The Wildlife Trusts are disappointed that the new report from the Committee on Climate Change fails to recognise the full array of natural solutions available in the UK, and their immense value for achieving net zero emissions.
The report also fails to make the inextricable link between the climate and nature crises we face. To combat one, we must address the other. Tackling both will require an ambitious, joined-up approach to restoring and creating habitat on land and at sea, so that these natural solutions can work to their full potential.
The focus on land use is welcome – we agree with the report’s conclusion that the UK will not achieve net zero emissions without changes to land use, and that these changes must start now. We also welcome the report’s recognition that peatland restoration is vital. The UK’s degraded peatlands emit more carbon dioxide annually than is absorbed by our woodland, so their recovery must be a priority.
However, the report is too narrow in scope, failing to acknowledge other powerful natural solutions to climate change, such as saltmarsh and freshwater wetlands. The report also fails to meet the climate crisis with appropriate ambition, suggesting short-term measures and funding for the recommended activities.
We need to act on an ambitious, landscape scale to map, restore, and reconnect habitats so that nature can be our strongest ally in tackling the climate emergency in the long term.
Many of our natural solutions such as grasslands, wetlands, and saltmarshes are in decline and increasingly fragmented, while some 66% of carbon in nature-rich areas is outside of protected areas.
While the report is focused on land use, the important role of ocean ecosystems must also be recognised in any effective response to the climate emergency. Seagrass meadows, kelp forests, healthy fish populations, phytoplankton, whales and sharks – thriving life in our seas could draw down vast amounts of carbon.
As on land, these important ecosystems are in decline. In fact, land use significantly impacts these ecosystems: pollution from nutrient run-off is a leading cause for the decline of seagrass meadows and kelp forests.
Recovering our natural solutions
To recover these powerful natural solutions, we need to:
- Actively expand current efforts to preserve, restore and generate important carbon capture habitats
- Develop a Nature Recovery Network on land which addresses these declines by mapping, restoring and reconnecting habitats like saltmarsh, grassland and peatland and ensures nature is put at the heart of development
- Campaign against the most destructive developments
- At sea, create a network of well-managed, well-protected sites, restrict damaging activities such as trawling and carry out development in a way which limits its impact on carbon-storing sediments and ecosystems.
Across the UK, Wildlife Trusts are working to protect and restore habitats. We tackle this climate and ecological emergency every day and lead work on solutions wherever we can, but we all need to work together for a healthy natural world.