Raise UK woodland cover from 13% to 17% by 2050, says high-level report

The Government's climate change committee proposes converting 20% of UK agricultural land to tree planting, energy crops and peatland restoration among measures to address climate change in its latest report.

Image: Derek Harper (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Image: Derek Harper (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Committee on Climate Change report Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming, produced under the chairmanship of Lord Deben, the former environment minister John Gummer and commissioned by the Government, calls for afforestation rates of "around 30,000 hectares per year", combined with an increase in active woodland management.

It points out that existing afforestation targets for 20,000 hectares a year across the UK, due to increase to 27,000 by 2025, "are not being delivered, with less than 10,000 hectares planted on average over the last five years".

To meet "the upper end" of sustainable energy goals "requires increasing tree planting rates and planting over 1 million hectares of land with energy crops (around 7% of the UK's current agricultural land)", it adds.

And a "further ambition" of reducing beef, lamb and dairy consumption would "release land which can be used to increase afforestation rates", it says - meaning it "may therefore be possible to achieve higher rates of afforestation".

The main thrust of the report is that the UK "should set and vigorously pursue an ambitious target" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, though it says Scotland should set a net-zero GHG target for 2045 and Wales should target a 95% reduction by 2050 relative to a 1990 baseline.

It says the goal "is achievable with known technologies, alongside improvements in people's lives, and within the expected economic cost that Parliament accepted when it legislated the existing 2050 target for an 80% reduction" - but only if "clear, stable and well-designed policies to reduce emissions further are introduced across the economy without delay".

Earlier this week, Defra secretary Michael Gove told the BBC that on climate change targets, "I am open to a higher level of ambition for this government than we have seen in the past. We have got to take action and what I would like this government to be judged not what it proclaims but what it achieves, and there is much more that we need to do."

Defra has already committed to increasing tree planting under its 25-year environment plan.


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