Reducing emissions is no longer enough to mitigate damaging climate change.
That is the simple message from Lord Deben, chairman of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) – official independent adviser to the UK Government and devolved administrations on the very biggest of modern-day challenges.
Speaking at a meeting of Confor’s All-Party Forestry Group at Westminster, Lord Deben laid down the plain facts; we have already seized the low-hanging fruit on emissions reduction and it is now also about removing carbon from the atmosphere.
Lord Deben was addressing MPs from across the political spectrum and across the countries of the UK about how governments can deliver increased tree planting and greater use of home-grown wood, particularly in construction.
Successive reports by the CCC have highlighted the growing significance of forestry and wood in meeting climate change targets, describing tree planting and timber use as a “simple, low-cost option” to make a real impact.
The good news is that in Scotland, we are doing well. We are planting more trees than we have for a generation – expected to be around 10,000 hectares (or 25,000 acres) this year. We are also using more timber; around three-quarters of new homes in Scotland are built with timber frame, locking up carbon for decades.
In England and Wales, the picture is not so bright, with barely 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of forestry being planted annually and only 20 per cent of new-build homes using timber frame.
However, Lord Deben had a blunt message for the forestry and timber industry if it wants to see the UK Government pull policy levers to tackle this failure on planting and use of wood in construction: “Be very clear what you want – and speak with one voice.”
This was vital, he said, because governments are not good at complex policy-making in specific business sectors.
They need straightforward, well-explained ideas that carry the support of a whole industry; they do not want different sub-sectors speaking with multiple voices. That is a recipe for confusion and blockage when we need clarity and progress.
Lord Deben also highlighted the need to work with other sectors, including farmers.
Once the United Kingdom leaves the Common Agricultural Policy and current guarantees on funding come to an end, there will be real pressure on farm budgets, especially at the margins. Planting trees can be a real opportunity for diversification in land use.
This cross-sectoral approach is also at the heart of Scotland’s new forestry strategy, published last month by Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy.
The strategy begins by explaining how trees are good for the environment, for people and for the economy – for wildlife, health and well-being, and for employment.
As with previous strategies, there is a strong sense that the forestry industry has to justify itself by being good for a wide range of other sectors – an interesting concept that most other industries don’t feel the need to follow.
I have followed this forestry sector approach by enthusing above about how trees and timber deliver in the fight against climate change.
I hope that, in the future, those who are still instinctively critical about Scottish forestry will finally take the time to learn more about it so we can then keep up the good work with less need for frequent explanation.
At the end of the day, I would challenge any other industry to set out how it does more to deliver truly sustainable benefits for the whole of Scotland than forestry.
Stuart Goodall is chief executive of Confor: promoting forestry and wood