'Commit to plant' to tackle climate change

15 November 2018

Confor has called on the UK Government for a "clear and genuine commitment" to meet tree planting targets - to show it is serious about tackling climate change.

Chief Executive Stuart Goodall spoke out after the latest in a series of reports identified forestry as a vital factor to make inroads into climate change targets.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said tree planting must double by 2020 as part of radical changes to land use in the UK. Its report - Land Use: reducing emissions and preparing for climate change - said land currently used to produce food would need to be converted to woodland, growing crops to produce energy and for new homes to accommodate the growing population. Up to 17 per  of cropland and 30 per cent of grassland could be converted, the report says.

It says the government should increase tree planting from the current 9,000 hectares (ha) per year to 20,000ha by 2020, then triple it to 27,000ha by 2030. This would bolster forest cover from 13% of the UK to 19% by 2050. “There are government plans to increase planting rates, but the plans have not been funded and to date the targets have been missed,” said Chris Stark, CCC Chief Executive.

Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor, said: "This independent, expert report reaffirms, yet again, that we need to get serious about planting more trees if we are to meet our commitments to mitigate climate change.

"It’s fantastic to see broad support for the tree planting conclusions from farmers to environmentalists, though the latter recognise that the UK Government is doing far too little and needs to massively up its game. 

"Climate Change is regularly held up as the greatest existential threat to our planet and our way of life and I would encourage the CCC to be even bolder in its reports and recommendations until the UK Government recognises its responsibilities and takes them seriously."  

Mr Goodall called on the UK Government to make a robust commitment to clear annual targets - both for planting trees and for producing home-grown timber. He said current aspirations [to plant 7,000 hectares per year by 2042 to meet the 25-Year Environment Plan target] were "just words on a page, with no chance of happening". 

He added: "The forestry industry understands the barriers to planting and will work with the government to remove them and drive up planting and home-grown timber use. This will only happen by realising that if climate change is a priority for government, then far greater importance and urgency must be given to tree planting." 

Chris Stark said: "The incremental changes seen in the past to how we use land is not enough. There is a window now to have a more radical policy.”  

Guy Shrubsole of Friends of the Earth, said: “This report is a wake-up call for a complacent government that we must completely transform the way we use land to avoid climate breakdown and make space for nature.”

Tree planting should go far beyond the CCC recommendation to double the UK’s forest cover to 26%, he added.