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‘Rhetoric or reality?’

More support for farmers and land managers 'urgently needed' to achieve government target of net zero by 2050
A wildflower meadow with a wooden farm gate leading to a country lane in Kent in springtime

A House of Lords Committee has found that 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.

This would put the government’s goal of achieving net zero by 2050 at risk, as well as undermining the agricultural sector, it said.

Nature-based solutions

The Lords Science and Technology Committee has published a report, ‘Nature-based solutions: rhetoric or reality?’, examining the role that nature-based solutions can and should play in reducing the UK’s net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and restoring nature as part of the government’s plan to achieve net zero by 2050.
 
The Committee found that nature-based solutions are not a substitute for rapid decarbonisation, but they can play a significant role in reaching net zero and restoring UK nature.

As well as restoring habitats and creating new ones, it must be a priority to better manage and preserve existing natural habitats.

The Committee warned that more research is urgently needed to address significant scientific uncertainties about how much carbon is stored in terrestrial and marine habitats, and how much CO2 these habitats can reliably sequester in the future.

Importantly, nature-based solutions are not just about tree planting; they need to be specific to each of a range of habitats.

A skills deficit

The report warns that the UK does not have the requisite skills to deliver nature-based solutions at scale.

The government acknowledges this, but there has been no formal assessment of the skills needed, nor a route to providing training in the timescales required for the government’s plans for an agricultural transition over the next decade.

The skills deficits range from forestry, ecology and peatland restoration to advice for land managers.

The report states that policy uncertainty is hindering the adoption of nature-based solutions. While lessons should be learned as nature-based solutions are rolled out, the lack of detail about the Environmental Land Management schemes (the UK’s post-Brexit agricultural subsidies) jeopardises the roll-out of nature-based solutions and the wider agricultural transition.

Land managers need some certainty if the government’s targets are to be met.

Nature-based solutions in support of net zero emissions will not work without the support of farmers and land managers.

Communication and engagement with those responsible for implementing nature-based solutions has been inadequate so far.

‘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. They will not work without the support of farmers and land managers, and investment in the skills needed to restore nature.
 
‘In the United Kingdom, 72% 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.’

LORD PATEL
Chair of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee

Support for farmers

The Committee is calling for the government to support 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.

It wants to see 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.

The Committee has called for 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.

Regulating carbon markets

The government has also been asked to define the role of 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.

The Committee would also like the government to set out how competing demands on land will be balanced and how they will ensure environmentally damaging activities are not simply offshored.

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