Forestry and wood at heart of climate change solutions

23 January 2020

Forestry and timber have a central part to play in tackling climate change and improving our future environment, the latest report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said today.

Land Use: Policies for a Net Zero UK sets out policy options for the UK Government to achieve the required "transformation in land use across the UK" if it is to meet its target of being net zero by 2050.

In 2017, land use – including agriculture, forestry and peatland – accounted for 12% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, with the right support, the CCC says, farmers and land-managers can reduce these emissions by almost two thirds. 

The report presents a detailed range of options to drive emissions reductions with five policy objectives - starting with increased tree planting.

It  says the UK has to increase UK forestry cover from 13% to at least 17% by 2050 by planting at least 30,000 hectares (60 million trees) of broadleaf and conifer woodland each year.

Stuart Goodall, Confor's CEO, who attended the launch of the report, said: "A key question is 'Can this be delivered?' At Confor, we live and breathe how to deliver higher tree planting. We believe we can do it, but we need strong political leadership and agencies in England to challenge and change the status quo. This includes the Forestry Commission."

Mr Goodall said it was also vital to tackle fundamental misperceptions about modern, sustainable tree planting and conifers.

He added: "The assumption by many people and organisations is that they deliver limited biodiversity or landscape benefit, and so there is often resistance to planting them. The evidence doesn’t support that view and we need modern, mixed-species, sustainable planting to the current high and agreed standards to tackle the climate crisis and support biodiversity. We need policy and delivery to be based on the facts, not outdated perceptions. Our industry is committed to helping tackle climate change in a sustainable and collaborative way."

Reacting to the suggestion that high-emitting industries like airlines could raise funding for tree planting, Mr Goodall cautioned: "A solely market-driven carbon trading scheme probably won’t deliver the modern productive woodland that we need. My fear is that we could see PR planting and 'charismatic carbon' - planting that is seen to deliver good headlines for businesses, but less of the carbon sequestration and sustainable benefits that modern forestry intrinsically provides.

"This means, that if such an approach was taken, we may need an element of government oversight or we won’t actually deliver the balance of tree planting that the CCC identifies."

He added: "The report doesn’t say enough about how we encourage greater use of home grown wood. When we are importing 80 per cent of the wood we use, we need to plant hundreds of millions more trees here and stop offshoring our forest footprint to countries that might have lower sustainability standards. If we act, we can also support local economic growth and employment and offer real opportunities for farm diversification."

The other four policy objectives highlighted in the report are:

  • Encourage low-carbon farming practices – such as ‘controlled-release’ fertilisers, improving livestock health and slurry acidification.
  • Restore peatlands – restoring at least 50% of upland peat and 25% of lowland peat.
  • Encourage bioenergy crops – expanding UK energy crops to around 23,000 hectares each year.
  • Reduce food waste and consumption of the most carbon-intensive foods – reduce the 13.6 million tonnes of food waste produced annually by 20% and the consumption of beef, lamb and dairy by at least 20% per person, well within current healthy eating guidelines.