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Government plans to use nature to combat climate change are 'at severe risk of failure'

Government plans to use nature-based solutions like tree-planting to combat climate change are at risk of "severe failure", a new report has warned.

Two cows in a field.

Nature-friendly farming, tree-planting and peat restoration are all examples of nature-based climate solutions. Image: Pixabay

The government’s plans for using “nature-based solutions” to combat climate change are at risk of “severe failure”, a new report has warned.

The study, published on Wednesday by the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee (STC), has warned of a “clear and present danger” that government targets on tree-planting, peat bog restoration and biodiversity restoration could fail – jeopardising the UK’s overall 2050 net zero target.

The term nature-based solutions refers to methods of working with nature to improve the environment or mitigate the impacts of climate change. 

The STC said a lack of policy coordination, skills gaps and uncertainty around the science of carbon sequestration were largely to blame. 

Committee chair Lord Patel said that while the government’s plans for such solutions are “ambitious and have much potential”, they are currently “at severe risk of failure”.

This could include improving soil health, generating new habitats for animals or planting forests to store carbon. 

The government has pledged to meet a target of net zero emissions by 2050, as well as committing 30 per cent of land to nature restoration in a bid to boost the UK’s poor record on biodiversity. 

Meeting both of these targets will require what the STC refers to as a “radical” shake-up of land management in order to implement the nature-based solutions. Currently, however, the government has no overarching strategy for land use. 

The report also expressed concerns around a lack of training and information for farmers expected to move to more sustainable farming practices, as well as continued uncertainty over how they will be paid for doing so. 

The government has already announced several different schemes designed to pay farmers for “environmental goods” such as re-wetting peat bogs or planting trees, but, commenting on the pilot Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme, Richard Bramley of the National Farmers Union (NFU) said: “I am one of the farmers in question whom these policies are directed at … and do not have a clue how this is going to take shape”. 

Farmers have reportedly been reluctant to begin planting trees due to uncertainties over how or when they’ll be paid during the transition from the old EU farming policy (known as the common agricultural policy) to new post-Brexit agricultural policy. 

Martin Lines, chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network echoed concerns in the STC report that the government’s approach is not joined-up enough to tackle the climate emergency wholesale. 

“My concern is the focus on individual schemes and grants rather than a whole farm landscape approach. 

“There is a real possibility that planting the wrong trees or [the wrong] action will take place in some places. We need to be adding more nature-based solutions to our landscape to help tackle our climate and biodiversity crisis, while at the same time helping to improve the outputs from our farmed landscape,” he told The Big Issue.

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Other problems outlined in the STC report include a lack of funding for bodies like the Environment Agency and Natural England as well as a general lack of ecological skills and knowledge in the workforce and within local authorities. 

Peers also expressed concern around the lack of research into carbon sequestration, meaning that the benefits of nature-based schemes could be calculated incorrectly. 

The STC made a series of recommendations in its report, including an instruction to devise a land management plan for the UK.

The committee warned that a failure to deliver on nature-based solutions risks “the livelihoods of farmers, damaging the agricultural sector, undermining the net zero agenda, and risks undermining the UK’s biodiversity-recovery.

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