Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Country Land and Business Association (U37)

  1.  The CLA welcomes the opportunity to give evidence to the Efra select committee on the challenges of future climate change. We are a membership organisation, representing 40,000 rural land managers and business, who between them own and manage about half of the rural land in England and Wales. Their interests vary between agricultural and other rural businesses, to woodlands, biodiversity and recreation. All land-based industries are, and will continue to be, literally on the front line of climate change—we therefore have a great interest in any new climate change policies that arise through the review of the climate change programme. Our publication on Climate Change and the Rural Economy— addresses climate change from a land management and rural business perspective.


  2.  We recognise that agriculture and land use change emit a proportion of the total emissions of greenhouse gases through the tillage of the soil, the keeping of livestock and the application of nitrogen fertilisers —all part of the everyday activities of farming. Changes in the CAP will undoubtedly have a positive effect on these emissions through de-coupling of payments with production, and linking them to environmental conditions.

  3.  Whilst this will go along way to reducing emissions from rural land use it should be recognised that there is much more potential for rural land to contribute to the debate, in particular by providing renewable energy and by storing carbon in soils and timber.

  4.  Renewable energy has enormous potential to reduce UK GHG emissions, given the right policy framework. If the UK is to meet its Kyoto commitments, and go further to address the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) for deep and lasting cuts in GHG emissions, policy action is required on all fronts. RCEP has recently published a report on the failure of the biomass sector to deliver, pointing the finger firmly at a lack of joined up thinking in Government. Moreover, choosing renewable transport fuels offers an environmentally friendly way of reducing the impact of car use, without attacking the motorist. For more detail on CLA policies for renewable energy see the Annex.

  5.  Climate change policies have so far mainly concentrated on reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs). We advocate a twin track approach of emission reductions and the use of carbon sinks to reduce these gases. To date, there has been little research done on storing carbon on rural land, in soil, timber, hedgerows and field margins and we consider that much more should be done. It has great potential not only to reduce carbon, but also have a knock on positive effect on soil organic matter and therefore the stability of soil, which in turn reduces its erodability. As rainfall is expected to become more intense and more frequent, the ability of soil not to erode will become an important issue for water quality—ie in terms of sediment, nutrients and pesticides entering water courses. The aim of the Water Framework Directive to reach good status by 2015 could therefore be jeopardised by climate change: soil, water and climate change policies must be joined up to recognise this. Furthermore, to appreciate how important soil carbon is, consider that globally soil contains 1.5x1,012 tonnes of carbon—global emission of carbon from fossil fuels and land use change are only 0.5% of that figure. Hence only small changes in soil carbon are needed to have a profound effect on carbon emission. This is of concern as temperatures are expected to increase in the future which will release more carbon emissions from soil—soil management is therefore key, and more research and technology transfer through advice and incentives to land managers is needed.

  6.  The CLA is developing the Greenhouse Gas Audit for land managers, which calculates the GHG emissions on farm and balances them against the amount sequestered in timber and soil. As well as giving an assessment of the GHG balance on farm, it will also raise awareness of GHG and climate change amongst land managers and can be used to highlight where they could be more efficient, for example in applying nitrogen fertiliser to reduce nitrous oxide emissions, and where they could reduce their emissions through soil and timber management.

  7.  We consider that more research is needed on how to reduce the methane emissions of livestock as this is a large contributor to agricultural GHG emissions.


  8.  There is as yet a largely unrecognised potential of land management, which is to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change, such as flooding, and isolation of biodiversity. Land managers have a great deal to offer, for example, washlands which reduce urban flooding downstream; and biodiversity corridors to allow wildlife to move as the temperature rises. However the right policy framework for these measures to work efficiently does need to be in place. Below we set out examples of land management activities which would help to mitigate negative effects that arise from future climate change.


  9.  It is expected that water will become increasingly diminishing resource at some times of the year in certain areas—Land managers could be encouraged to construct reservoirs to ensure water security for their businesses and national food security, as well as possibly being a source of public water supply in times of drought.


  10.  Soil is vital to biodiversity, acts as a carbon sink, retains water and underpins food production. Policies that promote sound soil management are essential to the nation's sustainability. There is considerable potential to utilise soil as a carbon sink and an immediate priority should be to support soil management practices to sequester carbon.


  11.  By 2010, greenhouse gas emissions from UK agriculture and forestry are expected to have reduced by 23% compared with their 1990 levels, reflecting structural change in farming and change in land use. Arable and livestock farmers could be encouraged to complete an on-farm greenhouse gas audit if provided with advise and information which could assist them in reducing their on-farm emissions.


  12.  Climate change has significant implications for all energy producers and users. There is huge potential for carbon-neutral renewable energies, such as biomass (eg short rotation coppice, oilseed rape and perennial grasses) and wind, to take the place of the non-renewable fossil fuels. Effective support for the growth and use of renewable energy systems, including transport fuel, is a priority.


  13.  Forestry can directly mitigate climate change by acting as a carbon sink, and indirectly by substituting quality timber for other more energy-intensive materials. Priorities for action include supporting forest management practices to sequester carbon and the growing and use of quality timber in place of synthetic materials.


  14.  Inundation, whether by the sea or rivers, puts agricultural land, property and important wildlife habitats at risk. Priorities should be to develop incentives for managed realignment of the coast and managed re-creation of floodplains, primarily as tools to control flooding and to complement schemes designed primarily for environmental benefit.


  15.  Climate change is expected to increase the vulnerability of some species and habitats. Land managers can play an active part in mitigating those adverse effects by providing wildlife corridors—supported through agri-environment schemes—to allow wildlife to migrate northwards and adapt to change.

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