According to a report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), tree planting in the UK must double by 2020. The report calls for radical changes to the use of land in this country. For example, turning farmland into forests and restoring peatland. It also suggests that zero food waste should be sent to landfill by 2025 and should be used to generate energy instead.
The report also claims that the UK population is expected to increase by 14% by 2050 which will bring the total number of UK residents to 75 million. As a result, land currently used to produce food would need to be used for new homes and land used for towns and cities could increase from 8% to 12%.
What Exactly Does the Report Suggest?
Creating new forests would serve two main purposes: forests help to lock up carbon and can also be a defence against the more frequent floods which may be experienced as a direct consequence of global warming.
Protecting and restoring peatland across the country would also help to store carbon. In the same way as trees in forests, peatland acts as an effective storer of carbon.
The CCC report suggests that tree planting should increase from 9,000 hectares (22,239 acres) per year to 20,000ha by 2020. It should then be trebled to 27,000ha by 2030. This ambitious plan would boost forest cover of the UK from 13% currently to 19% by 2050.
CCC Chief Executive Chris Stark commented that: “while there are government plans to increase planting rates, these plans have not been funded and to date the targets have been missed.”
What Will be the Impact for Farmers?
Largely through our membership of the European Union, farmers have been rewarded with subsidies for food production. In some instances, this has led to an overproduction of food and a huge amount of waste. The CCC claims that Brexit offers an opportunity to reward landowners for helping to fight climate change instead.
Intensive farming and global warming have caused damage to both soil and wildlife and, according to Mr Stark, “the land is suffering as a result.” Mr Stark continues: “we are not saying farmers need to go out of business, we are saying we need a different approach which is equally profitable if government policy supports it.”
New opportunities for farmers may arise through improved efficiency of land use. The report claims that the best farms already produce twice the quantity of food as the worst.
Another opportunity may be found in the recent cultural shift towards healthier eating, along with a rise in the number of vegetarians and vegans (for example in ‘Veganuary’). These factors could lead to reduced meat and dairy consumption, which produce the most greenhouse gases, and an increase in the demand for grains, fruits and vegetables.
Farmers may also find that their land could be used to generate energy. Wind farms, solar farms and energy crops – producing wood for biomass which currently produces 6% of the nation’s electricity and is expected to grow.