Urgently support land managers to adopt nature-based solutions for climate change, says report

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Without policy clarity, urgent investment in research, skills training and the introduction of a new advisory service for farmers and land managers, the Government’s ambitious plans for nature-based solutions are at ‘severe risk of failure’, Science and Technology Committee states in a new report.

According to the committee, while nature-based solutions are not a ‘get out of jail free-card’, they can play a vital role in compensating for emissions from sectors where eliminating all emissions by 2050 will be impossible, while at the same time restoring UK nature and providing additional benefits.

However, the committee was concerned about scientific uncertainties around the carbon sequestration and storage of different habitats, which can make accounting for the effects of nature-based solutions difficult. The UK and its land managers also do not have the necessary skills, ranging from forestry and ecology to peatland restoration, to deliver nature-based solutions at scale.

According to the committee, while the Government’s plans for nature-based solutions are ‘ambitious’ and have much potential to help the UK achieve net zero by 2050 as well as restore its natural environment, these plans are at ‘severe risk of failure.’

The committee goes on to state that these plans will not work without the support of farmers and land managers, and investment in the skills needed to restore nature.

Greg Clark, chair of the Science and Technology Committee, commented: “In the United Kingdom, 72 per cent of land is agricultural, so it is essential that farmers are fully engaged and supported by the Government.

“This support must take the form of incentives, training, an advisory service and support to adapt to changes in farming methods, subsidies, and land use. Key decisions must be made about how the UK should use its land and the role of nature and carbon markets in supporting nature restoration.

“The Committee’s recommendations are not only vital to help the Government achieve net zero by 2050 and restore the UK’s natural environment, but they can also help to address other societal challenges and secure an improved environment for future generations.

“The Glasgow Climate Pact, signed at COP26, emphasises the importance of ‘protecting, conserving, and restoring nature and ecosystems’ to tackle climate change. The UK can still achieve this, but only with a renewed policy effort.”

The Committee had a number of recommendations for the Government to help achieve its net zero targets:

  • Support for research and demonstration projects, ranging from basic science to pilot projects, across the country in different marine and terrestrial habitats to clarify what actions and interventions are effective and quantify these effects.
  • A training and advisory service for farmers and land managers to help them negotiate a new and complex funding landscape, and to change land management practices where appropriate. Tenancy agreements may need to change to enable the costs and benefits to be shared between the tenant and landowner.
  • Guaranteed funding for land managers and farmers over the long term to ensure that they can take the right actions for the environment and stay in business.
  • A defined role for carbon and natural capital markets. A lack of regulation risks private investment being directed towards schemes that will provide few benefits for the environment and undermine the urgent effort to reduce emissions.
  • Explaining how competing demands on land will be balanced and how it will ensure environmentally damaging activities are not simply offshored.

The ‘Nature-based solutions: rhetoric or reality?’-report is available on the UK Parliament website.