Back to: What we buy, and land use, food and farming agenda
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Tim Hughes: So our final three speakers of the day are all informants. So they'll be giving a range of different perspectives and evidence on the issues that they'll be talking about. And the first of those is Dr. Joe House from the University of Bristol. So over to you Jo.
Dr. Jo House: Hi, everyone. Thanks for giving up your weekends to be here and doing this and thanks the organizers for having me here. So I'm going to talk to you about how we use land, but not to do with food, is going to touch on some of the things previous speakers have said, but I'm going to go into a bit more detail. I'm going to really focus on forests and peatlands and bioenergy, biomaterials in my talk, as grasses and soils have already been covered to some extent. It's that's kind of what (indecipherable) was talking about. Yeah, when Tony's talked about natural climate solutions, and that's a lot what we're going to talk about today. So my key messages for you is that the land is already storing on and taken up carbon. There's those the carbon in our soils, more in our soils actually than in the vegetation. About half that is in peatlands and they provide all these different services for them. But without protection that soil carbon, that carbon in the plants can be lost very, very quickly and sometimes irreplaceably. There's many things we can do to manage the land, which I'm going to talk to you about, and you've heard some other options already, and there's lots of different policies that can deliver that.#
But we are a small island, and we only have a limited amount of land. And so there's only so much the land can do. So you still need efforts in energy and other sectors. And ''m gonna pick up on what Indra was showing earlier. She showed this graph with all the lines that are showing the emissions from all different sectors in the UK, from energy and power and agriculture, she highlighted in the green line. The line I want to highlight is this black line that's down the bottom that you could maybe just see that's actually going below. It's going into the negative numbers and that means that that's taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and that's mostly in forests and other kind of land-use change that's going on in the country.#
And then if we look at the other slide into showed up here, you can see again the forestry. It's got - its showing negative emissions. That's the balance between growing trees and cutting trees down, means tress in the UK are taking carbon dioxide out the atmosphere and balance the net. Similarly with grassland at the moment while peatlands at the moment are emitting carbon to the atmosphere. And so croplands there, we've had conversion of grasslands to croplands and forests to croplands. So that's a bit what I'm going to pick up on. And to go back to the point of land being limited and Indra showed you the same numbers, the same percentages, and the doughnut. She showed of what we are using our land for at the moment in the UK, and she focused on what was in agriculture. I'm gonna focus on what's in forestry, which is about 13% of our land area currently. But also peatlands, which aren't shown as a separate category because those are the very, very carbon-rich soils that are underneath many of our forests and grasslands and even agricultural land. So the thing to remember about land in UK is we've got a growing population. That land is already being impacted by climate change, both positively and negatively. So we've got longer growing seasons already, which means that plants can grow for longer. We've got the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, actually has a fertilising effect on plants and so can actually increase yields. But then we've also got floods and heat extremes, which are having negative impacts and the further we go into the future with more climate change depending how much we managed to do globally to limit climate change. There will be limits.#
No, no, it's not geographically representative at all, that's just to show you the percentage is just an indication of the percentage of land under each of those uses to show across the UK, but not geographic at all.#
So in future, we expect the impacts on the land to be more negative than they are positive. The more there is climate change in the future. And as touching on what Indra and Ceris, and Sue all said, you could do a lot on the land in farming that will free up plants so that you can free up some of this agricultural land to put more into forestry and other natural lands.#
So I started talking about peatlands. This is actually a picture near where my dad lives up in Scotland, in the highlands of peatlands near him. This beautiful landscape that means a lot to a lot of people who live there, and it's a massive carbon store. It takes up that carbon very, very slowly when the soil's wet and it decomposes slowly. But it could lose that carbon very, very quickly if it's drained for agriculture, if it's burnt or so because peat's being extracted to use as a garden fertiliser or for fuels. And the trouble is that you use a lot of the benefits that that peatland provides, so that rich, organic carbon soil it holds onto water so it helps with flooding, helps in drought, it also improves water quality as the water goes through that soil. It's got its own biodiversity, and it's a lot of people enjoy walking in those landscapes.#
So some things we can do. The Committee on Climate Change in their scenarios to look at delivering net-zero in the UK, looked at reducing, restoring upland peats, restoring half of all upland peats and about 1/4 of lowland peats. And that still leaves some peat for agriculture. So, for example, the production of salads on lowland peats lose about 1 to 2 centimetres a soil a year. But this still allows for some agricultural productions. It talks about banning rotational burning and peats extraction for sale, and it talks about restoring peatlands. And there's already grants for peatland restoration. But more could be done. A lot of the peatlands are run by water companies and they could be mandated to restore them. Lots of people own peatlands that are scientific, special scientific interest that could be supported through different financial incentives, like carbon trading, and through public funding.#
Forests can remove carbon a lot quicker than peatlands and store it in trees and in their soils, but they can also lose it very quickly. This picture at the top is actually not a UK forest. It's in Borneo, where I did my fieldwork when I first di my undergraduate's degree. And what I like about this you see the connection with the water cycle, you can see that they missed rising off the forest. That's cooling the forest and it's also recycling the rainfall. So trees can be quite important for preventing floods. And there's UK programmes now to plant trees to deal with flooding that we've been seeing across the UK. They can call and shade, and that's been important in France, where they had the heat waves in 2013 and many people died. They've been planting trees in the cities. And this time, the heatwave was not as bad. There were more trees in the cities. People could go and get shade. As well as the biodiversity holding onto some of those soils and the nutrients and the pleasure people get walking in forests.#
So a really key thing here, like the peatlands, is protecting what we've already got before it's gone. Because once it's gone, it's really hard to get all of that back. And manage it well and manage it better than maybe we have been, then you can also increase forest cover and in the CCC, the Committee on Climate Change scenarios, they talk about increasing cover from 13% to 17%. That's about 30,000 hectares each of broadly forests and of coniferous forests. And to get a scale of that. We're, at the moment, we're planting about 3,000 to a million hectares a year. So we need to ramp up what we're doing. And that also means that we need to ramp up having nurseries. So where we gonna plant all these trees everyone was talking about? We need the nurseries to produce the tree seedlings to get out there and plant themselves. And we need to be doing that quickly because trees take a long time to grow. They take 30 to 70 years to grow. To the rotational cutting of them. So this is something we need to get on with now. And we can get on with now, and this will start taking carbon dioxide out the atmosphere straightaway.#
So this could be supported by financial mechanisms. Again, like carbon trading, having a price for carbon paying for it to be done. Through public funding, particularly where that planting is supporting the non-carbon goods and services these other services that we get out of tress and through different kinds of environmental regulation. Particularly things like sustainability criteria, which I'm gonna come back to you in a minute. So Ceris talked about some of that and Sue both talked about some of the things that we can use the vegetation we're growing the land for. We can use timber to substitute for other high carbon-emitting materials. So cement emits a lot of carbon. It uses a lot of energy and emits a lot of carbon dioxide, so we could use timber to substitute for that. She also talked about miscanthus grass that we can use for timber and its also a good (indecipherable) crop. And this here is the process of your bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. So you're growing your biomass, is taking this carbon dioxide out the atmosphere. You're burning it for energy. You're capturing the carbon, which and then you're storing it underground. And I think you're gonna have more talks in Week 4 about carbon capture and storage technology. But that's the process.#
And there's many different things people use for biofuels. But actually, there's an awful lot of residues we get. So when we get timber and you get the chippings from the timber, you can use those to burn for energy. You can - the slurry that was being talked about earlier. You can put that in anaerobic digesters and produce gas that we can use for energy. So there's quite a lot we can do with residues. And in addition to being able to grow energy crops. And this is Drax, it's a coal power station that has been converted, four of its borders, have been converted to bioenergy, and it also has a little carbon capture storage demonstration point. It's just in carbon capture, not the storage at the moment. But mostly it's importing pellets from the US. And this is something we've got to take care of in the UK and also thinking about what we import, is that done sustainably? And about having very, very tough criteria that both monitors and reports and then checks that we're, well, only what were grown in the UK, but what we're importing is being done in a sustainable way. Under the EU legislation, there's some sustainability criteria. Checks have increased what they're doing on top of that. But there's still scope to do more to ensure that you're not doing, you know, causing deforestation. You're not causing other kinds of environmental damage, and that becomes really critical. Bioenergy is already subsidised. There's already market mechanisms working there.#
So all together when we look at the different potentials what we found and I want to go through the different numbers and this is looking across agriculture and land use. But actually, when we reduce emissions from agriculture, which we can from about 52,000,000 tonnes to here, we're reducing it, then peatlands, reducing emissions from agriculture. When we get down to sort of something in the mid-twenties. Actually, when we look at what we can do to draw CO2 out the atmosphere through forestry and substitution and bioenergy, it roughly balances what we're left with on the land. So this is my key message about what we can do on the land, balances, the necessary emissions to still produce food. And so we still need action. Very strong action in other sectors. And there are various policies. Okay, Okay. So there is existing policies under the Common Agricultural Policy at where we're in Europe. But we're now moving into our own out of Europe. And we can look to the Environment Bill and the agricultural bill include public payments for public goods and that does things like supporting farmers to do some of the things we were talking about and landowners. So it's making sure we get those right rules within the environment and the agricultural bills. And making sure we have the right sustainability criteria in place and supporting farmers to make these transitions there. And so that's the only fair, I leave you with my key messages there. We need to protect what we've got. There's many options, but we need to make sure we do it in the right way. And - but we also need to do things in the other sectors.
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