In this latest Environmental Law News Update Christopher Badger considers a new report from the Committee on Climate Change, progress of the Agriculture Bill and a briefing paper from DEFRA putting plastic waste back on the agenda.
Committee on Climate Change publish new report
On 23 January 2020, the Committee on Climate Change (“CCC”) published ‘Land use: Policies for a Net Zero’. The report represents the CCC’s first ever in-depth advice on UK agricultural and land use policies. Unsurprisingly, the key finding is that the UK requires a transformation in land use across the UK if we are to hit net-zero by 2050.
- Farmers and land managers must be well supported in the move to net zero. It is anticipated that there will be added costs for farmers and land managers of £1.4 billion annually to 2050;
- Low carbon farming practices should be promoted. Measures under existing cross-compliance rules that have benefited climate change mitigation should be mandatory, irrespective of whether farmers are in receipt of public money;
- UK forestry cover should be increased from the current 13% to at least 17% by 2050 (that means planting 90-120 million trees);
- Introduce a UK emissions trading scheme for forestry, putting a price on carbon stored by woodland and providing an incentive to encourage landowners to establish and manage forests in a way that increases carbon storage;
- Restore 50% of upland peat and 25% of lowland peat, potentially through a positive obligation imposed on water companies and banning the sale of peat for horticultural use;
- Develop and strengthen the energy crop market, introducing biomass to hydrogen production and biofuels into the aviation industry.
There are quite a few interesting facts to be found within the report. For example, transitioning from grassland to forestland would increase the soil carbon stock by 25 tonnes of carbon per hectare (on average across England) once long-term equilibrium is established, although this may take many decades to be reached. This is additional to the large amounts of carbon that would be stored in the biomass of the trees themselves. In contrast, land-use change from grassland to cropland would actually reduce the land’s soil and biomass carbon stock by around 23 tonnes of carbon per hectare on average across England, although overall emissions could still be reduced if this land was used for the planting of bio-energy crops for use in the energy system.
It is anticipated that realising the necessary reductions to emissions would deliver a net lifetime benefit of £80 billion to the UK.
The report can be found here
The Agriculture Bill 2019-2020
The Agriculture Bill 2019-2020 received its first reading in the House of Commons on 16 January 2020. It represents a massive shift away from the Common Agricultural Policy’s (“CAP”) approach of direct payments to farmers based on the amount of land that they manage. This particular feature of the CAP had been the subject of stringent criticism for pushing up land prices, creating an entry barrier for young farmers and benefiting large landowners disproportionately.
UK policy now moves to a new system of environmental land management contracts. Whilst it is yet to be worked out in practice, the Bill provides for financial support to be provided in connection with one or more of the following purposes
(a) managing land or water in a way that protects or improves the environment;
(b) supporting public access to and enjoyment of the countryside, farmland or
woodland and better understanding of the environment;
(c) managing land or water in a way that maintains, restores or enhances cultural
or natural heritage;
(d) managing land, water or livestock in a way that mitigates or adapts to climate change;
(e) managing land or water in a way that prevents, reduces or protects from environmental hazards;
(f) protecting or improving the health or welfare of livestock;
(g) conserving native livestock, native equines or genetic resources relating to any
(h) protecting or improving the health of plants;
(i) conserving plants grown or used in carrying on an agricultural, horticultural or forestry activity, their wild relatives or genetic resources relating to any such plant;
(j) protecting or improving the quality of soil.
What isn’t clear is how the Agriculture Bill or the move to decarbonise the rural economy fits in with future UK trade policy and the need to strike trade deals after we leave the EU. Will there be any incentive to protect farmers from low cost foreign imports when negotiating with other economies? What will be the effect on food prices for UK citizens? And to what extent do we need public support and a change in the practices and diets of each of us to support the transition?
The Bill can be found here
Waste plastic back on the agenda
It was widely reported that Malaysia is returning a large number of containers housing illegally imported plastic waste to countries including the UK. The South East Asian Country has seen a large increase in foreign plastic waste since China announced a ban back in 2017.
The Government published a wide-ranging briefing paper on plastic waste earlier this month (ahead of the return of the Environment Bill which is expected at the end of the month). Local authorities are struggling to find alternative end destinations for waste, which has resulted in increased costs. In a recent survey by the Local Government Association (“LGA”), some of the Councils that have been most impacted by the China waste import bans warned that their recycling costs have increased by £500,000 on average over the course of a year as a result of the restrictions.
It is reported that there is not enough value in local authorities and waste management providers collecting lower grade waste plastic. The LGA has warned that it is essential for manufacturers to prevent such material from entering into the economy in the first place.
DEFRA’s national statistics identify that 43.8 percent of all local authority waste actually ends up being incinerated – that’s a total of 11.2 million tonnes. This exceeds the amount of waste that is sent by local authorities for recycling (10.9 million tonnes). The inevitable consequence of further restrictions on the export of plastic waste is that even more waste will be disposed of by way of incineration, unless an affordable alternative strategy is identified.
The briefing paper can be found here
DEFRA’s national statistics can be found here
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