Make big polluters pay for mass tree planting, officials say
Oil companies and airlines could fund 100m trees a year, says Committee on Climate Change
The planting of 100m trees a year in the UK to tackle the climate emergency could be paid for by new carbon levies on oil companies and airlines, the government’s official climate adviser has proposed.
The Committee on Climate Change also recommends banning the burning of grouse moors and the sale of peat compost to protect the nation’s bogs, which can store huge amounts of carbon. Voluntary measures have failed, it said.
The CCC’s new report concludes that fundamental changes in land use are needed to cut emissions from farming and get the nation on track to meet its legally binding target of net zero by 2050. It proposes cutting red meat eating by 20%, with the move to more plant-based diets freeing up a fifth of all farmland for new woodland.
The CCC’s plan for slashing emissions from agriculture also requires better management of manure, cutting methane from cattle with better feeds and growing crops that can be burned to produce electricity instead of natural gas.
The plan would cost £1.4bn a year but provide benefits of at least £4bn by cutting global heating and air pollution and improving flood protection and green spaces for people to enjoy. “That, in our assessment, seems like a price very much worth paying,” said Chris Stark, chief executive of the CCC.
Lord Deben, chair of the CCC, said: “This is one of the most important reports that we have ever produced because a change in land use is absolutely essential if we’re going to meet [the legal] requirements of reducing to net zero by 2050. It requires immediate government action. We are in a race against time.”
The UK is preparing to leave the European Union and the bloc’s subsidy scheme, which provides £3.3bn a year to farmers based mainly on the area of land owned. The government has pledged that the replacement scheme will pay farmers public money for public goods, such as tree planting.
Other groups have called for radical overhauls of farmland, which occupies 70% of the UK. Rewilding Britain suggests that a quarter of the UK’s land could be restored to nature, while an RSA commission said the true costs of cheap food were the climate crisis and a health crisis. A former chief scientific adviser to the UK government said in December that half of the nation’s farmland needed to be transformed into woodlands and natural habitat.
The most eye-catching part of the CCC’s plan, according to Stark, is the proposal that new levies on fossil fuel suppliers, airlines and other carbon-emitting industries pay for the tree-planting programme. Farmers and landowners would be paid either via annual auctions of contracts to create woodland or from a carbon trading scheme, the CCC said.
The cost would be about £700m a year, Stark said. “You could imagine a world where that was all paid for from a fossil fuel levy, but that is a decision for the Treasury.” Such a system would mean the polluter pays, said Deben, but the aviation industry would still need to keep emissions at 2005 levels.
The National Farmers Union revealed a plan for agriculture to end its net emissions by 2040 in September, a decade earlier than the CCC plan. It requires no cut in meat eating or livestock numbers and no conversion of substantial areas of farmland into forest. It relies heavily on bioenergy crops removing CO2 from the atmosphere, which is then captured and buried after being burned.
Deben praised the NFU plan as a remarkable change. “NFU president, Minette Batters, has done a very significant job. But the truth is she hasn’t been able to include anything about diet and reduction in the number of animals”, both of which the CCC deem essential.
Stark said cutting the UK’s “scandalous” level of food waste by 20% was vital. Better food labelling and separate food waste collections would help, as well as linking charges for household recycling to the quantity of food waste, the CCC said.
The 20% cut in red meat and dairy consumption proposed by the CCC is much lower than other recent analyses which have indicated 80-90% reductions are needed. “It is some way short of the 80% or so reduction that’s recommended by the public health guidelines for red meat,” said Stark. The CCC focused only on the emissions cuts needed to bring UK greenhouse gas emissions to zero, he said, and not health or other pollution that livestock cause.
Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth
“There is no doubt we need a major transformation in farming and land use to tackle both climate and nature emergencies,” said Vicki Hird of the Sustain alliance, who welcomed much of the report. But she said the ambition on cutting meat consumption was low and warned that technology that could capture CO2 from bioenergy crops was untested in the UK.
Sandra Bell, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “The way land is used and abused has been a big contributor to climate breakdown and loss of wildlife, and this is why it needs to change.” However she said the CCC’s woodland creation target needed to be twice as high.
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