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  • Should Big Polluters Pay for Tree Planting?

Should Big Polluters Pay for Tree Planting?

Feb 10 2020 Read 648 Times

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which acts as the official government advisor on matters relating to climate and the environment, has recommended that big polluters should be penalised for emissions by paying for reforestation. By imposing new carbon levies on airlines and oil companies, the government could access much-needed funds to plant in excess of 100 million new trees each year.

The suggestion is just one facet of a wide-ranging report from the CCC, which recommends that the UK must drastically alter its land use and farming habits in order to stand any chance of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050, as the government has promised. Other measures include outlawing combustion of grouse moors and the sale of peat compost in order to safeguard bogs up and down the country, which can act as huge natural carbon sinks.

Bringing GHG emissions to heel

Concentrating upon analysis of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions trends in the EU, the CCC has proposed a series of measures aimed at bringing those emissions under control and making the UK carbon neutral within 30 years. The headline proposal is the planting of 100 million new trees each year, which could be funded by taxing the biggest polluting companies for the contamination they produce.

However, land would also need to be found in order for the trees to be planted in the first place. At present, 70% of British territory is given over to farmland, and the report recommends that a 20% reduction in the eating of meat and dairy could free up a fifth of this area for forestation. What’s more, existing farming methods should be revamped according to the CCC, with manure management remodelled, cattle fed higher-quality grain to reduce methane emissions and biofuel used in place of fossil fuels.

A price worth paying

It’s estimated that the reforestation scheme alone – which would also help to improve air quality and bolster natural flood management methods – will cost around £700 million per year. Cumulatively, the whole project is estimated at £1.4 billion, but the CCC says that money would be recouped threefold in terms of the factors mentioned above. It would also provide green spaces and natural environments for the public to enjoy.

“This is one of the most important reports that we have ever produced because a change in land use is absolutely essential if we’re going to meet [the legal] requirements of reducing to net zero by 2050,” explained Lord Deben, current chairperson of the CC. “It requires immediate government action. We are in a race against time.”

Not far enough?

While the report has been received warmly by most quarters, certain commentators believe it does not go far enough. The figure of a 20% reduction in red meat consumption, for example, is far short of the 85% to 90% drop-off recommended by a recent study from the University of Oxford. Friends of the Earth were similarly critical of the 100 million forestation target, claiming it needed to be twice as high to have a tangible effect.

Elsewhere, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has set itself the even more ambitious target of becoming carbon neutral by 2040 – a full ten years ahead of the deadline proposed by the government. However, the NFU do not envisage any reduction in meat consumption or change in land use, but rather are placing all their faith in the ability of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to remove emissions of GHGs from bioenergy crops.

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