Confor briefing on UK's 6th Carbon Budget

17 December 2020

Confor has produced a briefing for members following the recommendations of the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget. [read it here]

The UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) budget includes detailed advice on carbon reduction to 2035, and recommends increasing ambition during the 2020s. The UK Government will consider the advice and set its own carbon budget in the spring. 

Almost every part of the carbon budget has implications for the forestry and wood-using industry – from seed to sawmill and beyond. 

The CCC recommends that tree planting targets should continue to be increased, from the 30,000 hectares (by 2025) already adopted in government policy, to 50,000 hectares by 2035. In the more ambitious scenarios, these are increased to 70,000 hectares. 

The CCC engages with types of trees planted for the first time. They explored a scenario which majors on ‘broadleaf trees’ as favoured by the Government, but note that these sequester carbon more slowly than fast-growing conifers. Their calculations rely on most woodland being relatively fast-growing species like sycamore and birch, in active management and producing wood for the bioeconomy. 

In addition to the main tree planting targets, they have additional targets of 30,000 hectares for ‘perennial energy crops, short rotation forest and short rotation coppice’. This will supply the important bioenergy component of the renewable power system, which, coupled with the likely success in developing ‘bioenergy with carbon capture’ solutions, will deliver greenhouse gas removal. 

The industry will, along with all industrial sectors, be challenged to decarbonise its own operations, including nursery production, harvesting and haulage, and wood processing. The CCC recommends that the government invesst in this decarbonisation to prevent industry going overseas.  

Confor will work hard to ensure the forestry industry is not neglected in this investment, and that ‘easy wins’ of forestry are not disincentivised by funding being targeted at more challenging sectors like steel and concrete. 

Thanks to hard work by Confor and others, and its stakeholder engagement process, the CCC recommendations demonstrate clearly how integral forestry and wood is to a net-zero UK. The budget does  contain some omissions, in particular the large management cost involved in a broadleaf-focused timber policy, including grey squirrel control. It also fails to explore the possibilities of using chipwood for purposes other than biomass, in particular in panelboard for construction, wood-fibre insulation for the housing retrofit programme, or the development of biotechnologies to replace petrochemical-based products.  

Confor will continue to work with the CCC to provide evidence of the deep carbon reduction benefits that forestry and timber can provide in these areas.