The Apollo space programme was an almost unbelievable feat of human endeavour. Given the available technology – the lunar lander’s entire computing power is dwarfed by that of a typical modern smart phone – putting men on the moon was a breathtakingly unlikely achievement.
Yet somehow it happened. With each tottering move towards Neil Armstrong’s famous small step, the whole thing became more likely, more possible. The improbability of sitting people on top of a giant firework and hurling them at a target a quarter of a million miles away, and then getting them back again, eventually gave way to live television images of astronauts playing golf or driving buggies on the lunar surface.
This week a rather more modest, although in many ways seemingly just as unlikely, step was taken by the European Parliament. Nothing to do with landing on the moon, this was about greenhouse gas emissions from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF). Despite being so mundane, it was nevertheless an important move in how we collectively address the issue of climate change, the biggest challenge mankind has ever faced.
Emissions fluxes in LULUCF are significant, in that across the EU as a whole they represent an overall sink equivalent to around 10% of emissions. Incorporating forestry and agriculture sectors into emissions accounting, and so into EU climate policy, will help focus much needed attention on how land is farmed and the role that trees, woods and forests play in reducing the emissions burden further. Agriculture is a major source of emissions, largely through nitrogen inputs and methane outputs. Getting those emissions down is vital to achieving overall emissions reduction targets.
The Woodland Carbon Code sets out a good practice standard for UK woodland creation projects. With LULUCF coming under EU scrutiny there is a glimmer of hope that carbon credits generated through domestic aforestation might one day be afforded full accounting status, rather than the purely voluntary function they currently have in corporate responsibility ledgers. This would provide impetus for companies to invest in woodland creation, so helping deliver the vision we share of a UK landscape rich in trees and woods.
Tackling the vast problem of climate change necessarily means breaking it down into smaller parts. One of those parts is how we use our land to optimise its productivity whilst at the same time minimising negative impacts. Trees have a role to play in this, in terms of mitigating carbon emissions and also in improving resilience to the changing climate.
If we had the ingenuity, bravery and sense of purpose to send humans to the moon more than 40 years ago then surely saving our planet from ecological meltdown is not beyond our means. Getting the universal cooperation of all nations seems impossible but that’s no reason to give up. The more the big problem is disassembled the more likely it is we can solve it. Here’s to lots more small steps – eventually they will lead to a giant leap.
Nick Atkinson, Carbon Leader