“Share The Land, Spare The Climate”

Landworkers’ Alliances comment on the UK Government’s new Net- zero land use commitments

October, 25 2021

The UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy has just been released – all 368 pages of the document can be found here. Although the Landworkers’ Alliance are pleased to see tree-planting and land-use commitments outlined in the strategy document, we are concerned about the lack of detail and nuance given to how and where these schemes will be implemented, using what money, and for what purposes. 

In relation to the sections of the Strategy which address land-use, the Landworkers’ Alliance welcomes the government’s commitments to increase tree planting and agroforestry, however, we want to make it absolutely clear that there are different ways in which tree planting can be implemented on the ground.

What we would like to see is a land-sharing approach, where small woodland planting occurs “in the right place”, and is integrated with productive farmland through agroforestry and other similar systems. We believe that these integrated tree-planting schemes should be managed in a way which creates fulfilling employment opportunities, provides sustainable woodland products, and also benefits soil health and wildlife.  

With specific regard to the Government’s plans for boosting agroforestry, if they are bold enough in their commitments, the UK could have hundreds of thousands of hectares of trees planted without having to compromise farming productivity – as highlighted in our new report The Promise of Agroforestry.

Furthermore, we want the UK Government to ensure that these trees are paid for by public money – not private money. We hold strong concerns about Government seeking private investment to co-finance tree planting programmes, and the excuse this gives to large companies to carry on business as usual and continue emitting high levels of CO2.

We fully recognise the vital role that trees play in sequestering atmospheric carbon, but feel that we must also stress that carbon sequestration schemes must also be matched with a significant – and speedy – reduction in carbon emissions from source. Offsetting can be both dangerous and misleading.  Restoring nature is a public good and should therefore be financed by the public purse – not through private sector carbon offset initiatives.

We also hope that the UK Government takes meaningful measures to ensure that the positive commitment to The Nature for Climate Fund, paid for by public money, does not serve to increase land consolidation through land grabbing. We therefore urge Government to ensure that the funds are also accessible to small landowners and public and common land ownership schemes, such community woodlands and National Parks.

We welcome the commitment to low-carbon farming, but would like to see this commitment used to support genuine agroecological farming innovations, rather than “land-sparing” technologies based on ‘sustainable’ intensification – such as GM crops, vertical farms. Emphasis must also be placed on supporting a transition to localised supply chains, which not only reduce emissions from transport, but also reduce food waste.

We must also express a strong concerned about pinning climate goals onto BECCS schemes (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage). Using large areas of land to grow monoculture energy crops will significantly reduce our ability to provide healthy local food from the UK.  Moreover, such schemes will do nothing to address biodiversity and ecological crises and will do very little to boost rural employment; especially when compared with the opportunities that would arise from stimulating an agroecological farm and woodland based economy. We believe that BECCS is a false solution – and that there are far better answers to the climate crisis which are on the table.

Finally, we cannot overemphasise the urgency needed for implementation.  Talking about achieving Net Zero in 2050 – which is three whole decades away – only provides a cover to avoid making the big changes to land use that are desperately needed in the next couple of years. 

Our key policy recommendations: 

  • Support low-carbon farming and agricultural innovation through the Farming Investment Fund and the Farming Innovation Programme to invest in equipment, technology, and infrastructure to improve profitability, benefit the environment and support emissions reductions.
  • Boost the existing £640 million Nature for Climate Fund with a further £124 million of new money, ensuring total spend of more than £750 million by 2025 on peat restoration and woodland creation and management – above and beyond what was promised in the manifesto. This will enable more opportunities for farmers and landowners to support Net Zero through land-use change.
  • Restore approximately 280,000 hectares of peat in England by 2050 and treble woodland creation rates in England, contributing to the UK’s overall target of increasing planting rates to 30,000 hectares per year by the end of the Parliament.