Meeting carbon budgets – ensuring a low carbon economy

We were surprised by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC)’s second annual report, as it gave a low profile to the role of forestry in reducing emissions.  Especially given relevant government commitments are in sharp contrast with UK tree planting rates – now at their lowest for many decades which were commented on in the Conservative manifesto.

The UK Government’s Low Carbon Transition Plan recognises woodland creation is, ‘a very cost-effective way of fighting climate change’. It states ‘Government will support a new drive to encourage private funding for woodland creation’. The plan notes illustratively, ‘an additional 10,000 hectares of woodland per year for  15 years… could remove up to 50 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2050’.

The Read Report models woodland creation scenarios and highlights, “by planting c.23,000ha per year over the next 40 years the UK could, by the 2050s, be locking up on an annual basis… 10% of our total greenhouse gas emissions”.

Climate Change (Scotland) Act targets identified in the Climate Change Delivery Plan explicitly link afforestation with Scottish Government emissions-reduction targets. On 21 April 2010, the Scottish Government confirmed its 2020 target to cut emissions by 42%. “Required measures” in the Delivery Plan associated with this target include a “Planting rate of around 15,000ha/year”.

Yet against this backdrop, the Forestry Commission recently reported the following trend of new planting in the UK, 1976-2009 (click to enlarge):

The Committee will return to opportunities for reducing emissions from land use change and forestry this autumn in their report on the fourth budget.  The Woodland Trust believes this needs to highlight that:

  1. Government should develop mechanisms that lead to a step-change in the rate of woodland creation. The first annual report of the Committee on Climate Change considered that any actions to reduce emissions costing less than £100 per tonne of carbon dioxide are cost-effective. Woodland creation scenarios assessed by the Read Report all cost less than this figure, including native broadleaved woodland. It delivers a wide range of other benefits that will enable society to adapt to climate change and generally enhance quality of life
  2. The Scottish Government should develop funding to ensure planting of at least 15,000ha per year, as required to fulfil its statutory emissions-reduction target
  3. UK forestry has one of the most comprehensive, highly-regulated policy frameworks in the world. This makes it an appropriate place to create woods for UK-based companies and individuals to lock up carbon equivalent to their own emissions
  4. Carbon sequestration projects are valid and should be supported in the UK if: they are additional to that which would otherwise occur; the woodland is permanent; and the carbon captured is verifiable
  5. Wood fuel should be developed where it: offers genuine greenhouse gas savings; does not negatively impact on biodiversity; and delivers positive biodiversity benefits
  6. Government should take active steps to promote use of wood as a substitute for materials that use more energy to process, e.g., by reviewing the Building Regulations.

We have sent our thoughts to the CCC and asked how we might best assist.

About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
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