Farming, food and energy crops: the CCC’s new report on land use

Posted in: Environment

Posted on: 23.01.2020

The Committee on Climate Change is the independent body which advised the government on its 2050 net zero target. Its latest report is on land use — what does it mean for you?

Building on its previous work advising the government on the pathway to net zero emissions by 2050, today the CCC has released a new report which covers land use.

Chairman of the Committee, Lord Deben, says of the major changes to land use that “action from government is needed quickly if we are to reap the rewards”, but the report points to meaningful actions individuals and businesses can take too.

The report outlines a pathway to reducing emissions from land use by 64% to around 21 equivalent megatonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050.

What are the key points?

Tree planting

The number of trees the UK needs to plant has been the topic of much discussion recently, thanks to some prominent promises in political party manifestos for the December election. The big question was how many do we need, and how are they paid for?

The CCC has now made a recommendation on both counts. We need 90-120 million planted per year, and they should be paid for with carbon levies on the UK’s biggest polluters.

It is possible for individuals and businesses to get involved with tree planting too — the Woodland Trust have some great advice for the UK and our partner Size of Wales work internationally.

Peatlands

The UK’s peatlands store around 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon, and we get 70% of our drinking water from peatland river catchments, so it’s easy to see why they are important. Yet 80% of the country’s peatlands are currently in poor condition.

The CCC recommends restoring at least 50% of upland and 25% of lowland peatlands.

As an individual, some of the actions you can take are to only buy peat free compost for your garden and ensure the plants you buy are in peat free soil. If you live in an area of abundant peatland such like those in Scotland or Yorkshire, there are ways you can volunteer to join restoration teams.

To join the dots between climate, nature and land degradation, government must support all farms to transition to agroecological farming methods

- Jo Lewis, Policy Director, The Soil Association

Encouraging low carbon farming

The report points to the benefits of low carbon farming practices such as controlled release fertilisers. Our partners at The Soil Association are the experts in this area. Policy Director Jo Lewis said of the report that “To join the dots between climate, nature and land degradation, government must support all farms to transition to agroecological farming methods, pioneered by organic farmers, which work with nature and minimise chemical reliance.”

The report also points to clean energy generation as routes for farmers to decarbonise. Solar power can function in harmony with other land uses, whilst use of waste in anaerobic digestion is a route for capturing harmful methane emissions — both of which many Good Energy generators are doing today.

Bioenergy crops

Another fuel source for anaerobic digestion are energy crops, most commonly maize. A sometimes controversial topic, as significant land use for this purpose can lead to ‘monocrops’ which have a negative impact on biodiversity, the CCC recommends expanding land use for them by 23,000 hectares per year. The reasons cited are that the crops can be grown more quickly than trees, helping us reduce emissions in the timespan we need to.

It also recommendations placing restrictions of imports of fuels for biomass from other countries — a crucial step to take if this form of power generation is going to be operated sustainably.

Good Energy priotises buying power from anaerobic digestion generators which use waste, but where energy crops are used we ensure they are used sustainably. Anaerobic digestion is a complimentary technology to use alongside variable renewables like wind and solar, as it provides a clean source of power which can be relied upon even when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. It can also be dialed up and down as required — unlike nuclear. It is good to see the CCC do the research on how this technology fits into a low carbon future. 

action from government is needed quickly if we are to reap the rewards

- Lord Deben, Chairman, The Committee on Climate Change

Food waste and meat reduction

This is the area that is most focused on individual action, and which is receiving most of the headlines today.  

The CCC’s original net zero 2050 report did point to a reduction in meat consumption across the UK — notable for not advocating an absolute conversion to vegan or vegetarianism. This report puts a figure on that reduction — 20%.

It also advocates for addressing the 13.6 million tonnes of food that is wasted in the UK. Its recommendations include short term target setting and using ‘nudge theory’ to encourage consumers. Food waste collection also plays a part, and it is worth noting that food waste can also be an effective fuel source for anaerobic digestion — further evidence that we must have a ‘whole systems’ approach to decarbonizing.

The full CCC report is available to read here. Let us know on Facebook or Twitter what you thought of it.

You might also like

Ready to switch?