Cradle of Industrial Revolution Lagging Behind in Restoration of Woodlands and Re-wilding
The Government’s ‘Clean Growth Strategy’ will not honour the Paris Accords, MPs are warned.
The UK’s existing environmental goals are “not enough” and the Government is failing even to deliver on these, MPs were warned today by the country’s leading climate advisors.
Although Parliament accepted last week that the current scale of global warming, 1˚C, indicates a ‘climate emergency’, these words have not yet translated into urgent action, the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee heard.
One key indicator of this was stated to be the Government’s failure to plant enough young trees.
We [British people] have benefitted from the creation of the problem for hundreds of years… We have made the second largest contribution to historic emissions.Baroness Brown, deputy chair, Committee on Climate Change
The deputy chair of the climate change watchdog, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), Baroness Brown of Cambridge, told the committee: “We have targets for afforestation and we are just about meeting half of them… There is no point the Government saying, ‘we accept the targets’. You have to put in place the leadership and action required to make a difference.”
Plants naturally absorb carbon dioxide, so experts believe that tree-planting is one of the easiest and least disruptive ways to take immediate action on climate change.
The CCC advises increasing tree cover in the UK from the current 13% to 19%. Environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth believe this goal should be much more ambitious and that forest cover should be doubled across the UK in a mass-planting spree.
UK Shows Signs of Abandoning ‘Creative Carbon Accounting’
Baroness Brown also said today that the UK needs to accept it is “second in the world” as a polluter, in terms of its historic carbon debt.
Through technological and scientific innovation, the UK brought about the first Industrial Revolution between 1760 and 1840.
“We [British people] have benefitted from the creation of the problem for hundreds of years… We have made the second largest contribution to historic emissions,” she said.
Brown’s own team of climate advisors have gone some way in addressing what Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg called ‘creative carbon accounting’ in recent targets adopted by the UK. In a speech to Parliament last month, Thunberg criticised the UK for – as she sees it – dodging responsibility for emissions from shipping or aviation. For the first time this year, aviation and shipping emissions are included in the CCC’s report to the Government.
There is no point the Government saying, ‘we accept the targets’. You have to put in place the leadership and action required to make a difference.Baroness Brown, deputy chair, Committee on Climate Change
Chris Stark, the CCC’s chief executive, explained that, in the past, the UK has regarded aviation and shipping as ‘global’ industries unregulated by domestic policy. Now, “there is an international dimension to this… We need the aviation sector to care more, about CCS [Carbon Capture and Storage] and CO2 removals or offsetting,” he said.
Mr Stark set out what the Government can start doing today to begin down the path towards ‘net zero’ carbon emissions:
- The Government needs a strategy to decarbonise buildings. One way could be to install hydrogen-powered ‘heat pumps’ instead of gas-powered boilers.
- The construction of on-shore and off-shore wind turbines needs to be accelerated, to produce emission-free electricity and to power electric vehicles.
- The Government needs to commit to phasing out fossil fuel cars in favour of hydrogen or electric vehicles, ideally by 2030. The UK should try to catch up with countries such as Norway, which are already “40% electric”.
- Tree-planting needs to be a part of ‘re-wilding’ larger parts of the UK landscape to naturally absorb CO2. Reducing grassland by 26-36%, increasing forest cover from 13% to 19% and restoring 55-70% of peat-lands will make a difference.
- Where fossil fuels cannot be abandoned, the CCC advises investing in emerging technologies to capture carbon from industry.