A new study suggests that by upping forest cover from 12% to 30% of UK land over the next 35 years – close to that of France and Germany, but still less than the European average – and restoring 700,000 hectares of wet peatland, these habitats would act as a carbon ‘sink’: sucking in and storing carbon.
This could be enough to meet government targets of 80% greenhouse gas reduction by 2050 for the farming industry. Agriculture currently produces around 10% of all the UK’s damaging greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenhouse gas emissions from global agriculture are increasing at around 1% per annum, yet substantial cuts in emissions are needed across all sectors. The challenge of reducing agricultural emissions is particularly acute, because the reductions achievable by changing farming practices are limited and are hampered by rapidly rising food demand.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge, ADAS, Rothamsted Research and UEA assessed the technical mitigation potential offered by: land sparing-increasing agricultural yields; reducing farmland area and actively restoring natural habitats on the land spared – restored habitats can sequester carbon and can offset emissions from agriculture.
Using the United Kingdom as an example, the team estimated net emissions in 2050 under a range of future agricultural scenarios and found that a land-sparing strategy has the technical potential to achieve significant reductions in net emissions from agriculture and land-use change.
Coupling land sparing with demand-side strategies to reduce meat consumption and food waste can further increase the technical mitigation potential, however economic and implementation considerations might limit the degree to which this technical potential could be realised in practice.
The research can be read here: The potential for land sparing to offset greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture