to be planted on less productive land and will provide an income stream for farmers, as a carbon store, amenity or commercial woodland, with farmers focusing on farming more productive land. This is entirely voluntary and smaller farms may find it difficult to get involved as land is a limiting resource for them.
  • The recommended reduction of 20% in beef and dairy consumption will affect markets and British farmers and their supply chains need to promote their high production standards – in terms of environmental impact and high animal welfare – so that consumers continue to buy British beef and dairy at the expense of imports, which often have a greater environmental cost. Technology offers ways to reduce methane emissions from cattle e.g. through additives or genetic selection.
  • Sustainable productivity growth is a key driver in achieving net zero from agriculture and land use: this allows more to be grown with less land and other inputs – and frees up land for other uses. This relies on skills and technology to offer new crop varieties and agronomic practices rather than increasing inputs to land.
  • Government needs to develop an effective strategy and provide resources to address the historical productivity gap in UK agriculture including skills, training and knowledge exchange; rural infrastructure and connectivity; and delivering R&D at farm level. This would be a win-win for farmers and the wider economy.

In terms of financing this transition, the report shows that the cost to introduce key recommendations will cost £1.4bn per year and generate benefits of £4bn per year – and sets this against the UK’s current deployment of £3.3bn per year under the CAP payments, which will gradually disappear between 2021 and 2027.

As with all such reports, the insights will provide guidance and insight to the UK government who will then need to create and enhance the regulatory frameworks. These include the extension of regulation to reduce on-farm emissions and supporting funding to enable innovation that will help reduce emissions from technology and new practices. One example is a recommendation that a tree planting scheme could be supported via a levy on heavier emitting industries such as aviation.

The Current Policy Environment

Following on the heels of the launch of the Agriculture Bill 2019-2020, the CCC report comes at a critical point when the Government is due to launch the Environment Bill in the coming month and media reports daily updates on the challenges of tackling climate change and the transformation required, especially in food production and the use of the land.

2020 is set to be a very active year in the publication of new information and reports on a range of core sustainability topics such as climate change – with a key point in the year being the COP 26 Climate Conference in Glasgow in November.

As the UK is preparing to leave the European Union and sets out the new policy frameworks, there is going to be a shaping of policy and regulation that combines the sustainability challenges the UK faces with a way to drive change in the UK – and farming and land use is a key topic that will receive a great deal of attention in the coming year.

How ADAS can support the drive towards Net Zero

ADAS experts were part of a team (with Vivid Economics) that produced some of the supporting research for the CCC report. ADAS is familiar with the need to ensure that food security is maintained having been founded to support the drive to feed the UK back in the 1940’s – and an issue still key to the support that ADAS brings to agriculture and food production.

ADAS have a keen interest in supporting the transition to Net Zero and are working with the farming sector to help transition agriculture to meet Net Zero goals. This includes working with policymakers, the food industry and farmers, to understand farmers’ concerns about the impact of withdrawal from the CAP, and the introduction of a new agricultural policy that rewards the provision of public goods, including land-use change.

The land in the UK and those who care for it and farm it, can play a dramatic role in supporting carbon reductions by thinking about and acting on land use, and consumers have a role to play. There is a clear call to arms here to change what we do to improve how we eat, how we protect the climate and those qualities that make the UK countryside unique. Let ADAS help you on the journey ahead.

More information

ADAS is in a key trusted position to support all stakeholders in the drive towards a UK Net Zero economy. ADAS work across all aspects outlined in the report.

For more information and support, contact Sarah Wynn

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