Climate change: The UK is failing to cut carbon emissions quickly enough. Will it heed its latest warning? – Andrew Midgley

This week the Climate Change Committee (CCC) sent a warning shot across the UK Government’s bows about the lack of progress in tackling climate change.

This annual update by the government’s own independent advisers highlighted that, despite excellent leadership at COP26 in Glasgow last year, UK progress in reducing emissions is behind the curve – particularly in farming and land use.

The committee suggested that, across the UK, there need to be major increases in woodland cover and peatland restoration, and large reductions in emissions from farming. It added that the right policies were not yet fully in place to deliver the desired emissions reductions.

While this is a UK report, it includes recommendations for devolved governments too. The Scottish Government has an important role to play, not least because approximately 80 per cent of tree planting in the UK is taking place here and peatland covers about 20 per cent of Scotland’s land area.

The Scottish Government does have plans to increase tree planting, restore peatlands and reduce emissions from farming, but they do not go far enough.

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We lack a properly strategic approach to tree planting, our ambition on peatland restoration needs to be higher, and policies for reducing emissions in farming are inadequate.

There are, however, critical moments in the near future when the Scottish Government can put us on the right path. The government spends about £600 million a year supporting farmers and it is in the process of re-designing farming policy.

The Scottish Government has plans to increase tree planting, restore peatlands and reduce emissions from farming, but they do not go far enough (Picture: Andy Robinson/RSPB)

Current proposals for reducing emissions from farming will not even meet the government’s own reduction targets and so this new policy must have action for climate and nature at its core. Public money must support farmers in taking steps to reduce emissions, store carbon and enhance nature.

Similarly, the government should develop a more strategic approach to tree planting. Scotland is already planting more trees, but future planting needs to work for nature and communities as well as the climate.

Native woodlands have an important role. While we need to maintain our established forestry industry, we need a greater emphasis on native woodland for the benefit of both nature and climate.

But credit where it is due. The Scottish Government’s recognition that we face a nature and climate emergency, and that these issues must be addressed together, is welcome.

It is vital that we identify pathways that reduce emissions whilst enhancing nature and avoiding negative impacts, and the CCC, Scottish Government and NatureScot all have a role to play in identifying these win-wins.

The latest report from the CCC is critically important. It urges the UK and devolved governments to work together to get us to net zero.

Scotland cannot do all the heavy lifting on land use. England, Wales and Northern Ireland must do their fair share too, and the Westminster government, currently lacking any strategy for land use decarbonisation, urgently needs to develop one.

It also emphasises that to meet our targets, radical action is needed now. Not in five years’ time. Not after a feasibility study. Now.

Andrew Midgley is senior land use policy officer at RSPB Scotland

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