Reversing the long term decline of the natural environment is a complex challenge. We are generating new thinking and building powerful new alliances to support political leadership for nature's recovery.
Aviation in a 1.5°C worldWhat can, and should, natural climate solutions do for aviation?
The UK has set a target to reach net zero emissions by 2050, and the Committee on Climate Change’s advice is that UK international aviation should be included in this target. The global aviation sector is a major contributor to climate change emissions. The industry has agreed to stop growing its net emissions from 2020 and to halve net emissions by 2050, but much more ambition is needed to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, including constraining aviation growth and ending airport expansion.
This project is examining the role of ‘natural climate solutions’ which remove carbon from the atmosphere, as an approach to decarbonising aviation. This includes planting new woodland and restoring peatland and other wetlands to offset residual emissions remaining following other decarbonisation actions.
Although this method could attract significant funding for the restoration and protection of natural habitats in the UK, it is also risks becoming a ‘licence to pollute’ and locking in high and unsustainable aviation emissions. Developing robust ways of measuring and accounting for the carbon sequestered by such projects will be essential, so that aviation does not continue to pollute in a way that is incompatible with the UK’s net zero commitment.
A series of expert workshops and roundtables will feed into our analysis of credible pathways for the aviation sector, compatible with limiting global heating to 1.5°C, and particularly of the role that UK based natural climate solutions could play.
This work is supported by Heathrow Airport. As with all our work, we retain editorial control and independence over the content and conclusions. Green Alliance is opposed to the development of a third runway at Heathrow.
Decarbonising land use Policy solutions to cut emissions from agriculture and land use
Reducing emissions from agriculture and other land uses will be vital for the UK to meet its decarbonisation commitments. Yet, although there are clear opportunities to cut emissions, this is one area of climate action that has so far been overlooked.
Brexit is likely to bring significant disruption to the sector, but the changes coming are a chance to put the spotlight on the climate impacts and decarbonisation opportunities of agriculture and other land uses and rethink the policy framework to mitigate them.
Our report, Cutting the climate impact of land use, sets out what changes are needed now to meet the NFU's target of net zero carbon emissions from land use by 2040. These changes could cut nearly 60 per cent of the emissions from land use by 2030.
Natural Infrastructure SchemesIn partnership with the National Trust
Agriculture is under increasing pressure to maximise production, whilst reducing its environmental impact and eliminating dependence on public subsidy. Many farming businesses are operating at the limit of their profitability, often to the detriment of soil health, water quality and biodiversity. Farmers are in a unique position to restore and protect the natural environment, but there is no commercial basis for the provision of natural services from farmland.
In partnership with the National Trust, we have developed a Natural Infrastructure Scheme (NIS) to lever private money for positive environmental land management. The mechanism was first proposed as a way to deliver ‘slow, clean water’ in places where consortia of farmers and land managers could reduce flood risks or improve water quality by changing the management of their land. Our final report, New routes to decarbonise land use, investigated how the scheme could also be used to achieve land based carbon reductions.
Food and Nature Task ForceIn partnership with Nestlé, Co-op, Sainsbury’s and Tesco
The UK's food production industry, including farmers, caterers and supermarkets, is worth over £100 billion a year to the UK economy. However, environmental degradation threatens to undermine the industry while new trading relationships and farm support post-Brexit could reshape the sector.
These challenges need a comprehensive response. Government action will be needed to reverse environmental decline, but long term solutions also require collaboration between farmers, food manufacturers, retailers and NGOs.
Green Alliance founded the Food and Nature Task Force in 2017 to stimulate collaboration and partnerships along the food supply chain. The task force's first report, Setting the standard: shifting to sustainable food production in the UK, argues that post-Brexit agricultural policy needs to put sustainable food production at the heart of any new support scheme.
Members of the Task Force are Nestlé, Co-op, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, with support and advice from Jonathan Hughes, CEO of Scottish Wildlife Trust and co-founder of the World Forum on Natural Capital, and David Fursdon, owner of Fursdon estate and chair of Beeswax Dyson Farming.
See also: Natural partners, our 2016 report which explored how nature conservation and natural capital approaches can work together to manage pressures on the UK's environment.
Horizon DebatesExploring the key tensions in food and agriculture
Population growth, climate change, technological progress and Brexit will all profoundly affect how Britain's land is farmed. The pace and scale of change could be immense. The UK government’s 25 year plan for the environment, and the Secretary of State’s proposal to focus future farming subsidies on paying for environmental public goods, have created a sense of optimism that these changes could be positive, reversing decades of environmental decline.
But how positive should we really be feeling? Do environmentalists properly understand the ethical trade-offs inherent in embracing technology in food and farming? Is progress on the environment possible without properly engaging the public in a discussion about food and diets? And is political support for ambitious environmental action strong enough to withstand claims that it is coming at the expense of farmer livelihoods, food security and food prices? During the first half of 2018 Green Alliance, organized a series of three debates exploring important questions about the future. Hearing from different expert perspectives, the debates interrogated what the changes could mean for our environment and our national identity.
The first of these debates 'Is technology in a force for good in food production?'looked at the ways in which novel foods and agricultural technologies could benefit the UK’s natural environment. It discussed the social acceptability of different technologies and their ethical implications.
The second debate asked the question 'can Brexit deliver cheap, high quality food to the British public?', and the third debate explored 'What does taking carbon seriously mean for future UK land use?'
Each debate took place in central London between April-July 2018, in front of an audience of around 60 experts from NGOs, businesses, academia, government and politics.
Natural investmentFutureproofing food production in the UK
Food production and agriculture are vital to the UK economy. Food prices have fallen by nearly a quarter since 1980, to the expense of the people and natural systems that produce it.
This period has also seen prolonged and severe declines in the environmental health of farmland, characterised by soil degradation and erosion, and the chronic decline of important species.
Unsustainable farming practices have created unacknowledged costs and risks for food businesses.
Our report, Natural investment: futureproofing food production in the UK, proposes a new model for policy makers, based on the concept of environmental efficiency, which enables food businesses to maintain the natural assets they depend on and bolster the long term economic resilience of the UK food and farming sector.
Flooding is a big problem in the UK and one that is getting worse with climate change. In November 2016, we revealed that England's current approach to flood risk is contradictory:
• nearly four times as much money spent on land management that ignores or even increases flood risk, than on land management that helps to prevent flooding; and • twice as much money spent on dealing with the after effects of a flood than on hard flood defences
This funding is skewed towards short-term reactive responses that ignore the central role of land management in building flood resilience. Our report, Smarter flood risk management in England: investing in resilient catchments, makes three recommendations that would lead to a greater level of resilience for either the same or lower cost than current approaches, including to establish a dedicated fund for natural flood management.
This project was supported by the John Ellerman Foundation.
The Great AccelerationHow should the UK respond to the decline of natural systems?
Our journal,Inside Track, invited Professor Will Steffen of the Stockholm Resilience Centre to describe the findings of his research into the phenomenon known as the Great Acceleration: the fast increasing impact of human activities on natural systems since 1950. It also featured articles by a former senior civil servant, the National Trust and Nestlé on how government, the public and business in the UK should respond. Sue Armstrong Brown also set out the immediate plans for Green Alliance's new Natural Environment theme.