Britain needs to make ‘radical changes’ to achieve net-zero greenhouse gases target by 2050

The government must set a target of net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050 to help combat the impact of climate change, a new report has warned.

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The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report has recommended that the government set a target of net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050.

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According to the report Net Zero, achieving this, will involve a radical re-think in farming practices and changes to how the British population live, including eating less meat. It will also bring significant changes for the countryside, from agricultural practices to conservation.

The call has been welcomed by wildlife groups, which believe that taking measures to mitigate climate change go hand in hand with reviving the UK’s biodiversity. The CCC says that increasing 32,000 hectares of woodland is required every year for the next 30 years, moving the UK from 13% to 17% woodland cover. This equates to a million new hectares of woodland cover and some 1.5 billion trees.

“There is a potential win-win here,’ said Beccy Speight, CEO of the Woodland Trust.  “It is essential to address the climate and natural environment crises together – recognising them as being interconnected and not two separate challenges. Woods, trees and their associated wildlife and the landscapes in which they sit are being impacted by climate change.”

RSPB Scotland sees many mutual benefits from implementing the target in a meaningful way. “We also can’t afford to miss out on the great opportunities that action to meet these targets provides – warmer homes, cleaner air, healthier lifestyles, good food and a countryside full of wildlife,’ said Director Annie McCall.

“Nature-based solutions, such as tree planting and restoration of damaged peatland habitats, are key, she said. ‘If we do this in a big way nature will take over and suck huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, locking it away permanently in soil and vegetation and provide much needed habitats for wildlife.”

The NFU says that improvements in productivity, carbon capture and renewable energy production are the most effective ways to reach agricultural net zero targets. The union has set its own ambition of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2040. According to Farm Carbon Tool Kit, a body helping farmers to reduce emissions, agriculture accounts for 9% of UK greenhouse gas emissions. The CCC report says that to meet net zero targets, our consumption of beef, lamb and dairy must be cut by around 20%, and around 20% of agricultural land need to be used to plant trees.

The NFU believes the way for the sector to reduce emissions is to be more efficient, turn increasingly to renewable energy and, primarily in upland areas, increasing carbon capture.  However, NFU Deputy President Guy Smith cautioned: ‘We will not halt climate change by curbing British production and exporting it to countries which may not have the same environmental conscience, or ambition to reduce their climate impact.’

The CLA, the membership body for owners of land and business in rural England and Wales, also warns of potential impacts on local communities unless change is handled judiciously. “We will need to ensure that changes in agricultural practices do not come to the detriment of rural communities and the rural economy, and that the transition is gradual, with on-going support for land managers,’ said CLA Deputy President Mark Bridgman.

“Farmers will need to adapt to changing consumer habits, with current trends suggesting this will lead to less red meat and dairy being consumed, but there are also significant opportunities. The planting of billions of trees across the country, growing of crops for energy and natural habitat restoration will all play a vital role. The successful introduction of environmental land management schemes, which ensures farmers and landowners are adequately rewarded for sustainable practices alongside environmental delivery, is key to making this a reality.”

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The UK has been criticised for ‘offshoring’ much of its carbon emissions to developing countries by using polluting industries overseas and Bridgman says this pitfall must be avoided when it comes to farming and rural businesses. “We will need to work constructively on the international stage to ensure we do not end up simply exporting our carbon footprint to countries with weaker targets in place through inappropriate trade policies. It is vital that this action is as global as the crisis we collectively face.”