CCC urges expansion of UK bioenergy crops in new land use report

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has suggested expanding UK bioenergy crops to around 23,000 hectares each year in its new land use report. Titled ‘Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK’, the report is the CCC’s first in-depth advice on UK agricultural policies.

According to the report, in 2017, land use including agriculture, forestry and peatland accounted for 12% of total UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. By 2050, with proper support, the CCC believes farmers and land-managers can reduce these emissions by almost two-thirds - a move the organisation deems ‘necessary’ to achieve net zero - while boosting their income.

The land use report focuses on emissions reductions in England, Scotland, Wales in Northern Ireland and highlights five key objectives for new policy:

  • Increase UK forestry cover from 13% to at least 17% by 2050, by planting around 90-120 million broadleaf and conifer trees annually

  • Encourage low-carbon farming practices such as controlled-release fertilisers to boost livestock health and slurry acidification

  • Restore at least 50% of upland peat and 25% of lowland peat

  • Expand UK bioenergy crops (miscanthus, short rotation coppice and short rotation forestry) to around 23,000 hectares annually

  • Reduce the 13.6 million tonnes of food waste produced annually by 20%, and reduce consumption of beef, lamb and dairy by at least 20% per person.

The CCC report recommends continuing to exclude combustion processes of energy crops that exclusively use biomass from the EU Emissions Trading System (or its UK successor); continuing to support biomass generation through existing market mechanisms in the short-term; introducing a requirement for biomass combustion facilities to source a fixed proportion of their crops from the UK and introducing concessionary finance to top-up funding to cover the loss of annual income while the crop is being established.

In terms of tackling food waste, the organisation recommends introducing low-cost measures to reduce the levels of food waste created, such as encouraging reduced portion sizes and effective date labelling, as well as introducing a separate collection of waste across the UK.

“Changing the way we use our land is critical to delivering the UK’s net zero target,” said Lord Deben, chairman of the CCC. “The options we are proposing would see farmers and land managers – the stewards of the land – delivering actions to reduce emissions. Doing so can provide new revenue opportunities for farmers, better air quality and improved biodiversity, and more green spaces for us all to enjoy. But major changes are required and action from government is needed quickly if we are to reap the rewards.”

Dr Nina Skorupska CBE FEI, chief executive at the Renewable Energy Association, said: “In this report, the CCC sets out the massive opportunity and role for British farmers – to use bioenergy to increase their income, boost tree cover and cut carbon emissions, as the REA argued in its Bioenergy Strategy.

“The CCC have made clear that the growth of energy crops and biomass for sustainable energy production  are important elements of good land management and part of a strategy for meeting the net zero carbon emissions target.

“The government must act quickly to deliver the CCC’s recommendations, in particular when it comes to ensuring growth in domestic energy crops and biomass demand. In the next few months, the government must come forward with a renewed heat decarbonisation policy, as the current Renewable Heat Incentive, which supports the deployment of bioenergy heat applications, ends in 2021.

“In addition, the government should finally introduce a move to 10% renewable fuels in petrol (E10), as well as announce how they intend to reward ‘carbon negative’ technologies such as bioenergy carbon capture, usage and storage.

“Such policies, along with the other land use recommendations made by the CCC, are crucial to growing the bioeconomy, rewarding land owners for playing a key role in the UK’s decarbonisation.”

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